Notes on


2024 Edition

Dr. Thomas L. Constable



The title "The Acts of the Apostles" is very ancient.[1] The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke (A.D. 150-180) contains the oldest reference to the book by this name. The title is a bit misleading, however, because the book contains only a few of the acts of some of the apostles, primarily Peter and Paul. The book is more a story of the extension of the church from Jerusalem to Rome than it is a complete history of the apostles' acts. Whereas Jesus is the chief character in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit working through the apostles is the chief character in Acts.


Three lines of argument lead to the conclusion that Luke, who was the friend, fellow missionary, and physician of the Apostle Paul wrote this book, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: First, there is the internal evidence, specifically the passages written in the first person plural that can refer to Luke (16:10-40; 20:5—21:18; 27:1—28:16). Second, we have external evidence indicating that Luke wrote Acts. This evidence includes references by early church fathers,[2] comments in collections of New Testament books,[3] and editorial statements in early notes on certain New Testament books.[4] Luke's name does not appear in Acts, but it is a shortened Greek form of a Latin name: either Lucanus, Lucianus, Lucius, or Lucillus. Eusebius and Jerome wrote that Luke was a native of Syrian Antioch.[5] There is also some tradition that he was from Philippi.[6] Third, both Acts and Luke are addressed to Theophilus, which would imply the same writer. In addition, both Acts and Luke share many similarities, which strengthens the possibility that Luke wrote both documents.

Date and place of composition

The date of composition was probably in the early sixties: A.D. 60-63. In view of his emphases, Luke probably would have mentioned several important events had they occurred by the time he wrote. These include the Neronian persecution of Christians that began in A.D. 64, Paul's death in A.D. 68, and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

We do not know for sure where Luke was when he wrote Acts. Perhaps he composed it over a period of years, drawing on various sources, and then put it into its final form in Rome where Paul was in confinement for two years (28:30-31; A.D. 60-62).

"Fortunately the intelligibility and value of the book are largely independent of a knowledge of the precise situation in which it was written. While the finer points of the interpretation of Acts can still cause intense discussion among scholars, the essential themes of the book are basically clear and simple."[7]


The events recorded in Acts cover a period of about 30 years: beginning with the Lord Jesus' ascension in A.D. 33, and extending to Paul's two-year Roman house arrest that ended about A.D. 62.[8] The Delphic Inscription and several references in Josephus, plus one in Suetonius, enable us to identify key dates in Acts.[9]


Most scholars believe that Acts fits within the literary classification of "ancient history." The Greek word praxeis, "acts," identifies a specific genre (type of literature) or subgenre in the ancient world: narratives of the heroic deeds of individuals or cities. However, it was not the name of a technical genre as such.[10] Acts bears all the marks of a book of ancient history. Luke was on a par with other writers of ancient history in his day with regard to his skill and methodology.[11] However, Acts is more than just a book of history, as the following section explains.[12]


There seems to have been a three-fold purpose for the writing of Acts. As with the other books of the Bible that record history in narrative (story) form, certainly Luke had a historical purpose.[13] He intended to provide an inspired record of selected events that show the spread of the gospel and the church, which branched out from Jerusalem, the center of Judaism where the church began, to Rome.

"This book may be called an account of the beginning of the bringing of God's supply to humanity to meet its need."[14]

"[Bernard H.] Streeter suggested that an alternative title for the book of Acts might be 'The Road to Rome', for this is indeed the significance of Luke's work. Whatever minor motifs Luke had in mind, such as the establishment of Christianity in men's minds as a constructive and not destructive element in the social order, his main concern was to show that, in God's plan for the renewal of the life of mankind, Jerusalem, the heart of old Israel, was the goal of Stage I [i.e., the Book of Luke], while Rome, the centre of the world, was the goal of Stage II [i.e., the Book of Acts]."[15]

However, the fact that Luke included what he did, and omitted much other historical data, indicates a second, theological purpose. He showed how the plans and purposes of God were working out through history. In particular, he showed how Jesus Christ was faithfully and irresistibly building His church (Matt. 16:18).[16] This involved clarifying how God's dealings with humankind had taken a different course because of the Jews' rejection of their Messiah.[17]

"… Luke in Acts is not merely concerned to draw a link between the time of Jesus and the time of the early church, as is commonly noticed, but also between the time of Israel and the time of Jesus and His church. Acts insists that the God who was at work in the history of his ancient people, Israel, bringing them salvation, is the same God who is at work in the church."[18]

Third, Luke evidently had an apologetic purpose in writing. He frequently pointed out the relationship of the church to the Roman state by referring to many Roman officials, not one of whom opposed Christianity because of its doctrines or practices. This would have made Acts a powerful defensive tool for the early Christians in their struggle to survive in a hostile pagan environment.

Richard Longenecker identified Luke's purposes as kerygmatic (proclamation), apologetic (defensive), conciliatory (peacemaking), and catechetical (instructive).[19]

"I propose that forging a vision for what life could be like in the gathered church, while certainly not his only priority and perhaps not his highest, was clearly one of Luke's major concerns in writing Acts. … I believe Luke deliberately chose positive aspects of church life for inclusion in the summary narratives [2:42-47; 4:32-35; and 5:12-16]. He did this in order to present his portraits of church life as a positive example for readers to study and emulate in their own churches. For Luke, the summary narratives describe what life could be like in an exemplary church."[20]

"We agree with a growing number of scholars who think that Luke wrote with a variety of specific purposes and that these purposes are part of a larger, general purpose—the edification of Christians."[21]

Unique features

Acts is the only New Testament book that continues the history begun in the Gospels. Whereas Luke's Gospel focuses on the vertical universalization of the gospel (up and down the social scale), Acts focuses on its horizontal universalization (from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the world).

"… the Acts is to be seen in close literary association with the Gospel [of Luke]. They form two parts of one work, conceived in its final form as a unity, whether or not the original composition of the Gospel took place independently of the plan to produce the two-part work. Although there are other examples of literary compositions in two parts (Josephus, Contra Apionem, is one of the nearest parallels to Luke-Acts in time and cultural context), Luke's work appears to be unique among Christian writings and to have no close secular precedents in its combination of the stories of a religious leader and of his followers."[22]

"The book which we call the Acts of the Apostles may be said to complete the Pentateuch of New Testament history. Four of these books present the Person of our Lord; while the fifth gives the first page of the history of the Church …"[23]

"This book is to the Gospels what the fruit is to the tree that bears it. In the Gospels we see the corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying: in the Acts we see it bearing forth much fruit (John 12:24)."[24]

Acts is also an indispensable historical record for understanding the Apostle Paul's epistles; without it we could not understand some of the things that he wrote. It is the only Bible book that records the historical transition from Judaism to Christianity. It provides basic information about, and insight into, the early church. And it challenges every modern Christian.[25]

Longenecker has shown that Luke's method of writing history was in line with current historiography (the writing of history) of his day.[26] Ben Witherington observed that Luke-Acts is more typical of ancient Greek history writing than Roman (Latin) history writing.[27] Others have argued that it is more like the Hebrew Scriptures than anything else. Arno Gaebelein pointed out similarities between the Gospels and Genesis, Acts and Exodus, the Pauline epistles and Leviticus, the General epistles and Numbers, and Revelation and Deuteronomy.[28]

The Gospel of Luke is the longest book in the New Testament. with 1,151 verses, Matthew is the second longest, with 1,071 verses, and Acts is the third longest, with 1,003 verses.


Longenecker identified five phenomena about the structure of Acts that the reader needs to recognize in order to appreciate what Luke sought to communicate in Acts:

"1.     It begins, like the [Third] Gospel, with an introductory section of distinctly Lukan cast dealing with the constitutive events of the Christian mission (1:1—2:41) before it sets forth the advances of the gospel 'in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth' (1:7).

"2.     This introductory section is followed by what appears to be a thematic statement (2:42-47). This material, while often viewed as a summary of what precedes, most probably serves as the thesis paragraph for what follows.

"3.     In his presentation of the advance of the Christian mission, Luke follows an essentially geographical outline that moves from Jerusalem (2:42—6:7), through Judea and Samaria (6:8—9:31), on into Palestine-Syria (9:32—12:24), then to the Gentiles in the eastern part of the Roman Empire (12:25—19:20), and finally culminates in Paul's defenses and the entrance of the gospel into Rome (19:21—28:31).

"4.     In his presentation, Luke deliberately sets up a number of parallels between the ministry of Peter in the first half of Acts and that of Paul in the last half.[29]

"5.     Luke includes six summary statements or 'progress reports' (6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:31), each of which seems to conclude its own 'panel' of material.[30]

"Taking all these literary and structural features into account, we may conclude that Luke developed his material in Acts along the following lines:

"Introduction: The Constitutive Events of the Christian Mission (1:1—2:41)

"Part I: The Christian Mission to the Jewish World (2:42—12:24)

Panel 1—The Earliest Days of the Church at Jerusalem (2:42—6:7)

Summary Statement: 'So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith' (6:7).

Panel 2—Critical Events in the Lives of Three Pivotal Figures (6:8—9:31)

Summary Statement: 'Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord' (9:31)

Panel 3—Advances of the Gospel in Palestine-Syria (9:32—12:24)

Summary Statement: 'But the word of God continued to increase and spread' (12:24)

"Part II: The Christian Mission to the Gentile World (12:25—28:31)

Panel 4—The First Missionary Journey and the Jerusalem Council (12:25—16:5)

Summary Statement: 'So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers' (16:5).

Panel 5—Wide Outreach Through Two Missionary Journeys (16:6—19:20)

Summary Statement: 'In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power' (19:20).

Panel 6—To Jerusalem and Thence to Rome (19:21—28:31)

Summary Statement: 'Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ' (28:31)."[31]


Darrell Bock identified the key subjects in Acts as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. More particularly, he noted the following theological emphases: the plan and work of the mighty God; mission, opposition, and the inclusion of the Gentiles; Jesus, the Lord of all for a gospel sent to all; the new community's emerging separate identity; the law; the triumph of the gospel; and eschatology (end times events).[32]


I.       The witness in Jerusalem 1:1—6:7

A.      The founding of the church 1:1—2:47

1.      The resumptive preface to the book 1:1-5

2.      The command to witness 1:6-8

3.      The ascension of Jesus 1:9-11

4.      Jesus' appointment of a twelfth apostle 1:12-26

5.      The birth of the church 2:1-41

6.      The early state of the church 2:42-47

B.      The expansion of the church in Jerusalem 3:1—6:7

1.      External opposition 3:1—4:31

2.      Internal compromise 4:32—5:11

3.      Intensified external opposition 5:12-42

4.      Internal conflict 6:1-7

II.       The witness in Judea and Samaria 6:8—9:31

A.      The martyrdom of Stephen 6:8—8:1a

1.      Stephen's arrest 6:8—7:1

2.      Stephen's address 7:2-53

3.      Stephen's death 7:54—8:1a

B.      The ministry of Philip 8:1b-40

1.      The evangelization of Samaria 8:1b-25

2.      Philip's ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch 8:26-40

C.      The mission of Saul 9:1-31

1.      Saul's conversion and calling 9:1-19a

2.      Saul's initial conflicts 9:19b-30

3.      The church at peace 9:31

III.      The witness to the uttermost part of the earth 9:32—28:31

A.      The extension of the church to Syrian Antioch 9:32—12:24

1.      Peter's ministry in Lydda and Joppa 9:32-43

2.      The conversion of Cornelius 10:1—11:18

3.      The initiatives of the Antioch church 11:19-30

4.      The persecution of the Jerusalem church 12:1-24

B.      The extension of the church to Cyprus and Asia Minor 12:25—16:5

1.      The divine appointment of Barnabas and Saul 12:25—13:3

2.      The mission to Cyprus 13:4-12

3.      The mission to Asia Minor 13:13—14:21a

4.      Paul and Barnabas' return to Antioch of Syria 14:21b-28

5.      The Jerusalem Council 15:1-35

6.      The strengthening of the Gentile churches 15:36—16:5

C.      The extension of the church to the Aegean shores 16:6—19:20

1.      The call to Macedonia 16:6-10

2.      The ministry in Macedonia 16:11—17:15

3.      The ministry in Achaia 17:16—18:17

4.      The beginning of ministry in Asia 18:18-22

5.      The results of ministry in Asia 18:23—19:20

D.      The extension of the church to Rome 19:21—28:31

1.      Ministry on the way to Jerusalem 19:21—21:16

2.      Ministry in Jerusalem 21:17—23:32

3.      Ministry in Caesarea 23:33—26:32

4.      Ministry on the way to Rome 27:1—28:15

5.      Ministry in Rome 28:16-31


The message of Acts is that the church of Jesus Christ is God's instrument to glorify Himself in the present age. The subject of the Book of Acts, its primary focus of attention, is the church of Jesus Christ.

Acts contains three major revelations regarding the church:

The first of these concerns is the origin of the church. Jesus Christ created the church.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ prepared for the creation of the church. He instructed His disciples with truth that they did not fully understand at that time, and He demonstrated for them life that they did not fully appreciate at that time (John 14:6). We have this record in the Gospels.

After His ascension, Christ poured out His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This was the birthday of the church. The baptism of the Spirit did something that God had never done before in history: It united believers with Christ in a new relationship as fellow members of the spiritual body of Christ. Jesus had predicted this in John 14:17: "He [the Holy Spirit] remains with you and will be in you." Believers then shared the life of Christ in a way never before experienced. God united both Jews and Gentiles equally with Him in one body: the church. The same Spirit of God that indwelt Jesus now indwells us believers today. The unity of the church is not external: what we believe (creeds), how we organize ourselves (polity), or where and how we meet (culture). It is internal, as a result of Him who indwells us. The basis of our unity in the church goes back to the origin of the church. It began when the Holy Spirit first baptized believers on the day of Pentecost (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 8:9). The "church" is not just a new name for Israel. It is a new entity (cf. Eph. 2—3).

The second major revelation of the church that we receive in Acts concerns the nature of the church. The church is one with Jesus Christ. That is its nature. It shares one life with its risen Lord.

In Luke's Gospel, Luke presented Jesus Christ as the Head of a new race. As Adam was the head of one race, Christ is the last Adam, the Head of a new race. As Adam was the first man, Christ is the second man, the Head of a new race. As the first-born from the dead, Christ is the Head of a new race.

In Acts, we see the new race springing from the Firstborn from the Dead (Jesus Christ). We see the brotherhood of which Christ is the Elder Brother. We see the body growing of which Christ is the Head. The spiritual bonds that unite the members of Christ's "race" are stronger than the physical bonds that unite the members of Adam's race (cf. Matt. 12:47-50). The members of the new race are often feeble, faulty, and foolish, but they possess the life of Christ. Christ is manifesting His life through those who have become partakers of His life. The nature of the church is that it is one organic whole (one body) empowered by the life of Christ. The Holy Spirit has joined all believers in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, organically to Christ. Whenever Christians partake of the Lord's Supper, we should remember that just as the bread and the wine (or its substitute) become part of the participant's physical body, so Christ has become part of us spiritually.

The third major revelation of the church that Acts gives us concerns the function of the church. The function of the church is to be the instrument of Jesus Christ, His hands and feet and mouth, to carry out His will in the world. What is the will of Christ? There are three things that Acts emphasizes:

The will of God is the imparting of life where there is death. Jesus Christ ministers divine life through His human instruments. We see Peter, Paul, and all God's other servants in Acts doing the same kinds of things that Jesus did when He walked this earth. They even did the same types of miracles. Christ, by His Spirit, was working through them (cf. 1:1-2). References to their being filled with the Spirit reflect Christ's control of these people as His instruments. He wants to impart life through believers today too, and He does so as we herald the gospel and as people believe it.

The will of God is also the manifesting of light where there is darkness. The light of the gospel shines through Spirit-filled believers, effectively bringing the lost into the light of God's presence. In Acts we see Christ, through the Holy Spirit, choosing the persons to whom the gospel would go. We see Him indicating the places where the gospel would reach. We see Him initiating the procedures by which the gospel would penetrate the darkness caused by sin and Satan. This is what Christ wants to do today too. He wants to manifest light through believers. Spiritual ignorance is taking over in the post-modern world. Our world needs to receive light through Christians.

Third, the will of God is the producing of love where there is apathy, bitterness, and hatred. Christ's love reaches through believers, who are  His instruments, by the Holy Spirit. It produces in the believer love for the Lord, love for Christian brothers and sisters, and love for the world. We see this illustrated in Acts. This is what Christ wants to do through Christians: produce love.

In summary, there are three great revelations of the church in Acts: As to its origin, Jesus Christ created it (Matt. 16:18). As to its nature, the church is one with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). As to its function, the church is the instrument of Christ. Second Corinthians 6:1 says that we are "working together" with God. It is a tremendous privilege to be Christ's members—members of His body, the church.

Acts also warns us of three major antagonists facing the church:

The first of these is prejudice. Prejudice means prejudging, judging on the basis of limited information. The outstanding example of this type of opposition in Acts is seen in some of the unbelieving Jews. They refused to accept the witness of the Christians. They would not tolerate the evidence that the believers presented. They became the major enemies of the church—as well as missing the blessings that could have been theirs if they had acknowledged their Messiah. The church faces the same opposition today (e.g., traditional concepts as opposed to Scriptural revelation). Many Christians are simply playing church. The commitment of many Christians to non-biblical traditions, as though they were biblical, is frightening.

The root cause of this problem is lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit. Prejudice says: I do not trust what the Holy Spirit has said in Scripture. We must always interpret experience in the light of revelation, not the other way around. Many Christians feel safer with tradition. Many Christians simply want to be told what to believe and do. They do not want to think for themselves, or even read the Bible for themselves.

The second antagonist the church faces that Acts identifies is personal agendas. By this I mean the desire for something other than the will of God. There are several examples of this peril in Acts: Ananias and Sapphira wanted a reputation for spirituality, not just spirituality itself. Simon Magus wanted a supernatural gift for his own personal glory, not just for the glory of God. Our flesh also tempts us to serve ourselves while we serve God. This is compromising with the will of God.

The root cause of this problem seems to me to be lack of yielding to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not fill or control such Christians. They are double-minded. We need to yield total control to Him (cf. Rom. 6:12-13).

A third antagonist the church faces that we also see in Acts is pride. Two men provide perhaps the outstanding examples of this peril: Felix and Agrippa. Their desire for personal prestige determined their response to God's will. Many a person's career goals and ego needs have kept him or her from salvation, or limited God's use of him or her as a Christian.

The cause of this problem is lack of obedience to the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit through His Word says: Do this, and we refuse, it is because we set our wills against His. That is pride. We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. In 10:14, Peter said, "By no means, Lord." What a contradiction!

These are three major perils to the church corporately, as well as to Christians individually. Luke warned us of them in Acts. They are major obstacles to Christ's mission of building His church in the world: prejudice, personal agendas, and pride.

Acts also presents three major lessons for the church that it should always keep in view:

First, the church's passion must be the glory of God. This was the driving motive in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the other faithful missionaries and witnesses that Luke recorded in this book. Their passion was not their own personal safety or their physical comfort, or the opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others, or the desire to create better living conditions in the world. They subordinated all these worthy ambitions to God's glory in their hearts. Christians too must commit ourselves to glorifying God above everything else, personally and corporately. The cry of the Protestant Reformers was Sola gloria dei: "Only the glory of God." Jesus taught us to pray, "Hallowed be Your name" (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2).

Second, the church's governing principle must be loyalty to Christ. Again, the leaders of the early church modeled this for us. They put Christ's interests before their own, and they were single-minded in their living. This is the evidence of their being filled with the Spirit. Their primary commitment was to letting His life work in and through them, and to carrying out His work, not their own. How loyal are we Christians to Christ individually and corporately? John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). We must be single-minded and radical in our commitment to please the Lord (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4).

Third, the church's power must be the Holy Spirit. The many references to prayer in Acts show us how conscious the early Christians were of their dependence on God's power. They did not go out in self-confidence, but in God-confidence. They called on Him to reveal Christ's life in and through them (4:24-30). They called on Him to direct Christ's works in and through them (12:12; 20:36). We Christians must not only be obedient and yielded to the Holy Spirit but also dependent on Him, because He is our power individually and corporately (John 15:5).

Finally, three challenges grow out of the emphases of Acts:

First, what is your motivation as a Christian? Why do you do what you do? What motivated the Spirit-filled believers in Acts was the desire that God should get the glory above everything else. Who do you want to get the credit for what you do? Former United States President Ronald Reagan reportedly had a sign on his desk in the White House that read, "There is no limit to what you can accomplish, if you don't care who gets the credit."

Second, what is your method as a Christian? How do you do what you do? Our models in Acts cooperated with God so Christ could work through them by His Holy Spirit. This involved having confidence in His revelation, yielding to His will, obeying His Word, and depending on His Holy Spirit.

Third, what is your emphasis as a Christian? What do you do? In Acts, the leaders of the church gave priority to what is most important to God, not to what was most important to themselves personally. Furthermore, they emphasized the essentials, not the incidentals. Let us not get so fascinated with the incidentals, such as how God manifested His power (healings, speaking in tongues, etc.), that we fail to give priority to the essentials.

One essential is that God is powerful enough to do anything to accomplish His purposes. Many Christians are very reluctant to believe that God can do whatever needs to be done. Let us give ourselves to the task before us wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." In Acts 1:8, He said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." In Matthew 16:18, He said: "I will build My church, and the gates of will Hades will not overpower it." Acts is a fantastic book, because in it we see Him doing just that, and we find encouragement to participate in His great program of church building.[33]



This first major section of Acts contains the record of the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost, and its expansion in the city of Jerusalem.

A.     The founding of the church 1:1—2:47

In his account of the founding of the Christian church, Luke gave background information that ties Jesus' giving of the Great Commission to the day of Pentecost. He showed how Jesus enabled His disciples to obey His command to evangelize the nations.

1.     The resumptive preface to the book 1:1-5

Luke wrote these introductory statements in order to connect the Book of Acts with his Gospel.[34] In his former book, Luke had recorded what Jesus had begun to do and to teach during His earthly ministry. In this second book, he wrote what Jesus continued to do in order to build His church through Spirit-indwelt Christians (cf. John 14:12).[35]

1:1             Luke referred to his Gospel as "The first account." The Greek word proton means "first," but it does not imply that Luke intended to write more than two books. This has been the unnecessary conclusion of some scholars.[36] It simply means that Luke was the first of these two books that he wrote.

The name "Theophilus" means "Lover of God." Some interpreters have suggested that Theophilus was not an actual person and that Luke was writing to all lovers of God whom he personified by using this name (cf. Luke 1:3).[37] All things considered, it seems more likely that Theophilus was a real person. There is no reason that he could not have been. Such is the implication of the address, and Theophilus was a fairly common Greek proper name.[38] (Flavius Josephus similarly addressed his Antiquities of the Jews to a man named Epaphroditus.[39]) At least one writer identified Theophilus as King Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26),[40] but this is a minority view.

Luke wanted his readers to be careful to note that the remarkable supernatural events that he was to unfold were ultimately the work of "Jesus" Christ. They were not just those of His enthusiastic followers.

"The order of the words 'doing' and 'teaching' is noteworthy. Deeds first; then words. The same order is found in Luke 24:19 (contrast Acts 7:22). The 'doing' comes first, for Christianity is primarily life. The teaching follows afterwards, for 'the life is the light of men.'"[41]

1:2             Jesus was "taken up" at His ascension into heaven (Luke 24:51). The "orders" that He had given His apostles were that they should remain temporarily in Jerusalem (1:4; Luke 24:49). Then they should go out into the whole world to herald the good news of salvation (1:8; Luke 24:47; Matt. 28:19-20).

"Apostles" are by definition "sent ones." However, this term here has specific reference to the few disciples that Jesus gave this command to personally. Their calling was unique in that these men laid the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). All Christians are apostles in the sense that Christ has sent all of us who are believers on this mission. Yet the 12 apostles (and Paul) were a unique group with special powers that the Lord did not give to the rest.[42]

"Each of these four factors—the witness mandate, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, the ascended Lord—is a major emphasis that runs throughout Acts; each receives special attention in chapters 1 and 2."[43]

1:3             The Greek word tekmeriois, translated "proofs," occurs only here in the New Testament. It refers to proof by incontrovertible evidence as contrasted with the proof claimed by a witness. Luke asserted that Jesus Christ's resurrection was beyond dispute.[44]

"The fact of the resurrection was to be the solid foundation of the apostles' faith and the chief ingredient of their early message."[45]

As 40 days of temptation in the wilderness preceded Jesus' earthly ministry (Luke 4:2), so He introduced His present ministry with a 40-day period of preparation. Jesus' baptism with the Spirit occurred before his 40-day test, whereas the reverse order of events appears here in Acts.[46] God had instructed Moses for 40 days on Mt. Sinai in preparation for Israel's mission in the world. Now Jesus instructed the Apostles for "40 days" in preparation for the church's mission in the world.[47]

"What Luke is describing is a new beginning, yet a beginning which recalls the beginning already made in the Gospel and with which the story of Acts is continuous. The forty days, therefore, is a vital vehicle for conveying Luke's theology of continuity …"[48]

There are two ways that the Bible uses the term "the kingdom of God": (1) Sometimes the phrase "the kingdom of God" refers to God's heavenly rule over all events throughout history. This is the universal sovereign rule of God over all things at all times. (2) At other times "the kingdom of God" refers to His rule over His people through human mediators. These mediators included Adam, Noah, Moses, Israel's judges (during the Period of the Judges), and Israel's kings, specifically the kings of the Davidic dynasty. The last of these Davidic kings was Messiah (Jesus Christ).[49]

The word "kingdom" occurs only eight times in Acts, but 39 times in Luke, and 18 times in the New Testament epistles. "The kingdom of God," of which Jesus taught His disciples between His resurrection and ascension, mentioned in this verse, probably refers to God's rule through Messiah now and in the future: the messianic kingdom.[50]

Some interpreters believe that this is a reference specifically to the earthly kingdom that Christ will reign over when He returns to the earth (cf. v. 6). God postponed (delayed) that kingdom because Israel rejected her King (v. 7).[51] There are two aspects to the messianic kingdom (rule by Messiah): His present rule over His own people from heaven, and His future rule over all of humankind from earth (following His second coming).

Evidently, during those 40 days before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples further instruction concerning what His rule would involve since He was going back to heaven.

1:4             What Jesus told His disciples to "wait for" in Jerusalem was the "promised" baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; cf. 1:5; John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). It must have been difficult for these disciples to wait for God to do what He had promised—as all Christians find it difficult to do. Jesus viewed the Spirit as a significant gift of God's grace to His people (cf. Luke 11:13). He is not just a means to an end but a major part of the blessings of salvation.

"No New Testament writer more clearly emphasises [sic] the Divine Personality and continuous power of the Spirit of God. Thus in the two-fold emphasis on the Exalted Lord and the Divine Spirit we have the most marked feature of the book, namely, the predominance of the Divine element over the human in Church life and work."[52]

1:5             "Baptized" (Gr. ebaptisen) means "dipped" or "immersed," and baptism results in union with something (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-2). "John" the Baptist predicted that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; cf. John 7:39). Jesus now announced that this baptism would take place in just a few days ("not many days from now"). It took place 10 days after His ascension (ch. 2). As the Holy Spirit had baptized Jesus and had thereby empowered Him for service, so His successors also needed such a power-producing baptism.

"Luke's purpose in writing his history is not primarily apologetic. He writes in order to provide his readers with an orderly account of the rise and progress of Christianity.[53] But since this movement was 'everywhere spoken against' (Acts 28:22), it seemed desirable to refute some of the current objections to it. The first Christian historian found himself accordingly obliged to be the first Christian apologist. Of three main types of Christian apologetic in the second century Luke provided first-century prototypes: apologetic in relation to pagan religion (Christianity is true; paganism is false); apologetic in relation to Judaism (Christianity represents the fulfillment of true Judaism); apologetic in relation to the political authorities (Christianity is innocent of any offense against Roman law)."[54]

2.      The command to witness 1:6-8

The key to the apostles' successful fulfillment of Jesus' commission was their baptism with, and consequent indwelling by, the Holy Spirit. Without this divine enablement, they would only have been able to follow Jesus' example, but with it, Jesus could literally continue to do His work and teach His words through them. Consequently their preparation for the baptism of the Spirit was very important. Luke recorded it to highlight its foundational significance.

Verses 6 through 8 announce the theme of Acts and set the stage for all that follows.

"The concept of 'witness' is so prominent in Acts (the word in its various forms appears some thirty-nine times) that everything else in the book should probably be seen as subsumed under it—even the primitive kerygma [preaching] …"[55]

1:6             The Old Testament associated Spirit baptism with the beginning of the earthly aspect of the messianic kingdom (Isa. 32:15-20; 44:3-5; Ezek. 39:28-29; Joel 2:28—3:1; Zech. 12:8-10). It was natural, therefore, that the disciples would ask if that earthly "kingdom" was about to begin, in view of Jesus' promise that the Spirit would baptize them in a few days. "This time" refers to "not many days from now" (v. 5). In the Septuagint, the term "restoration" (Gr. apokatastaseos) technically refers to God's political restoration of Israel (Ps. 16:5; Jer. 15:19; 16:15; 23:7; Ezek. 16:55; 17:23; Hos. 11:11).[56] The Gentiles had taken the Jews' kingdom from them, which occurred with Nebuchadnezzar's conquest in 586 B.C. Clearly the earthly aspect of the messianic kingdom (Christ's rule on earth) is in view here, not the church.[57]

"In the book of Acts, both Israel and the church exist simultaneously. The term Israel is used twenty times and ekklesia (church) nineteen times, yet the two groups are always kept distinct."[58]

Arnold Fruchtenbaum listed and discussed 73 occurrences of the word "Israel" in the New Testament.[59]

"… it is clear that the disciples still looked for an eschatological fulfillment of the Old Testament promises [cf. 3:21]."[60]

1:7             It is very significant that Jesus did not correct the disciples for believing that the earthly kingdom would come; it would indeed come.[61] He only corrected their assumption that they could know when the kingdom would begin and that the kingdom would begin in a few days.

Amillennialists do not believe that God will restore an earthly kingdom to Israel as Israel. They believe that He has created a spiritual kingdom: the church, which they believe has replaced physical Israel. They believe that God has finished His dealings with the Israel of the Old Testament, and that this new entity, the church, is "spiritual Israel," or "the new Israel."[62] Premillennialists believe that since the promises about Messiah's earthly reign have not yet been fulfilled, and since every reference to Israel in the New Testament can refer to physical Israel, we should anticipate an earthly reign of Messiah on the earth following His Second Coming.

"Jesus' answer to the question about restoring the reign to Israel denies that Jesus' followers can know the time and probably corrects their supposition that the restoration may come immediately, but it does not deny the legitimacy of their concern with the restoration of the national life of the Jewish people."[63]

"This passage makes it clear that while the covenanted form of the theocracy has not been cancelled and has only been postponed, this present age is definitely not a development of the Davidic form of the kingdom. Rather, it is a period in which a new form of theocratic administration is inaugurated. In this way Jesus not only answered the disciples' question concerning the timing of the future Davidic kingdom, but He also made a clear distinction between it and the intervening present form of the theocratic administration."[64]

Jesus' disciples were "not …  to know" yet when the earthly kingdom would begin. God would reveal the "periods of time" (Gr. chronous, length of time) and "appointed times" (Gr. kairous, major features of the times) after Jesus' ascension, and He would make them known through His chosen prophets (cf. 1 Thess. 5:1; Rev. 6—19). Amillennialists take this reference to the times and epochs to be general—the apostles would not know how things would happen before they happened—not to the events preceding the earthly messianic kingdom.[65] However, it appears that Jesus was speaking of the times and epochs preceding the coming of the earthly kingdom, in view of the context (v. 6).

"In Acts 3:20 [sic 19], the phrase chosen is kairoi anapsuxeos (seasons of refreshing). … In other words, the last days of fulfillment have two parts. There is the current period of refreshing, which is correlated to Jesus' reign in heaven and in which a person shares, if he or she repents. Then at the end of this period Jesus will come to bring the restoration of those things promised by the Old Testament."[66]

"There is a close connection between the hope expressed in 1:6 and the conditional promise of Peter in 3:19-21, indicated not only by the unusual words 'restore' and 'restoration …' but also by the references to 'times …' and 'seasons …' in both contexts. The 'times of restoration of all that God spoke' through the prophets include the restoration of the reign to Israel through its messianic King."[67]

1:8             Rather than trying to figure out when the earthly kingdom would come, the disciples were to give their attention to something different, namely, worldwide witness. Moreover, the disciples would receive divine enablement for their worldwide mission (cf. Luke 24:47-49). As God's "Spirit" had empowered both the Israelites and Jesus as they executed their missions, so God's Spirit would empower the disciples as they executed their mission. The "power" promised was not to enable the apostles to live godly lives, though the Holy Spirit does enable believers to do that.

"What is promised to the apostles is the power to fulfil their mission, that is, to speak, to bear oral testimony, and to perform miracles and in general act with authority. This power is given through the Spirit, and conversely the Spirit in Acts may be defined as the divine agency that gives this power."[68]

"You shall be" translates a future indicative verb in Greek (as in "you will receive"). But Is this clause "You shall be" a prediction or a command? Grammatically it could be either. The apostles clearly felt compelled to preach (cf. 10:42). However, if this was a command, it could have been stated more forcefully. Therefore both verbs ("you shall be" and "you will receive") are probably predictions, and statements of fact, rather than commands.

"They were now to be witnesses, and their definite work was to bear testimony to their Master; they were not to be theologians, or philosophers, or leaders, but witnesses. Whatever else they might become, everything was to be subordinate to the idea of personal testimony. It was to call attention to what they knew of Him and to deliver His message to mankind. This special class of people, namely, disciples who are also witnesses, is therefore very prominent in this book. Page after page is occupied by their testimony, and the key to this feature is found in the words of Peter: 'We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard' (4:20)."[69]

A friend of mine, Donald Scott, used to refer to us Christians as mailmen, because our job is to deliver good news (the gospel) to people.

This verse contains an inspired outline of the Book of Acts. Note that it refers to a person ("My," Jesus Christ), a power ("the Holy Spirit"), and a program (ever expanding worldwide witness by "witnesses"). Luke proceeded to record that the fulfillment of this prediction would continue until the gospel and the church had reached Rome. From the heart of the Roman Empire God would pump the gospel out to every other remote part of the world. Starting from "Jerusalem" the gospel message radiated farther and farther, like ripples do when a stone lands in a placid pool of water. Rome was over 1,400 miles from Jerusalem.

"The Christian church, according to Acts, is a missionary church that responds obediently to Jesus' commission, acts on Jesus' behalf in the extension of his ministry, focuses its proclamation of the kingdom of God in its witness to Jesus, is guided and empowered by the self-same Spirit that directed and supported Jesus' ministry, and follows a program whose guidelines for outreach have been set by Jesus himself."[70]

Jerusalem was the most wicked city on earth, in that it was there that Jesus Christ's enemies crucified Him. Nevertheless there too God manifested His grace first. The linking of "Judea and Samaria" preserves an ethnic distinction, while at the same time describing one geographic area. The phrase to "the remotest part of the earth" is literally to "the end of the earth." This phrase is rare in ancient Greek literature, but it occurs five times in the Septuagint (Isa. 8:9; 48:20; 49:6; 62:11; Pss. Sol. 1:4). Jesus was evidently alluding to Isaiah's predictions (cited above) that God would extend salvation to all people, Gentiles as well as Jews.[71]

"(i) Witnessing to the Jews meant witnessing to those who held a true religion, but held it for the most part falsely and unreally [sic]. (ii) Witnessing in Samaria meant witnessing to those who had a mixed religion, partly true, and partly false, Jewish and Heathen. (iii) Witnessing to the uttermost part of the earth meant witnessing to those who had no real and vital religion at all."[72]


Gospel Outreach in Acts



Chief Person

Gospel to


Acts 1—12



Judea and Samaria

Primarily Jewish

Acts 13—28



The uttermost part of the earth

Primarily Gentile


This pericope (section of text, vv. 6-8) is Luke's account of Jesus' farewell address to His successors (cf. Gen. 49; Num. 20:26; 27:16-19; Deut. 31:14-23; 34:9; 2 Kings 2; et al.). Luke used several typical features of a Jewish farewell scene in 1:1-14.[73]

3.     The ascension of Jesus 1:9-11

1:9             Jesus Christ's ascension necessarily preceded the descent of the Holy Spirit to baptize and indwell believers, in God's plan (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 2:33-36). "While they were watching" stresses the fact that the apostles really saw Jesus ascending, which they bore witness to later. This reference supports the credibility of their witness. In previous post-resurrection appearances Jesus had vanished from the disciples' sight instantly (Luke 24:31), but now He gradually departed from them.

The "cloud" seems clearly to be a reference to the shekinah, a visible symbol of the glorious presence of God (cf. Exod. 40:34; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7).[74] Thus what the disciples saw was the symbol of God's presence, a real cloud, receiving and enveloping Jesus into heaven. This connoted God's approval of Jesus and Jesus' entrance into the glorious presence of God.[75]

"It was necessary that as Jesus in a moment of time had arrived in the world in a moment of time He should leave it."[76]

1:10-11      the word "intently" (Gr. atenizein) further stresses that these men really did see Jesus ascend (v. 2; Luke 24:51). Luke used this dramatic Greek word 12 times. It only appears two other times in the New Testament. "Into the sky" (lit. into heaven, eis ton ouranon) occurs four times in these two verses. Luke emphasized that Jesus was now in heaven. From there He would continue His ministry on earth through His apostles and other witnesses. The two "men" were angelic messengers who looked like men (cf. Matt. 28:3; John 20:12; Luke 24:4).

Some commentators have suggested that the two "men" may have been Enoch and Elijah, or Moses and Elijah.[77] But this seems unlikely.[78] Probably Luke would have named them if they had been such famous individuals. Besides, the similarity between Luke's description of these two angels and the ones that appeared at Jesus' tomb (Luke 24:1-7) suggests that they were simply angels.

The 11 disciples were literally "Men of Galilee" (v. 11). Judas Iscariot was the only one of the Twelve who originated from Judea. This conclusion assumes the traditional interpretation that "Iscariot" translates the Hebrew 'ish qeriyot, meaning "a man of Kerioth," Kerioth being Kerioth-Hezron, which was 12 miles south of Hebron.[79]

The "men" announced two things: The "Jesus" that they had known had entered into His heavenly abode, and He would return to the earth. Jesus ascended in a cloud personally, bodily, visibly, and gloriously, and He will return the same way (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 24:50-51; Rev. 1:7).[80] He will also return to the same place: the Mount of Olives (cf. v. 12; Luke 24:50-51; Zech. 14:4).

"What an amazing thought this is, that God should come down into the creature-place, not simply for a time, and to do a work in it which, however wondrous, would be but for a time, but of His own free choice to abide in it after this manner. God and the creature—His creature—thus permanently together; clasped in an embrace that never shall be sundered!"[81]

Jesus' own descriptions of His return to the earth appear in Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; and Luke 21:27. This was no repetition of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:27-36).

"Throughout the period of the post-resurrection forty days, Jesus had frequently appeared to the disciples, and during the intervals he had disappeared. Each time, apparently, they had no reason to suppose that he would not reappear shortly, and until this time he had not disappointed them."[82]

What filled these disciples with great joy (Luke 24:52) was probably the hope that they would see Jesus again soon. Without this hope His departure would have made them very sad. The joyful prospect of the Lord's return should have the same effect on believers today.

John Maile summarized the significance of the ascension narratives in Luke-Acts as follows: First, he stated, "The ascension is the confirmation of the exaltation of Christ and his present Lordship." Second, it is "the explanation of the continuity between the ministry of Jews and that of the church." Third, it is "the culmination of the resurrection appearances." Fourth, it is "the prelude to the sending of the Spirit." Fifth, it is "the foundation of Christian mission." Sixth, it is "the pledge of the return of Christ."[83]

"Rightly understood, the ascension narratives of Luke … provide a crucial key to the unlocking of Luke's theology and purpose."[84]

"Luke's point is that the missionary activity of the early church rested not only on Jesus' mandate but also on his living presence in heaven and the sure promise of his return."[85]

"In Luke's mind the Ascension of Christ has two aspects: in the Gospel it is the end of the story of Jesus, in Acts it is the beginning of the story of the Church, which will go on until Christ comes again. Thus for Luke, as [C. K.] Barrett says, 'the end of the story of Jesus is the Church, and the story of Jesus is the beginning of the Church'."[86]

4.     Jesus' appointment of a twelfth apostle 1:12-26

Peter perceived the importance of asking God to identify Judas' successor in view of the ministry that Jesus had said the Twelve would have in the future. He led the disciples in obtaining the Lord Jesus' guidance in this important matter (cf. vv. 21, 24). Thus, though the text does not say that Jesus appointed the twelfth apostle, He was the Person who guided Peter and the Eleven in making this choice. From Peter's viewpoint, the Lord could have returned very soon to restore the messianic kingdom to Israel (v. 6), so the Twelve had to be ready for their ministry of judging the twelve tribes of Israel when He did.

The disciples' spiritual preparation 1:12-14

1:12-13      The disciples "returned to Jerusalem" to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

"They are about to undergo a spiritual transformation; to pass, so to speak, from the chrysalis to the winged stage. They are on the eve of the great illumination promised by Jesus before His death. The Spirit of Truth is about to come and lead them into all Christian truth."[87]

The short trip from where Jesus ascended on Mt. "Olivet" to the upstairs room was only "a Sabbath day's journey away" (about 2,000 cubits, two-thirds of a mile, or one kilometer; cf. Exod. 16:29; Num. 35:5).[88] This "upstairs room" may not have been the same one in which the disciples had observed the first Lord's Supper with Jesus (Luke 22:12). Different Greek words describe the places. It may have been the place where He had appeared to them following His resurrection (Luke 24:32, 36; John 20:19, 26), but this too is unclear. Richard Lenski inferred from the Greek word katamenontes ("staying") that the believers were making this room their headquarters in Jerusalem.[89]

The definite article "the" with "upstairs room" in the Greek text (to hyperoon), and the emphatic position of this phrase, may suggest that Luke meant to identify a special upper room that the reader would have known about from a previous reference to it. One writer suggested that this room, as well as the ones mentioned in 9:37, 39, and 20:8, may have been part of a synagogue.[90] The repetition of the apostles' names recalls Jesus' previous appointment of them as apostles (cf. Luke 6:13-16).[91] This list, however, omits Judas Iscariot and sets the stage for the selection of his replacement.

1:14           The apostles were "continually devoting themselves … to prayer," probably for the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised would take place shortly (cf. Dan. 9:2-3; Luke 11:13). "The prayer" (in Greek, te proseuche) suggests that they may have been praying at the Jewish designated times of prayer (cf. 2:42; 6:4). Proseuche sometimes has the wider meaning of worship, and it may mean that here. Luke stressed their unity ("All … with one mind"), a mark of the early Christians that Luke noted frequently in Acts. The disciples were united in their purpose to carry out the will of their Lord. Divine promises should stimulate prayer, not lead to abandonment of it.

"In almost every chapter in Acts you find a reference to prayer, and the book makes it very clear that something happens when God's people pray."[92]

"… when God is going to do some great thing He moves the hearts of people to pray; He stirs them up to pray in view of that which He is about to do so that they might be prepared for it. The disciples needed the self-examination that comes through prayer and supplication, that they might be ready for the tremendous event which was about to take place …"[93]

"The women" referred to were apparently the same ones who accompanied the disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 8:1-3; cf. 23:49; 23:55—24:10). Luke's interest in women, which is so evident in his Gospel, continues in Acts.

"Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there, but you will notice they were not praying to Mary, nor were they burning candles to her; they were not addressing themselves to her, nor asking her for any blessing; but Mary, the mother of Jesus, was kneeling with the eleven and the women, and all together they prayed to the Father."[94]

This, by the way, is the last reference to "Mary the mother of Jesus" in the Bible. Jesus' "brothers," really His half-brothers (John 7:5; Mark 6:3), were among those devoting themselves to prayer. They had apparently had become believers following His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7).

The choice of Matthias 1:15-26

1:15           In view of Peter's leadership gifts, so obvious in the Gospels, it is no surprise that he is the one who took the initiative on this occasion.

"Undoubtedly, the key disciple in Luke's writings is Peter. He was the representative disciple, as well as the leading apostle.[95]

"Brothers and sisters" is literally "disciples" (Gr. matheton). The group of "120" that Peter addressed on this occasion (cf. vv. 13-14) was probably only a segment of the believers who were living in Jerusalem at this time (cf. 1 Cor. 15:6, which refers to more than 500 "brothers and sisters"). Nonetheless this was a tiny group from which the church grew. God can take a small number of people, multiply them, and eventually fill the earth with their witness. He did it once, and He can do it again.

1:16-17      Peter addressed the assembled disciples in a way that was evidently customary when speaking to Jews. Here "Brothers" is literally "Men, brothers" (andres, adelphoi). This same salutation occurs elsewhere in Acts, always in formal addresses to Jews (cf. 2:29, 37; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 15:7, 13; 22:1; 23:1, 6; 28:17).

Notice the high regard with which Peter viewed the Old Testament.[96] He believed that David's words came from "the Holy Spirit" (2 Tim. 3:16), and he viewed them as "Scripture" (holy writings). Peter interpreted David's words about false companions and wicked men who opposed God's servants as applying to "Judas." What God had said through David about David's enemy was also true of Jesus' enemy, since Jesus was the LORD's (Yahweh's) Anointed whom David anticipated.

"Since David himself was God's appointed king, many times Scripture treats him as typical of Christ, the unique Anointed One, and David's enemy becomes a type of Jesus' enemy."[97]

"Of course the betrayal of the Messiah by one of his followers, leading to his death, required such an explanation, since this was no part of early Jewish messianic expectation."[98]

Peter said this Scripture "had [Gr. dei, by divine necessity] to be fulfilled."

"The understanding [of Peter] here is … (1) that God is doing something necessarily involved in his divine plan; (2) that the disciples' lack of comprehension of God's plan is profound, especially with respect to Judas who 'was one of our number and shared in this ministry' yet also 'served as guide for those who arrested Jesus'; and (3) that an explicit way of understanding what has been going on under divine direction is through a Christian understanding of two psalms that speak of false companions and wicked men generally, and which by means of the then widely common exegetical rule qal wahomer ('light to heavy,' or a minore ad majorem) can also be applied to the false disciple and wicked man par excellence, Judas Iscariot."[99]

1:18-19      These verses appear to be Luke's interjection of information into Peter's speech for the benefit of his readers. Judas purchased the "Field of Blood" indirectly by returning the money he received for betraying Jesus to the priests who used it to buy the field (Matt. 27:3-10). Perhaps the name "Field of Blood" was the nickname that the residents of Jerusalem gave it since "blood money" had purchased it.

This account of Judas' death differs from Matthew's, who wrote that Judas hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). The two events are easy to combine, and undoubtedly both accounts were true. Perhaps Judas hanged himself and in the process also fell "headlong (lit. flat on his face) and tore open his abdomen. Perhaps the rope or branch with which he hanged himself broke. Or perhaps when others cut his corpse down it fell and broke open, as Luke described. Another view is that Judas defiled the city when he hanged himself, so the priests threw his body over the wall facing the Hinnom Valley and "his intestines gushed out."[100] The traditional location of "Hakeldama" is southeast of Jerusalem, near where the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys meet. This description of Judas' death stressed the awfulness of that apostle's action and its consequences.

It was Judas' defection that led to his horrible death, and not just his death, that led to the need for a successor. In other words, Matthias succeeded Judas because Judas had been unfaithful, not just because he had died. Thus this text provides no support for the view that Christ intended one apostle to succeed another when the preceding one died, which is what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.[101] We have no record that when the apostle James died (12:1-2) anyone succeeded him.

1:20           Peter's quotations are from Psalms 69:25 and 109:8. The quotations from the Old Testament that Luke recorded are all from Greek translations of it.[102] Psalm 69 is an Old Testament passage in which Jesus Himself, as well as the early Christians, saw similarities to, and fore-views of, Jesus' experiences (cf. John 2:17; 15:25; Rom. 11:9-10; 15:3).[103] Jesus fulfilled this passage that Peter cited in the sense that His situation proved to be the same as David's, only on a more significant messianic scale.

Peter did not appeal to Psalm 69:25 in order to justify replacing Judas with another apostle, however. He used the quotation from Psalm 109:8 to do that. It is another verse that Peter applied to Jesus' case, since it described something analogous to Jesus' experience. He used what David had written about someone who opposed the LORD's king—and was replaced—in order to support the idea that someone should replace Judas in his "office" as one of the Twelve.

1:21-22      Why did Peter believe it was "necessary" to choose someone to take Judas' place? Evidently he remembered Jesus' promise that the 12 disciples would sit on 12 thrones in the earthly messianic kingdom judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; cf. Rev. 21:14). To be as qualified for this ministry as the other 11 disciples, the twelfth had to have met the conditions that Peter specified.

"In 1:21 Peter speaks not of being with Jesus but of going with him on his journeys. … This emphasis on journeying with Jesus, particularly on his final journey to the cross, suggests that the apostolic witnesses are qualified not simply because they happened to be present when something happened and so could report it, like witnesses to an accident. Rather they have been taught and trained by Jesus for their work. They shared Jesus' life and work during his mission. In the process they were tested and discovered their own defects. That discovery may also be part of their preparation. The witness of the Galileans does not arise from casual observation. They speak out of a life and mission shared with Jesus, after being taught and tested. From this group the replacement for Judas is chosen."[104]

"The expression 'went in and out among us' [NIV] is a Semitic idiom for familiar and unhindered association (cf. Deut 31:2; 2 Sam 3:25; Ps 121:8; Acts 9:28)."[105]

Having been a witness to Jesus Christ's resurrection was especially important. The apostles prepared themselves so that if Jesus Christ had returned very soon, and set up His kingdom on the earth, they would have been ready. Often in biblical history God replaced someone who proved unworthy with a more faithful steward (e.g., Zadok for Ahithophel, Shebna for Eliakim, Samuel for Samson, David for Saul, et al.).

These two verses provide the basis for distinguishing a technical use of the word "apostle" from the general meaning of the word. By definition, an "apostle" (from apo stello, "to send away") is anyone sent out as a messenger. Translators have sometimes rendered this word "messenger" in English versions. Barnabas, Paul's fellow workers, James, and Epaphroditus—were apostles in this sense (Acts 14:4, 14; 2 Cor. 8:23; Gal. 1:19; Phil. 2:25).

Every Christian should function as an apostle, since Christ has given us the Great Commission. Nevertheless, the Twelve were apostles in a special sense. They not only went out with a message, but they went out having been personally discipled by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. They were the official apostles, the apostles who occupied the apostolic office (v. 20), which Jesus established when He first chose and sent out the Twelve (Luke 6:13). As we shall see, Paul was also an official apostle, even though he had not been personally discipled by Jesus as the Twelve had been.

This address of Peter (vv. 16-21) is the first of some 23 or 24 speeches that Luke reported in Acts. About one third of the content of Acts is speeches.[106] This one is an example of deliberative rhetoric, in which the speaker seeks to persuade his hearers to follow a certain course of action in the near future.[107] How accurate did Luke attempt to be when he recorded the speeches in Acts?

"To an extent, of course, all the speeches in Acts are necessarily paraphrastic [paraphrases], for certainly the original delivery contained more detail of argument and more illustrative material than Luke included—as poor Eutychus undoubtedly could testify (Acts 20:7-12)! Stenographic reports they are not, and probably few ever so considered them. They have been reworked, as is required in any précis [summary], and reworked, moreover, in accord with the style of the narrative. But recognition of the kind of writing that produces speeches compatible with the narrative in which they are found should not be interpreted as inaccurate reporting or a lack of traditional source material. After all, a single author is responsible for the literary form of the whole."[108]

Josephus reported many speeches in his histories, but he clearly put them in his own words. One example is Herod the Great's speech to the Jews encouraging them to defend themselves against the attacking Arabians. The same speech appears in both the Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews, but the content is somewhat different.[109] Another is Herod Agrippa I's speech to the Jews discouraging them from getting into war with the Romans.[110]

1:23-26      Those present ("they"), who were probably the "group of about 120 people … there together," v. 15), nominated two apparently equally qualified men. Perhaps the Eleven took the lead in this process. "Joseph" is a Hebrew name, "Barsabbas" is Aramaic, meaning "Son of the Sabbath," and "Justus" is Roman. "Matthias" is Hebrew, and is a short form of Mattithia. Those present then "prayed" for the Lord to indicate which one He chose (cf. 6:6; 13:3; 14:23; 1 Sam. 22:10; 23:2, 4, 10-12). The "Lord" (v. 24) probably refers to Jesus (cf. v. 21), in which case this is the first instance of prayer to the risen Christ in Scripture. Those praying acknowledged that only God (Jesus) knows all people's hearts (1 Sam. 16:7), and He would not make the mistake that the Israelites did when they chose King Saul. They wanted God to identify the man after His own heart, as He had done with David.

Next they "drew lots," probably by drawing one of two designated stones out of a container, or by throwing down specially marked objects (cf. Lev. 16:8; Josh. 14:2; 1 Sam. 14:41-42; Neh. 10:34; 11:1; Prov. 16:33). The ancient Greeks often used pebbles in voting, black for condemning and white for acquitting.[111] The Lord identified Matthias as His sovereign choice to fulfill the "ministry" (service) and "apostleship" (office) of Judas. Judas' "own place" was a place different from that of the Eleven, namely, the grave and eventually hell (cf. John 17:12). Matthias received no further mention in the New Testament. Legend has it that he died as a martyr in Ethiopia.[112]

"… it was not enough to possess the qualifications other apostles had. Judas's successor must also be appointed by the same Lord who appointed the Eleven."[113]

This instance of casting lots to determine God's will is the last one that the New Testament writers recorded. This was not a vote. Casting lots was necessary before the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but when He came, He provided the guidance, inwardly, that God had formerly provided externally. Christians do not need to cast lots to determine God's will, because now the indwelling Holy Spirit provides that guidance. He does so objectively through Scripture and subjectively by impressing His will on yielded believers in response to prayer.

Was Peter correct in leading the believers to recognize a twelfth apostle, or did God intend Paul to be the replacement? Several commentators believed that Paul was God's intended replacement.[114] Paul was, of course, an apostle with authority equal to that of the Twelve. However, Paul had not been with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Luke, Paul's friend and close associate, spoke of the Twelve without equivocation as an official group (Acts 2:14; 6:2; cf. 1 Cor. 15:5). Furthermore the distinctly Jewish nature of the future ministry of the Twelve (Matt. 19:28) supports Paul's exclusion from this group. His ministry was primarily to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9). Paul never claimed to be one of the Twelve, though he did contend that his official apostleship had come to him as a direct commission from the Lord. However it came from the risen Lord, and he considered himself abnormally born as an apostle (1 Cor. 15:7-8). Finally, there is no hint in Scripture that the decision made on this occasion was a mistake.

"… the pericope suggests that a Christian decision regarding vocation entails (1) evaluating personal qualifications, (2) earnest prayer, and (3) appointment by Christ himself—an appointment that may come in some culturally related fashion, but in a way clear to those who seek guidance."[115]

"Matthew concludes with the Resurrection, Mark with the Ascension, Luke with the promise of the Holy Spirit, and John with the promise of the Second Coming. Acts 1 brings all four records together and mentions each of them. The four Gospels funnel into Acts, and Acts is the bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles."[116]

5.     The birth of the church 2:1-41

The Holy Spirit's descent on the day of Pentecost inaugurated a new dispensation (economy, working arrangement) in God's administration of the human race.[117] Luke recorded the events of this day in order to explain the changes in God's dealings with humankind that followed in the early church—and to the present day. Many Bible students view the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as the beginning, the birthday, of the church.[118]

"This event is a fulcrum [pivotal] account in Luke-Acts."[119]

"The plot of a work can often be illuminated by considering the major conflict or conflicts within it. Although Jesus' witnesses face other conflicts, the central conflict of the plot, repeatedly emphasized and still present in the last major scene of Acts, is a conflict within Judaism provoked by Jewish Christian preachers (including Paul). Acts 2:1—8:3 traces the development of this conflict in Jerusalem."[120]

The descent of the Spirit 2:1-4

Luke had previously introduced the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry with His baptism with the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22). He now paralleled that with the beginning of Jesus' heavenly ministry with the Spirit baptism of His disciples (Acts 2:1-4). The same Spirit who indwelt and empowered Jesus during His earthly ministry would now indwell and empower His believing disciples. John the Baptist had predicted this Pentecost baptism with the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16), as had Jesus (Acts 1:8).

2:1             "The day of Pentecost" was an annual spring feast at which the Jews presented the first-fruits of their wheat harvest to God (Exod. 34:22a). The Jews also called Pentecost "the Feast of Harvest" and "the Feast of Weeks" in earlier times. They celebrated it at the end of seven weeks (i.e., a week of weeks) following the Feast of Passover. God received a new crop of believers, who were later called Christians, on this particular day of Pentecost. The Jews also celebrated Pentecost as the anniversary of the giving of the Mosaic Law (cf. Exod. 19:1). Paul regarded the Spirit's indwelling presence as God's replacement for the external guidance that the Mosaic Law had provided believers under that old Mosaic Covenant (Gal. 3:3, 23-29).

"Pentecost" is a Greek word, transliterated into English, that means fiftieth. This feast fell on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was one of the feasts at which all the male Jews needed to be present at the central sanctuary (Exod. 34:22-23). Jews who lived up to 20 miles from Jerusalem were expected to travel to Jerusalem to attend these feasts. Pentecost usually fell in late May or early June. Traveling conditions at that time of year made it possible for Jews who lived farther away to visit Jerusalem too. These factors account for the large number of Jews present in Jerusalem on this particular day. This feast was the most crowded in Jerusalem, and the most attended by foreigners, of any of the Jewish festivals.[121]

"… by paralleling Jesus' baptism with the experience of Jesus' early followers at Pentecost, Luke is showing that the mission of the Christian church, as was the ministry of Jesus, is dependent upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. And by his stress on Pentecost as the day when the miracle took place, he is also suggesting (1) that the Spirit's coming is in continuity with God's purposes in giving the law and yet (2) that the Spirit's coming signals the essential difference between the Jewish faith and commitment to Jesus, for whereas the former is Torah centered and Torah directed, the latter is Christ centered and Spirit directed—all of which sounds very much like Paul."[122]

The antecedent of "they" is apparently the believers that Luke mentioned in 1:15. However, it could refer to the Twelve, since Luke later wrote that the multitude marveled that those who spoke in tongues were Galileans (v. 7). It is not possible to identify the "place" (lit. the house, Gr. ton oikon) where they assembled with certainty. Perhaps it was the upstairs room already mentioned (1:13) or another house. Clearly the disciples were indoors (v. 2).

2:2             The "noise like a violent rushing wind" came from heaven, the place where Jesus had gone (1:10-11). This noise symbolized the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. The same Greek word (pneuma) means either "wind" or "spirit." Ezekiel and Jesus had previously used the wind as an illustration of God's Spirit (Ezek. 37:9-14; John 3:8).

"Luke particularly stresses the importance of the Spirit in the life of the church [in Acts]."[123]

Jesus' earlier breathing on the disciples and giving them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) may have been only a temporary empowerment with the Spirit along the lines of Old Testament empowerments. Other interpreters believe that Jesus was giving these disciples a symbolic and graphic reminder, an advance example as it were, of the Spirit who would come upon them later. It was a demonstration of what Jesus would do when He returned to the Father, and which He did do on Pentecost. He was not imparting the Spirit to them in any sense then. I prefer this second explanation.

"A friend of my daughter lives in Kansas and went through the experience of a tornado. It did not destroy their home but came within two blocks of it. When she wrote about it to my daughter, she said, 'The first thing we noticed was a sound like a thousand freight trains coming into town.' Friend, that was a rushing, mighty wind, and that was the sound. It was that kind of sound that they heard on the Day of Pentecost."[124]

2:3             "Fire," as well as wind, symbolized the presence of God (cf. Gen. 15:17; Exod. 3:2-6; 13:21-22; 19:18; 24:17; 40:38; Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). The believers received a visual as well as an auditory indication that the promised Holy Spirit of God had come. Evidently at first the apparent fire ("tongues that looked like fire") came in one piece and then separated into individual flames, which always resemble tongues of fire. "Distributing themselves" translates diamerizomenai, a present and probably a middle Greek participle, suggesting that the fire was seen dividing itself.

Each one of these flames "rested" (sat) on "each" believer present. God could hardly have depicted the distribution of His Spirit to every individual believer more clearly. The Spirit had in the past rested on the whole nation of Israel corporately, symbolized by the pillar of fire in the wilderness. Now He rested on each believer, as He had on Jesus in the form of a dove. This fire was obviously not normal fire because it did not burn up what it touched (cf. Exod. 3:2-6).

Probably the Jews present connected the tongues by which the believers spoke miraculously with the tongues of fire. They probably attributed the miracle of speaking in tongues to the God whose presence they had identified with fire in their history and who was now obviously present among them.

Was this the fulfillment of John the Baptist's statement that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; cf. Joel 2:28-29; Mal. 3:2-5)? Some believe that it was a complete fulfillment of those prophecies and that we should expect no further subsequent fulfillment. This seems doubtful, since these prophecies occur in contexts involving the experiences of all Israel.

Others believe that what happened on the day of Pentecost was an initial, partial, or similar fulfillment, and that complete fulfillment is still future. Some who hold this second view believe that the prophecy about the baptism with the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on Pentecost, but that the prophecy about baptism with fire was not fulfilled at that time, but will be fulfilled in the future seven-year Tribulation. Others who hold this second view believe that both baptisms occurred on Pentecost, and both will occur again in the future and will involve Israel.

A third view is that what happened on Pentecost was not what the Old Testament predicted at all, since those predictions have Israel in view.[125] I view what happened on Pentecost as a foreview of what will happen for Israel in the future. What we have in this verse is a gracious baptizing that involved the Holy Spirit and the presence and power of God symbolized by fire.[126]

2:4             Spirit filling and Spirit baptism are two distinct ministries of the Holy Spirit. Both occurred on this occasion, though Luke only mentioned filling specifically. We know that Spirit baptism also took place because Jesus predicted that it would take place "not many days from now" before His ascension (1:5). Moreover, Peter spoke of it as having taken place on Pentecost a short time later (11:15-16).[127]

Filling with the Spirit was a phenomenon that believers experienced at various times in the Old Testament economy (Exod. 35:30-34; Num. 11:26-29; 1 Sam. 10:6, 10) as well as in the New. An individual Christian can now experience it many times. God can fill a person with His Spirit on numerous separate occasions (cf. Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9, 52). However, the New Testament never says that believers were baptized with the Spirit a second time. Furthermore, God has commanded all believers to "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18), but there are no commands to Christians to be baptized with the Spirit. Luke used "filling" to express the Holy Spirit's presence and enablement within the believer.[128]

Filling by (or with) the Spirit results in the Spirit's control (influence) of the believer (Eph. 5:18). The Spirit controls a believer to the degree that He fills the believer. Believers experience the Spirit's control to the extent that they yield to His will. On the day of Pentecost, the believers assembled were under the Spirit's control because they were in a proper personal relationship of submission to Him (cf. 1:14). In the Book of Acts, whenever Luke said that the disciples were Spirit-filled, their filling always had some connection with their gospel proclamation or some specific service related to outreach (2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9).[129]

"… Luke always connects the 'filling of the Holy Spirit' with the proclamation of the gospel in Acts (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9). Those who are 'full of the Holy Spirit' are always those who are faithfully fulfilling their anointed task as proclaimers (Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52)."[130]

"No great decision was ever taken, no important step was ever embarked upon, by the early Church without the guidance of the Spirit. The early Church was a Spirit-guided community.[131]

"In the first thirteen chapters of Acts there are more than forty references to the Holy Spirit. The early Church was a Spirit-filled Church and precisely therein lay its power."[132]

The Christian never repeats Spirit baptism (in contrast to filling), God never commanded Spirit baptism, and it does not occur in degrees. Spirit baptism normally takes place when a person becomes a Christian (Rom. 8:9). However, when it took place on the day of Pentecost, the people baptized were already believers. This was also true on three later occasions (8:17; 10:44-45; 19:6). (Chapter 19 does not clearly identify John's disciples as believers, but they may have been.) These three later occasions in Acts were unusual situations, however, and not typical of Spirit baptism.[133]

Spirit baptism always unites a believer to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). The "body of Christ" is a figure that the New Testament writers used exclusively of the church, never of Israel or any other group of believers. Therefore this first occurrence of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the church, the body of Christ (cf. Matt. 16:18).

Speaking with other "tongues" (languages) was the outward evidence that God had done something to these believers inwardly (i.e., He controlled them and had baptized them into the body of Christ). The same sign identified the same thing on the other initial instances of Spirit baptism (10:46; 19:6). In each case, it was primarily for the benefit of Jews present, who as a people sought a sign from God to mark His activity, that God gave this sign (Luke 11:16; John 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22).[134]

One of the fundamental differences between charismatic and non-charismatic Christians is the issue of the purpose of the sign gifts (speaking in tongues, healings on demand, spectacular miracles, etc.). Charismatic theologians have urged that the purpose of all the gifts is primarily edification (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7).[135]

They "always seem to be spoken of as a normal function of the Christian life … [in which the Spirit] makes them willing and able to undertake various works for the renewal and upbuilding of the Church."[136]

Many non-charismatics believe that the purpose of the sign gifts was not primarily edification but the authentication of new revelation.

There is an "… inseparable connection of miracles with revelation, as its mark and credential; or, more narrowly, of the summing up of all revelation, finally, in Jesus Christ. Miracles do not appear on the page of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic Age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course."[137]

"… glossolalia [speaking in tongues] was a gift given by God, not primarily as a special language for worship; not primarily to facilitate the spread of the gospel; and certainly not as a sign that a believer has experienced a second 'baptism in the Holy Spirit.' It was given primarily for an evidential purpose to authenticate and substantiate some facet of God's truth. This purpose is always distorted by those who shift the emphasis from objective sign to subjective experience."[138]

Other non-charismatics believe that the specific purpose of the sign gifts was to identify Jesus Christ as God's Son and to authenticate the gospel message that the apostles preached.

Most non-charismatics grant that the sign gifts were edifying in their result, but they say that their purpose was to authenticate new revelation to the Jews (Acts 2:22; Mark 16:20; Acts 7:36-39, 51; Heb. 2:2-4; 1 Cor. 14:20-22).[139] Jews were always present when tongues took place in Acts (chs. 2, 10, and 19). It is understandable why God-fearing Jews, whom the apostles asked to accept new truth in addition to their already accepted Hebrew Bible (our "Old Testament"), would have required a sign. They would have wanted strong proof that God was now giving new revelation that seemed, on the surface, to contradict their Scriptures.

God had told the Jews centuries earlier that He would someday speak to them in a foreign language because they refused to pay attention to His words to them in their own language (Isa. 28:11; cf. 1 Cor 14:21). Jews who knew this prophecy in Isaiah and were listening to Peter should have recognized that what was happening was evidence that it was God who was speaking to them.

"Barclay and others have puzzled over the necessity for using various dialects when it would have been more expedient to simply use either Greek or Aramaic—languages known to speaker and hearer alike.[140] However to suggest this is to miss the point of the record. The Spirit desired to arrest the attention of the crowd. What better means could He adopt than to have men who quite evidently did not speak the dialects in question suddenly be endowed with the ability to speak these languages and 'declare the wonders of God' before the astonished assembly? The effect would be a multiple one. Attention would be gained, the evidence of divine intervention would be perceived, the astonished crowd would be prepared to listen with interest to the sermon of Peter, and thus the Spirit's purpose in granting the gift would be realized."[141]

"As has been pointed out by various scholars, if simple ecstatic speech was in view here, Luke ought simply to have used the term glossais [tongues, languages], not eterais glossais [other tongues, other languages]."[142]

"… the startling effect of the phenomenon on those who in difficult circumstances desperately wished otherwise (as in Acts 4:13-16; 10:28-29; 11:1-3, 15-18; and 15:1-12) supports the purpose of authentication (and not edification) for the sign gifts."[143]

God gave the gift of tongues also to rouse the nation of Israel to repentance (1 Cor. 14:22-25).[144]

It is clear from the context of Acts 2:4 that this sign involved the ability to speak in another language that the speaker had not previously known (vv. 6, 8). However, the ability to speak in tongues does not in itself demonstrate the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Satan can give the supernatural ability to speak in other languages, as the blasphemous utterances of some tongues speakers have shown. Sometimes an interpreter was necessary (cf. 1 Cor. 14), but at other times, like at Pentecost, one was not


Instances of Speaking in Tongues in Acts




Relation to conversion



Jewish believers

Unsaved Jews and Christians

Sometime after conversion

To validate (for Jews) God's working as Joel prophesied


Gentile believers

Jewish believers who doubted God's plan

Immediately after conversion

To validate (for Jews) God's working among Gentiles as He had worked among Jews



Jews who needed confirmation of Paul's message

Immediately after conversion

To validate (for Jews) Paul's gospel message


Were the "tongues" here the same as in Corinth (1 Cor. 12; 14)? If so, was ecstatic speech present on both occasions, and/or were foreign languages present on both occasions? Or were the tongues here foreign languages and the tongues in Corinth ecstatic speech?[145]

"It is well known that the terminology of Luke in Acts and of Paul in 1 Corinthians is the same. In spite of this some have contended for a difference between the gift as it occurred in Acts and as it occurred in Corinth.[[146]] This is manifestly impossible from the standpoint of the terminology. This conclusion is strengthened when we remember that Luke and Paul were constant companions and would have, no doubt, used the same terminology in the same sense. … In other words, it is most likely that the early believers used a fixed terminology in describing this gift, a terminology understood by them all. If this be so, then the full description of the gift on Pentecost must be allowed to explain the more limited descriptions that occur elsewhere."[147]

Probably "the gift of tongues" was a term that covered speaking in a language or languages that the speaker had never known. Note that the miracle was not hearing one's own language, but speaking in another language. This gift was very helpful as the believers began to carry out the Great Commission, especially in their evangelization of Jews. Acts documents and emphasizes the Lord's work in executing that mission.

Evidently most if not all of the believers present spoke in tongues (vv. 3, 7-11). It has been suggested that the tongues speaking on the day of Pentecost was not a normal manifestation of the gift of tongues. It may have been a unique divine intervention (miracle) instead. This position is difficult to support in view of the terminology used, as mentioned above.[148]

If these early Christians spoke in tongues, should not modern Christians do so too? Speaking in tongues is never commanded in the New Testament. Its purpose was to authenticate new revelation to Jews. And it was not a practice that the apostles valued highly, even in the early church (cf. 1 Cor. 12—14). Therefore, I would say they should not.

"These apostles did not pray for themselves to receive the experience. They did not pray for one another. They did not lay hands upon anyone. They simply waited for Jesus to do what He had promised to do. The descent of the Holy Spirit would come, not in response to prayer, but when Christ willed it."[149]

God gave three signs of the Spirit's coming to the Jews who were celebrating the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem: wind, fire, and foreign languages. Each of these signified God's presence in Jewish history.

"At least three distinct things were accomplished on the Day of Pentecost concerning the relationship of the Spirit with men: (1) The Spirit made His advent into the world here to abide throughout this dispensation [i.e., permanent indwelling]. … (2) Again, Pentecost marked the beginning of the formation of a new body, or organism which, in its relation to Christ, is called 'the church which is his body' [i.e., Spirit baptism]. … (3) So, also, at Pentecost the lives that were prepared were filled with the Spirit, or the Spirit came upon them for power as promised [i.e., Spirit filling]."[150]

The amazement of the onlookers 2:5-13

2:5-6          The "Jews residing in Jerusalem" were probably people from the Diaspora (dispersion, i.e., those who lived outside the land of Israel) who had returned to settle down in the Jewish homeland. Luke's other uses of katoikountes ("residing") are in Acts 1:20; 7:2, 4, 48; 9:22; 11:29; 13:27; 17:24, 26; and 22:12, and these suggest permanence compared with epidemeo ("visitors") in verse 10.

"It was … customary for many pious Jews who had spent their lives abroad to return to end their days as close to the Temple as possible."[151]

A list of nations from which these Jews had come follows in verses 9 and 10. The sound that attracted attention may have been the wind (v. 2) or the sound of the tongues speakers (v. 4). The Greek word translated "noise" in verse 2 is echos, but the word rendered "sound" in verse 6 is phones. The context seems to favor the sound of the tongues speakers as what attracted attention. Verse 2 says the noise filled the house where the disciples were, but there is no indication that it was heard outside the house. Also verse 6 connects the sound with the languages being spoken. The text does not clearly identify when what was happening in the upstairs room became public knowledge, or when the disciples moved out of that room to a larger venue. Evidently upon hearing the sound of foreign languages these residents of Jerusalem assembled to investigate what was happening.

When they found the source of the sound, they were amazed to discover "Galileans" speaking in the native languages of the remote regions from which these Diaspora Jews had come. The Jews in Jerusalem who could not speak Aramaic would have known Greek, so there was no need for other languages. Yet what they heard were the languages that were common in the remote places in which they had lived.

Perhaps the sound came from the upstairs room initially, and then when the disciples moved out into the streets, the people followed them into the temple area. Since about 3,000 people became Christians that day (v. 41), the crowd (v. 6) must have numbered many thousands. Less probably there were only 3,000 people present and all of them became believers. As many as 200,000 people could have assembled in the temple area.[152] This fact has led some interpreters to assume that that may have been where this crowd congregated.

2:7-11        Most of the disciples of Jesus were "Galileans" at this time, and all of the Twelve evidently were now. They were identifiable by their rural appearance and their accent (cf. Matt. 26:73).

"Galileans had difficulty pronouncing gutturals and had the habit of swallowing syllables when speaking; so they were looked down upon by the people of Jerusalem as being provincial (cf. Mark 14:70). Therefore, since the disciples who were speaking were Galileans, it bewildered those who heard because the disciples could not by themselves have learned so many different languages."[153]

"Parthians," "Medes," "Elamites," and "Mesopotamians" lived to the east and north of Palestine. Some of them were probably descendants of the Jews who did not return from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Many texts do not include "Judea," but, if authentic, it probably refers to the Roman province of Judea that included Syria. "Pontus," "Asia," "Phrygia," and "Pamphylia" were all provinces in Asia Minor to the northwest. "Egypt," "Libya," and "Cyrene" lay to the south and west. Simon of Cyrene, in North Africa, had carried Jesus' cross (Luke 23:26). "Rome," of course, lay farther northwest in what we now call Europe. There is plenty of archaeological evidence that Jews lived in many countries during New Testament times.[154]

Luke had a special interest in the gospel reaching Rome, so that may be the reason he singled it out for special mention here. It may be that some of these Roman expatriates returned to Rome and planted the church there. Ambrosiaster, a fourth-century Latin church father, wrote that the Roman church was founded without any special miracles and without contact with any apostle.[155] Josephus wrote that visitors to Jerusalem for a great feast could swell the population to nearly 3,000,000.[156]

"The Roman Empire had an estimated population of fifty to eighty million, with about seven million free Roman citizens (Schnabel 2004: 558-59). About two and a half million people inhabited Judea, and there were about five million Jews altogether in the empire, 10 percent of the whole population."[157]

"Proselytes" were Gentiles who had adopted Judaism, and had become a part of the nation of Israel by submitting to three rites. Acts and Matthew are the only New Testament books that mention proselytes. These rites were circumcision (if a male), self-baptism before witnesses, and ideally the offering of a sacrifice.[158] "Cretans" lived on the island of Crete, and "Arabs" were the Arabians who lived east of Palestine between the Red Sea and the Euphrates River. All of these ethnic groups heard "the mighty deeds of God" (i.e., the gospel) in their own languages. This was a reversal of what took place at Babel (Gen. 11), and it illustrated the human unity that God's unhindered working produces.

"Although every Jew could not be present for Peter's speech, the narrator does not hesitate to depict representatives of the Jews of every land as Peter's listeners. This feature shows a concern not just with Gentiles but with a gospel for all Jews, which can bring the restoration of Israel as a united people under its Messiah."[159]

"The point [of Luke's list of people and places] is not to provide a tour of the known world but to mention nations that had known extensive Jewish populations, which of course would include Judea.[160] More to the point, Luke's arrangement involves first listing the major inhabited nations or regions, then those from the islands (Cretans), then finally those from desert regions (Arabs)."[161]

2:12-13      Unable or unwilling to accept the miraculous working of God in their midst, some observers charged that the believers were "full [and consequently under the control of] of sweet wine" rather than the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 14:23). The Greek word for "wine" here (gleukous) means "sweet wine," which had a higher alcoholic content than regular wine.[162]

Peter's Pentecost sermon 2:14-41

"The miraculous is not self-authenticating, nor does it inevitably and uniformly convince. There must also be the preparation of the heart and the proclamation of the message if miracles are to accomplish their full purpose. This was true even for the miracle of the Spirit's coming at Pentecost. … All this prepares the reader for Peter's sermon, which is the initial proclamation of the gospel message to a prepared people."[163]

Barclay pointed out four different kinds of preaching that the early Christians practiced.[164] I would add two more. The first is kerugma, which means proclamation of the clear facts of the Christian message. The second is didache or teaching. This was explanation and interpretation of the facts—the "So what is the point?" Third, there was paraklesis, exhortation to apply the message. Fourth, there was homilia, the treatment of a subject or area of life in view of the Christian message. Fifth, there was prophesia, the sharing of a word from God be it new revelation or old. Sixth, there was apologia, a defense of the Christian message in the face of hostile adversaries. Often the speaker combined two or more of these kinds of address into one message, as Peter did in the sermon that follows. Here we find defense (vv. 14-21), proclamation (vv. 22-36), and exhortation (vv. 37-41). This speech is an excellent example of forensic rhetoric, the rhetoric of defense and attack.[165]

Peter's defense 2:14-21

2:14           Peter, again representing the apostles ("the other eleven"; cf. 1:15), addressed the assembled crowd. He probably gave this speech in the temple's outer courtyard (the court of the Gentiles). He probably spoke in the vernacular—in Aramaic or possibly in Koine (common) Greek—rather than in tongues. Peter had previously denied that he knew Jesus, but now he was publicly representing Him. The apostle distinguished two types of Jews in his audience: native Jews who were living within the province of Judea ("men of Judea"), and "all of you who live in Jerusalem." The second group mentioned, the Diaspora contingent, was probably the group most curious about the tongues phenomenon.

2:15           Peter began by refuting the charge of drunkenness. It was too early in the day for that to be a reasonable explanation, since it was only 9:00 a.m. The Jews began each day at sundown. There were about 12 hours of darkness, and then there were 12 hours of daylight. So "the third hour of the day" would have been about 9:00 a.m.

"Unfortunately, this argument [i.e., that it was too early in the day for these people to be drunk] was more telling in antiquity than today."[166]

"Scrupulous Jews drank wine only with flesh, and, on the authority of Ex. xvi. 8, ate bread in the morning and flesh only in the evening. Hence wine could be drunk only in the evening. This is the point of Peter's remark."[167]

2:16           Was Peter claiming that the Spirit's outpouring on the day of Pentecost fulfilled Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28-32)? Conservative commentators express considerable difference of opinion on this point. This is an interpretive problem because not only Joel but other Old Testament prophets prophesied that God would give His Spirit to individual believers in the future (Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 36:27; 37:14; 39:29; Zech. 12:10). Moreover John the Baptist also predicted the pouring out of God's Spirit on believers (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).

Some commentators believed that Peter was claiming that all of what Joel prophesied happened that day.

"The fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel which the people had just witnessed was a sign of the beginning of the Messianic age …"[168]

"What was happening was to be seen as the fulfillment of a prophecy by Joel. … Peter regards Joel's prophecy as applying to the last days, and claims that his hearers are now living in the last days. God's final act of salvation has begun to take place."[169]

"For Peter, this outpouring of the Spirit began the period known in Scripture as the 'last days' or the 'last hour' (1 John 2:18), and thus the whole Christian era is included in the expression."[170]

Some writers have pointed out that the phrase "this is what" (touto estin to) was a particular type of expression called a pesher.

"His [Peter's] use of the Joel passage is in line with what since the discovery of the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls] we have learned to call a 'pesher' (from Heb. peser, 'interpretation'). It lays all emphasis on fulfillment without attempting to exegete the details of the biblical prophecy it 'interprets.'"[171]

A second view is that God fulfilled Joel's prophecy only partially.[172] Some of these, for example, believed that He fulfilled verses 17 and 18 on the day of Pentecost, but He will yet fulfill verses 19 through 21 in the future.[173] I believe the following explanation falls into this category.

"This clause does not mean, 'This is like that'; it means Pentecost fulfilled what Joel had described. However, the prophecies of Joel quoted in Acts 2:19-20 were not fulfilled. The implication is that the remainder would be fulfilled if Israel would repent."[174]

"Certainly the outpouring of the Spirit on a hundred and twenty Jews could not in itself fulfill the prediction of such outpouring 'upon all flesh'; but it was the beginning of the fulfillment."[175]

A third view is that Peter was not claiming the fulfillment of any of Joel's prophecy. They believe that he was only comparing what had happened that day with what would happen in the future as Joel predicted it.

"Peter was not saying that the prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost or even that it was partially fulfilled; knowing from Joel what the Spirit could do, he was simply reminding the Jews that they should have recognized what they were then seeing as a work of the Spirit also. He continued to quote from Joel at length only in order to be able to include the salvation invitation recorded in verse 21."[176]

"It seems quite obvious that Peter did not quote Joel's prophecy in the sense of its fulfillment in the events of Pentecost, but purely as a prophetic illustration of those events. As a matter of fact, to avoid confusion, Peter's quotation evidently purposely goes beyond any possible fulfillment at Pentecost by including events in the still future day of the Lord, preceding kingdom establishment (Acts 2:19-20). … In the reference there is not the slightest hint at a continual fulfillment during the church age or a coming fulfillment toward the end of the church age."[177]

"Virtually nothing that happened in Acts 2 is predicted in Joel 2. What actually did happen in Acts two (the speaking in tongues) was not mentioned by Joel. What Joel did mention (dreams, visions, the sun darkened, the moon turned into blood) did not happen in Acts two. Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole of the nation of Israel in the last days, while Acts two speaks of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Twelve Apostles or, at most, on the 120 in the Upper Room. This is a far cry from Joel's all flesh. However, there was one point of similarity, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. Acts two does not change or reinterpret Joel two, nor does it deny that Joel two will have a literal fulfillment when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the whole nation of Israel. It is simply applying it to a New Testament event because of one point of similarity."[178]

"Peter did not state that Joel's prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The details of Joel 2:30-32 (cp. Acts 2:19-20) were not realized at that time. Peter quoted Joel's prediction as an illustration of what was taking place in his day, and as a guarantee that God would yet completely fulfill all that Joel had prophesied. The time of that fulfillment is stated here ('afterward,' cp. Hos. 3:5), i.e. in the latter days when Israel turns to the LORD."[179]

Peter seems to have been claiming that what God had predicted through Joel for the end times was analogous to the events of Pentecost. The omission of "fulfilled" here may be deliberate in order to help his hearers avoid concluding that what was happening was the complete fulfillment of what Joel predicted. It was similar to what Joel predicted.

2:17-21      Peter made a significant change in Joel's prophecy as he quoted it from the Septuagint, and this change supports the view that he was not claiming complete fulfillment. First, he changed "after this" (Joel 2:28) to "in the last days" (Acts 2:17). In the context of Joel's prophecy, the time in view is the day of the Lord: the Tribulation (Joel 2:30-31) and the Millennium (Joel 2:28-29). Peter interpreted this time as the last days.

Many modern interpreters believe that when Peter said "the last days" (v. 17) he meant the time in which he lived. However, he was not in the Tribulation or the Millennium. Thus he looked forward to the last days as being future. "The last days" is a phrase that some New Testament writers used to describe the age in which we live (2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; James 5:3; 1 Pet. 1:5, 20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18), but in view of what Joel wrote, that may not be its meaning here. In the Old Testament, "the last days" refers to the days just before the age to come, namely, just before the age of Messiah's earthly reign. That is, I believe, what it means here.

There are some similarities between what Joel prophesied would come "after this" (Joel 2:28) and what happened on Pentecost. The similarities are why Peter quoted Joel. Yet the differences are what enable us to see that this prophecy was not completely fulfilled then. For example, God had not poured out His Spirit on "all mankind" (v. 17), as He will in the future. He had only poured out His Spirit on some Jewish believers in Jesus. Joel referred to deliverance in the Tribulation (Joel 2:32), but Peter applied this offer to those who needed salvation in his audience.

As noted above, many interpreters understand Peter as saying that Joel's prophecy was fulfilled initially or partially on Pentecost (view two above). Many who hold this view believe that the messianic kingdom age of which Joel spoke had begun. They believe that the New Covenant had begun (cf. Luke 22:20), and the Holy Spirit's indwelling was a sign of the messianic kingdom and the New Covenant.[180] But that does not mean that the day of the Lord, which Joel spoke of, had begun. It had not.

Not all dispensational scholars agree on the fulfillment question. Some, like Toussaint, see a partial fulfillment on Pentecost, while others, like Ryrie, see no fulfillment then. It seems more consistent to me to see the Pentecost outpouring as a partial fulfillment of what Joel prophesied, and which Jesus predicted in the Upper Room (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Some scholars who hold the no fulfillment position distinguish baptism with the Spirit, the future event, from baptism by the Spirit, the Pentecost event.[181] There does not seem to me to be adequate exegetical basis for this distinction.[182]

"Realized eschatologists and amillennialists usually take Peter's inclusion of such physical imagery [i.e., "blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke," and "the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood"] in a spiritual way, finding in what happened at Pentecost the spiritual fulfillment of Joel's prophecy—a fulfillment not necessarily tied to any natural phenomena. This, they suggest, offers an interpretative key to the understanding of similar portrayals of natural phenomena and apocalyptic imagery in the OT."[183]

By repeating, "And they will prophesy" (v. 18, cf. v. 17), which is not in Joel's text, Peter stressed prophecy as a most important similarity between what Joel predicted and what his hearers were witnessing. God was revealing something new through the apostles. Peter proceeded to explain what that was.

Another variation of interpretation concerning the Joel passage that some interpreters espouse is this: They believe that Peter thought Joel's prophecy could have been fulfilled quite soon if the Jewish leaders had repented and believed in Jesus.[184] This may be what Peter thought, but it is very difficult to be dogmatic about what might have been in Peter's mind since he did not explain it. Jesus had told the parable of the talents to correct those who supposed that the (earthly) kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11-27). He also predicted that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Jews] and given to a people producing its fruit" (Matt. 21:43).

Daniel predicted that seven years of terrible trouble were coming on the Jews (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Matt. 24—25). So there had to be at least seven years of tribulation between Jesus' ascension and His return. If advocates of this view are correct, Peter either did not know this, or he forgot it, or he interpreted the Tribulation as a judgment that God would not send if Israel repented. Of course, Peter did not understand, or he forgot, what the Old Testament revealed about God's acceptance of Gentiles (cf. ch. 10). Peter may have thought that Jesus would return and set up the kingdom on earth immediately if the Jewish leaders repented, but it is hard to prove conclusively that God was reoffering the kingdom to Israel at this time. There are no direct statements to that effect in the text. More comments about this re-offer of the kingdom view will follow later in these notes.

"It is observable that though Peter was filled with the Holy Ghost, yet he did not set aside the scriptures, nor think himself above them. Christ's scholars never learn above their Bible."[185]

Peter's proclamation 2:22-36

In this part of his speech Peter cited three proofs that Jesus was the Messiah: His miracles (v. 22), His resurrection (vv. 23-32), and His ascension (vv. 33-35). Verse 36 is a summary conclusion.

2:22           Peter argued that God had attested to Jesus' Messiahship by performing miracles through Him. "Miracles" is the general word, which Peter defined further as "wonders" (miracles eliciting awe) and "signs" (miracles signifying something). Jesus' miracles attested the fact that God had empowered Him (cf. John 3:2), and they led many people who witnessed them to conclude that He was the Son of David (Matt. 12:23). Others, however, chose to believe that He received His power from Satan rather than God (Matt. 12:24).

2:23           Peter pointed out that Jesus' crucifixion had been no accident but was part of God's eternal plan (cf. 3:18; 4:28; 13:29). Some of the Jews who had recently cried "Crucify Him!" may very well have heard Peter's speech. Peter laid the guilt for Jesus' death at the feet of the Jews present (cf. v. 36; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52; 10:39; 13:28) and on the Gentile Romans (cf. 4:27; Luke 23:24-25). Note Peter's reference to both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in this verse.

"God had willed the death of Jesus (John 3:16) and the death of Judas (Acts 1:16), but that fact did not absolve Judas from his responsibility and guilt (Luke 22:22). He acted as a free moral agent."[186]

The ultimate cause of Jesus' death was God's "predetermined plan and foreknowledge," but the secondary cause was the antagonism of "godless" Jewish and Roman "men." Really the sins of every human being put Jesus on the cross.

2:24           "But God", a higher Judge, reversed the decision of Jesus' human judges by resurrecting Him. God released Jesus from "the agony of death" (lit. birth pains of death, Gr. odinas tou thanatou), namely, its awful clutches (cf. 2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:4-6; 116:3). A higher court in heaven overturned the decision of the lower courts on earth. It was impossible for Death to hold Jesus because He had committed no sins Himself. He had not personally earned the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), but He voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of others.

2:25           Peter appealed to Psalm 16:8 through 11 in order to prove that "David" prophesied Messiah's resurrection in the Jewish Scriptures.[187] Psalm 16 is perhaps the clearest prediction of Messiah's resurrection in the Old Testament. As earlier (1:20), Peter saw that Messiah's (Jesus') experiences fulfilled David's words.

In this Psalm David spoke of Christ as being at God's "right hand," a figure for close association and powerful assistance. Peter saw Jesus' presence in heaven at God's right hand as an extension of what David had written.

2:26           God's presence with David made David happy and hopeful. Likewise, the fact that Jesus was now at God's right hand made Peter happy and hopeful.

2:27           David said that he would not go to "Hades" (the place of departed spirits, Old Testament Sheol), and his body would not "undergo decay." This was a poetic way of expressing his belief that God would not allow him to experience ultimate humiliation. Peter saw this fulfilled literally in Jesus' resurrection from the grave after only three days. David referred to himself as God's devout one ("Your Holy One"). Jesus was the supremely "Holy One."

2:28           David ended this psalm by rejoicing that, in spite of his adversaries, God would spare his life and enable him to enjoy God's "presence" in the future. Peter interpreted these statements as referring to Jesus entering into new life following His resurrection, and entering into God's presence following His ascension.

"Peter quotes from Psalm 16, not to teach that Christ is on the Davidic throne, but rather to show that David predicted the resurrection and enthronement of Christ after His death. The enthronement on David's throne is a yet-future event while the enthronement at His Father's right hand is an accomplished fact."[188]

2:29-31      Peter next argued that David's words, just quoted, could not refer only to David, since David had indeed "died and was buried." The fact that "his tomb" was still in Jerusalem when Peter gave this address implies that David remained in his grave—in contrast to Jesus, whom God resurrected from His grave (v. 31). Ancient tradition places the location of King David's tomb south of the old city of David, near the Pool of Siloam. David's words were a prophecy that referred to Messiah as well as being a description of his own experience. God's oath to David to place "one of his descendants on his throne" as Israel's king is in Psalm 132:11 (cf. 2 Sam. 7:16).[189]

Peter did not say that Jesus now sits on David's throne (v. 30), which is what some interpreters affirm.[190] He said that David prophesied that God had sworn to seat a descendant of David on David's throne. Jesus now sits on a throne in heaven, but He has yet to sit on David's throne, which is a throne on earth. He will sit on David's throne when He returns to the earth to reign as Messiah. God resurrected Christ, in part, so that one day He could sit on David's throne.

2:32           Peter equated "Jesus" with "the Christ" (Messiah, v. 31). He also attributed Jesus' resurrection to God again ("whom God raised up"; cf. v. 24). The resurrection of Jesus Christ was one of the apostles' strongest emphases (cf. 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33-34, 37; 17:31; 26:23). They proceeded to bear witness to what they had seen and heard as Christ had commanded and foretold (1:8).

2:33           Peter next explained that it was Jesus, now at God's right hand, who had "poured out" the promised Holy Spirit from the Father (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27). The evidence of this was the tongues of fire and demonstration of tongues speaking that his audience saw and heard. "The right hand of God" figuratively represents supreme power and authority, and reference to it sets up the quotation of Psalm 110:1 in the next verse.

Peter mentioned all three members of the Trinity in this verse.

"Throughout Acts, the presence of the Spirit is seen as the distinguishing mark of Christianity—it is what makes a person a Christian."[191]

2:34           Peter then added a second evidence that Jesus was the Christ. He had proved that David had prophesied Messiah's resurrection (v. 27). Now he said that David also prophesied Messiah's ascension (Ps. 110:1). This was a passage from the Old Testament that Jesus had earlier applied to Himself (Matt. 22:43-44; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-42). It may have been Jesus' use of this passage that enabled His disciples to grasp the significance of His resurrection. It may also have served as the key to their understanding of these prophecies of Messiah in the Old Testament.

David evidently meant that "the LORD" (Yahweh, God the Father) said the following to David's "Lord" (Adonai, Master, evidently a reference to Messiah, or possibly Solomon originally). David may have composed this psalm on the occasion of Solomon's coronation as Israel's king. Clearly it is an enthronement psalm. Yahweh, the true King of Israel, extended the privilege of serving as His administrator to Messiah (or Solomon), His vice-regent.

2:35           Yahweh included a promise that He would subdue His vice-regent's enemies ("until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet"). Peter took this passage as a prophecy about David's greatest son: Messiah. Yahweh said to David's Lord: Messiah: Sit beside Me and rule for Me, and I will subdue Your enemies. This is something that God the Father said to God the Son. Peter understood David's reference to his "Lord" as extending to Messiah, David's ultimate descendant.

"Peter's statement that Jesus is presently at 'the right hand of God,' in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1, has been a focal point of disagreement between dispensational and non-dispensational interpreters. Traditional dispensationalists have understood this as teaching the present session of Christ in heaven before his return to fulfill the Davidic messianic kingdom promise of a literal reign on earth. They are careful to distinguish between the Davidic throne and the position that Christ presently occupies in heaven at the right hand of God (Ac 2:30).[192] Non-dispensationalists, by contrast, see Peter's statement as a clear indication that the New Testament has reinterpreted the Davidic messianic prophecies. The messianic throne has been transferred from Jerusalem to heaven, and Jesus 'has begun his messianic reign as the Davidic king.'"[193]

"This does not mean that Jesus is at the present time ruling from the throne of David, but that He is now at 'the right hand of the Father' until His enemies are vanquished (Acts 2:33-35)."[194]

"… it is preferable to see David's earthly throne as different from the Lord's heavenly throne, because of the different contexts of Psalms 110 and 132. Psalm 110 refers to the Lord's throne (v. 1) and a Melchizedekian priesthood (v. 4) but Psalm 132 refers to David's throne (v. 11) and (Aaronic) priests (vv. 9, 16)."[195]

"Because the Messiah is the anointed Descendant of David and the Davidic Heir, He presently possesses the right to reign though He has not yet assumed David's throne. This was also true of David, who assumed the throne over Israel years after he was anointed. Before Christ will be seated on David's throne (Ps. 110:2), He is seated at the right hand of God (v. 1). His present session is a position of honor and power, but the exercise of that power is restricted to what God has chosen to give the Son. God the Father reigns and has decreed that Christ dispense blessings from the Holy Spirit to believers in this present age. When Christ returns to earth to begin His messianic reign on David's throne, He will conquer His enemies (Ps. 110:2, 5-7). Until then, He is now seated at God's right hand (v. 1), exercising the decreed role of the Melchizedekian King-Priest (v. 4), the believer's great High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 4:14-15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11; 10:21)."[196]

"Christ's enthronement at the time of His ascension was not to David's throne, but rather was a restoration to the position at His Father's right hand (Heb. 1:3; Acts 7:56), which position He had given up at the time of the Incarnation (Phil. 2:6-8). It was for this restoration that Christ had prayed to His Father in John 17:5. Since Christ had never occupied David's throne before the Incarnation it would have been impossible to restore Him to what He had not occupied previously. He was petitioning the Father to restore Him to His place at the Father's right hand. Peter, in his message, establishes the fact of resurrection by testifying to the Ascension, for one who had not been resurrected could not ascend."[197]


Normative dispensationalists:


Christ's entire messianic reign will be on earth.

Progressive dispensationalists:

Christ's messianic reign is now from heaven and will be on earth.

Non-dispensational premillenarians:

Christ's messianic reign is now from heaven and will be on earth.


Christ's messianic reign is now and will be only from heaven.


2:36           Peter wanted every Israelite to consider the evidence that he had just presented, because it proved for certain that Jesus of Nazareth (cf. v. 22) was God's sovereign ruler ("Lord") and anointed Messiah ("Christ"). It is clear from the context that by "Lord," Peter was speaking of Jesus as the Father's co-regent. He referred to the same "Lord" that he had mentioned in verse 21.

"This title of 'Lord' was a more important title than Messiah, for it pictured Jesus' total authority and His ability and right to serve as an equal with God the Father."[198]

Normative dispensationalists hold that Peter only meant that Jesus of Nazareth was the Davidic Messiah. He has returned to heaven where He presently sits on the Father's throne. In the future He will return to the earth and rule on David's throne. Normative dispensationalists interpret the Davidic kingdom as entirely earthly, and say that Jesus has not yet begun His messianic reign. He now sits on the Father's throne in heaven, ruling sovereignly as God, not on David's throne fulfilling Old Testament prophecies concerning the Davidic king's future earthly reign (cf. Rev. 3:21).

Progressive dispensationalists and covenant theologians believe that Jesus' reign as Messiah began with his earthly ministry.[199] They see the church as the present stage in the progressive unfolding of the messianic kingdom (hence the name "progressive dispensationalism").[200] They believe that Jesus now rules from David's throne—in heaven. Progressive dispensationalists believe that Jesus will return to the earth and rule for 1,000 years. Covenant theologians believe that when Jesus returns to the earth He not rule for 1,000 years, but that His rule will be spiritual.[201]

I agree with the progressive dispensationalists that Christ began to rule as Messiah at His first advent and that there are two stages to His rule: the present rule of Christ over His own from heaven, and the future rule of Christ over all humanity from earth. But I agree with the normative dispensationalists that references to the Davidic throne are to an earthly throne.

Peter again mentioned his hearers' responsibility for crucifying Jesus in order to convict them of their sin and to make them feel guilty (cf. v. 23).[202]

"Peter did not present the cross as the place where the Sinless Substitute died for the world, but where Israel killed her own Messiah!"[203]

"Peter's preaching, then, in vv. 14ff. must be seen as essentially a message to the Jews of the world, not to the whole world."[204]

"The beginning and ending of the main body of the speech emphasize the function of disclosure. Peter begins, 'Let this be known to you,' and concludes, 'Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know assuredly …' forming an inclusion (2:14, 36). In the context this is a new disclosure, for it is the first public proclamation of Jesus' resurrection and its significance. Acts 2:22-36 is a compact, carefully constructed argument leading to the conclusion in v. 36: 'God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.' Peter not only proclaims Jesus' authority but also reveals the intolerable situation of the audience, who share responsibility for Jesus' crucifixion. The Pentecost speech is part of a recognition scene, where, in the manner of tragedy, persons who have acted blindly against their own best interests suddenly recognize their error."[205]

"The Pentecost speech is primarily the disclosure to its audience of God's surprising reversal of their intentions, for their rejection has ironically resulted in Jesus' exaltation as Messiah, Spirit-giver, and source of repentance and forgiveness."[206]

God bestowed His Spirit on the believers on Pentecost (and subsequently) for the same reason that He poured out His Spirit on Jesus Christ when He began His earthly ministry. He did so to empower them to proclaim the gospel of God's grace (cf. 1:8). Luke recorded both outpourings (Luke 3:21-22; Acts 2:2-4; cf. Acts 4:27; 10:28). This fact is further evidence that Luke wanted his readers to view their own ministries as the extension of Jesus' ministry (1:1-2).

"Luke's specific emphasis (and contribution) to NT pneumatology [study of the Holy Spirit] is that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church not just to incorporate each believer into the body of Christ or provide the greater new covenant intimacy with him, but also to consecrate the church to the task of worldwide prophetic ministry as defined in Luke 4:16-30."[207]

Peter mentioned that Jesus was now at the "right hand" of God in heaven three times in this part of his speech (vv. 25, 33, 34; see also v. 30). This had particular relevance for all the Jews (cf. vv. 14, 22, 29).

"Apparently, therefore, the messiahship of Jesus was the distinctive feature of the church's witness within Jewish circles, signifying, as it does, his fulfillment of Israel's hopes and his culmination of God's redemptive purposes. The title 'Lord' was also proclaimed christologically in Jewish circles, with evident intent to apply to Jesus all that was said of God in the OT. … But 'Lord' came to have particular relevance to the church's witness to Gentiles just as 'Messiah' was more relevant to the Jewish world. So in Acts Luke reports the proclamation of Jesus 'the Christ' before Jewish audiences both in Palestine and among the Diaspora, whereas Paul in his letters to Gentile churches generally uses Christ as a proper name and proclaims Christ Jesus 'the Lord.'"[208]

Peter's exhortation 2:37-41

2:37           The Holy Spirit used Peter's sermon to bring conviction, as Jesus had predicted (John 16:8-11). He convicted Peter's hearers of the truth of what he said and of their guilt in rejecting Jesus. Their question arose from this twofold response.

Notice the full meaning of their question. These were Jews who had been waiting expectantly for the Messiah to appear. Peter had just explained convincingly that He had come, but the Jewish nation had rejected God's anointed King. Jesus had gone back to heaven. What would happen to the nation over which He was to rule? What were the Jews to do? Their question did not just reflect their personal dilemma but the fate of their nation. What should they do in view of this terrible situation nationally as well as personally?

2:38           Peter told his hearers what to do. They needed to "repent." Repentance involves a change of mind and heart first, and secondarily a change of conduct.

"According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act, and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it."[209]

The Greek word translated "repentance" (metanoia) literally means a change of outlook (from meta and noeo meaning to reconsider). The Jews had just recently regarded Jesus as less than Messiah and had rejected Him. Now they needed to accept Him and embrace Him. John the Baptist and Jesus had previously called for repentance in their audiences (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; et al.), and the apostles continued this emphasis, as Luke reported in Acts (Acts 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 10:43; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21; 26:18, 20).

"The context of repentance which brings eternal life, and that which Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, is a change of mind about Jesus Christ. Whereas the people who heard him on that day formerly thought of Him as mere man, they were asked to accept Him as Lord (Deity) and Christ (promised Messiah). To do this would bring salvation."[210]

When people speak of repentance they may mean one of two different things: We use this English word in the sense of a conduct change (turning away from sinful practices). We also use it in the sense of a conceptual change (turning away from false ideas previously held). These two meanings also appear in Scripture. This has led to some confusion concerning what a person must do to obtain salvation.

"The Greek verb [metanoeo, translated "to repent"] means 'to change one's mind,' but in its Lucan usage it comes very close to the Hebrew verb for repent which literally means 'to turn or turn around' (sub). … A change of perspective, involving the total person's point of view, is called for by this term. In fact, John called for the Israelites to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance ([Luke] 3:8). This passage is significant for it separates repentance from what it produces, and also expresses a link between repentance and fruit. One leads to the other."[211]

"In summary, Luke saw repentance as a change of perspective that transforms a person's thinking and approach to life."[212]

If a person just thinks of repentance as turning from sinful practices (reforming oneself), repentance becomes a good work that a person does. This kind of repentance is not necessary for salvation for two reasons: First, this is not how the gospel preachers in the New Testament used the word, as one can see from the meaning of the Greek word metanoia. Second, other Scriptures make it clear that good works, including turning from sin, have no part in obtaining salvation (e.g., Eph. 2:8-9). God does not save us because of what we do for Him but because of what He has done for us in Christ.[213]

Repentance by definition is not an act separate from trusting Christ. It is part of the process of believing.[214]

"…repentance and faith are both necessary for salvation, but not as separate conditions. They are always integrally connected as confirmed by the constant interchangeability of terminology."[215]

Here is how Billy Graham described "how to be born again":

"First, realize that you are a sinner in God's eyes. … Second, realize that God loves you and sent His Son to die for you. … Third, repent of your sins. Repentances comes from a Greek word meaning 'a change of mind.' It means that I admit I am a sinner, and that I feel sorry for the fact I have sinned. [To this point I agree with him.] But repentance also means I actually turn my back on my sins—I reject them—and determine by God's grace to live as He wants me to live. … Repentance involves a willingness to leave sin behind, and turn my life over to Jesus Christ as Lord of my life. … Fourth, come by faith and trust to Christ. …"[216]

A few scholars believe that repentance plays no part in salvation but that repentance is only a condition for harmonious fellowship with God.[217] This is a minority view, however.

When a person trusts Christ he or she abandons his or her false notions about the Savior and embraces the truth. The truth is that Jesus Christ is God's provision for our eternal salvation. When we rest our confidence in Him and the sufficiency of His cross work for us, God gives us eternal life. This is not just giving mental assent to facts that are true. Saving faith does that, but it also places confidence in (trusts) Christ, rather than in self, for salvation.[218]

"To assent mentally to the suggestion that 'Jesus died for me' is unhappily only too easy for certain types of mind. But really to believe that God Himself cut the knot of man's entanglement by a personal and unbelievably costly act is a much deeper affair."[219]

"… it needs ever to be insisted on that the faith that justifies is not a mere intellectual process—not simply crediting certain historical facts or doctrinal statements; but it is a faith that springs from a divinely wrought conviction of sin which produces a repentance that is sincere and genuine."[220]

Peter called for individual repentance ("each of you," Gr. second person plural). The Jews thought corporately about their responsibilities as God's chosen people, but Peter confronted them with their individual responsibility to believe in Jesus.

The New Testament uses the word "baptism" in two ways: Spirit baptism and water baptism. This raises the question of which type Peter was calling for here. In verse 38, baptism probably refers to water baptism, as most commentators point out. A few of them believe that Peter was referring to Spirit baptism, in the sense of becoming identified with Christ.

"The baptism of the Spirit which it was our Lord's prerogative to bestow was, strictly speaking, something that took place once for all on the day of Pentecost when He poured forth 'the promise of the Father' on His disciples and thus constituted them the new people of God; baptism in water continued to be the external sign by which individuals who believed the gospel message, repented of their sins, and acknowledged Jesus as Lord, were publicly incorporated into the Spirit-baptized fellowship of the new people of God."[221]

This verse is a major proof text for those who believe that water baptism is essential for salvation.[222] Many people refer to this viewpoint as "sacramental theology," as contrasted with "evangelical theology." It encounters its greatest problem with passages that make the forgiveness of sin, and salvation in general, dependent on nothing but trust in Christ (e.g., Acts 16:31; 10:43; 13:38-39; 26:18; Luke 24:47; John 3:16, 36; Rom. 4:1-17; 11:6; Gal. 3:8-9; Eph. 2:8-9).[223] Peter later promised forgiveness of sins on the basis of faith alone (5:31; 10:43). Over 100 verses that deal with how to become a Christian make faith in Christ the only condition.

"… Christian [water] baptism was an expression of faith and commitment to Jesus as Lord."[224]

I must disagree with Lutheran commentator Lenski who wrote:

"This baptism [water baptism] was not only symbolical. As practiced by both John and Jesus and then as being appointed for all nations it bestowed the remission of sins and was thus a true sacrament."[225]

"Augustine, indeed, advocated the baptism of infants on the ground that baptism is the prescribed way of washing away original sin—the sin inherited from Adam. Augustine taught that both baptism and the Lord's Supper are necessary to salvation."[226]

The Orthodox church also teaches that baptism in water results in the forgiveness of sins:

"Through Baptism we receive a full forgiveness of all sin, whether original or actual; we 'put on Christ', becoming members of His Body the Church."[227]

I do not believe that the Scriptures teach that water baptism bestows the remission of sins. God remits (forgives) our sins when we trust in Jesus Christ (16:31; et al.).[228]

What is the relationship of repentance, water baptism, forgiveness, and the gift of the Spirit that this verse brings together? At least three explanations are possible, if we rule out the idea that water baptism results in the forgiveness of sins.[229]

1.      One acceptable option is to take the Greek preposition translated "for" (eis) as "because of" or "on the basis of." This is not the usual meaning of the Greek word. The usual meaning is "for" designating aim or purpose. However, it clearly means "because of" in some passages (e.g., Matt. 3:11; 12:41; Mark 1:4). This explanation links forgiveness with baptizing. We could paraphrase this view as follows: Repent and you will receive the gift of the Spirit. Be baptized because your sins are forgiven.[230]

2.      Other interpreters emphasize the correspondence between the number (singular and plural) of the verbs and pronouns in the two parts of the sentence. "Repent" is plural as is "your," and "be baptized" and "you" (in "each of you") are singular.

Repent (second person plural)

be baptized (third person singular)

each (third person singular) of you

for the forgiveness of your (second person plural) sins

According to this view Peter was saying: You (all) repent for (the purpose of) the forgiveness of your sins, and you (all) will receive the Spirit. Then he added parenthetically: And each of you (singular) be baptized (as a testimony to your faith). This explanation links forgiveness with repentance.[231] This seems to me to be the best explanation.

"Repentance demands the witness of baptism; forgiveness is followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit [i.e., Spirit baptism]."[232]

3.      A third, less popular, view is that God withheld Spirit baptism from converts to Christianity from the land of Israel when the church was in its infancy. He did so until they had entered into communion with God by obeying His command to undergo baptism in water (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Their Christian experience unfolded in this sequence of events: regeneration, water baptism, forgiveness of sins, fellowship with God, Spirit baptism. These converts were individuals who had exposure to, but had rejected, the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

One advocate of this view felt that it accounts best for the instances of Spirit baptism in Acts 2:38; 8:12-17; 19:1-7; and 22:16. He took these occurrences as non-normative Christian experience unique in the early years of Christianity. Acts 10:43-48 reflects normative Christian experience where regeneration, forgiveness, and Spirit baptism take place simultaneously, with water baptism following. By the time Paul wrote Romans, this later sequence had become normative (Rom. 8:9; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).[233]

Baptism in water was common in both Judaism and early Christianity. The Jews baptized themselves for ceremonial cleansing. Gentile converts to Judaism commonly baptized themselves in water publicly as a testimony to their conversion. The apostles evidently took for granted that the person who trusted in Christ would then submit to baptism in water.

"… the idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in [the] NT."[234]

"Since baptism signifies association with the message, group, or person involved in authorizing it [cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-2], baptism in the name of Jesus Christ meant for these people a severing of their ties with Judaism and an association with the messages of Jesus and His people. Baptism was the line of demarcation. Even today for a Jew it is not his profession of Christianity nor his attendance at Christian services nor his acceptance of the New Testament, but his submission to water baptism that definitely and finally excludes him from the Jewish community and marks him off as a Christian."[235]

Was Peter violating the Lord Jesus' instructions when the apostle told his hearers to be baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" alone? Jesus had commanded His disciples to baptize "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). I do not think so. When Jesus gave the Great Commission He had in view the discipling of the nations: everyone. When evangelizing non-Christians it was necessary to have them identify with the triune God of Christianity through water baptism.

Peter's audience on the day of Pentecost, however, was Jewish. They needed to identify with the true God too, but identification with Jesus Christ is what Peter stressed, since baptism in the name of Jesus would have been a particular problem for Jews. It meant acknowledging Jesus as their God. Jews already accepted the fatherhood of God and the idea that God is a Spirit.

The "gift of the Holy Spirit" was baptism with the Spirit. The Spirit is the gift. Peter connected reception of the Spirit with repentance. The Holy Spirit immediately baptized those who repented (cf. 11:15). Their Spirit baptism was not a later second blessing.

Notice that Peter said nothing in this verse about acknowledging Jesus as Lord, in the sense of surrendering completely to His Lordship, in order to receive eternal life. Those who contend that submission to the Lordship of Christ is essential for salvation must admit that Peter did not make that a requirement here. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him to do so. Peter did not mention submission to the Lordship of Christ because he did not believe it was essential for salvation. Admittedly he referred to Jesus as Lord in verse 36, but as I have explained, the context there argues for "Lord" meaning God rather than master. Further discussion of the "Lordship Salvation" view will follow in these notes.

2:39           The "promise" is the gift of the Holy Spirit (1:5, 8; 2:33). Peter's reference to "your children" reflects the strong influence that Jewish fathers exercised in their homes. When a father became a Christian, his children would normally follow his lead and become Christians too. Those "far away" probably include the Diaspora Jews, future generations of Jews, and the Gentiles. Peter had already expressed his belief that Gentiles could be saved (v. 21; cf. Joel 2:32), which was a fact taught repeatedly in both the Old and the New Testament.

Peter's later problem involving the salvation of Cornelius was not due to a conviction that Gentiles were unsaveable. It was a question of the manner by which they became Christians (i.e., not through Judaism, but directly—without becoming Jews first). Note, too, Peter's firm belief in God's sovereignty (cf. v. 23). God takes the initiative in calling the elect to salvation, and then they repent (v. 38; cf. John 6:37; Rom. 8:28-30).

2:40           The Greek word translated "generation" (genea) sometimes has a wider scope than simply all the people living within the same generational period. It has a metaphorical meaning here as elsewhere (e.g., Matt. 17:17; Mark 9:19; 13:30; Luke 9:41; 16:8). It means "a race of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character; and especially in a bad sense a perverse race."[236] Here the reference seems to be to unbelieving Jews of all time, but particularly those living during Peter's lifetime. "Generation" in this larger sense is virtually the same as "race."

Jesus had announced that the actual generation of Jews who had rejected Him would experience God's judgment on themselves and their nation (Matt. 21:41-44; 22:7; 23:34—24:2). In view of that prediction, it seems that Peter may have had that impending judgment in mind when he issued this call to his hearers. Jesus' promised judgment fell in A.D. 70, when Titus invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the Jews.

"This exhortation shows that Peter viewed that generation under the physical, temporal judgment about which Christ had spoken so forcefully and clearly. What Jesus had warned them about earlier (Matt. 12:31-32) had come on them and was inescapable."[237]

"While judgment on the nation was inescapable, individuals could be delivered from it. Peter's answer was, 'Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven,' that is, they were no longer to participate in the repeated sin of the nation in rejecting Christ. The confession of their faith in Christ and of their identification with him by baptism would demonstrate their separation from the nation. They would be put out of the synagogue and lose all identity in the nation. Thus, by this separation they would individually not undergo the judgment on that generation since they ceased to be a part of it. Baptism did not save them. Only their faith in the One in whose name they were being baptized could do that. But baptism did terminate their identity with the nation so that they could escape its judgment."[238]

2:41           Peter had called on his audience to repent and to be baptized (v. 38). Luke recorded the response of the believers. This reference, too, is probably to water baptism.

More people may have become Christians on this one day than did so during the whole earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:12). Luke evidently meant that 3,000 were added to the 120 mentioned in 1:15, since he was describing the visible relationships of the believers.[239] When the Israelites rebelled against God by building the golden calf, 3,000 people died (Exod. 32:28).

Some interpreters believe that this verse does not describe what took place immediately following the conclusion of Peter's sermon, however. Luke may have been summing up the results of Peter's preaching as a new point of departure in his narrative. He often used the Greek word translated "then" (men) in Acts to do this. Furthermore the word "day" (hemera) can refer to a longer time as well as to one 24-hour period. Here it could refer to the first period in the church's life.[240]

"When we take God for our God, we must take his people to be our people."[241]

Still other interpreters believe that we should not understand Luke's description literally, as the follow quotation, which I do not agree with, illustrates:

"In the early chapters of Acts the condition of affairs is idealized with the object of shewing what the Church ought to be."[242]

The period between the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a transitional period. The tearing of the temple veil when Jesus died (Matt. 27:51) symbolized the termination of the old Mosaic order and the beginning of a new order. The new order began when Jesus Christ died. However, it took several decades for God's people to make the transition in their thinking and practice. The Book of Acts documents many of those transitions.

"The transition was extensive. Ethnically, there was a transition from dealing primarily with Jews to dealing with both Jew and Gentile without distinction. There was also a transition in the people with whom God was dealing, from Israel to the church. Likewise, there was a transition in the principle on which God was dealing with men, from Law to grace. There was a transition from the offer to Israel of an earthly Davidic kingdom to the offer to all men of salvation based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There was a transition from the prospect of Messiah's coming to the historical fact that the promised One had come. There was a transition from the promise that the Spirit would be given to the historical fact that the Spirit had come. Again, all these transitions were made positionally in the brief period of time from the death of Christ to the Day of Pentecost. Yet experientially these truths were understood and entered into only over a span of some four decades. The Book of Acts records the positional transition as well as the experiential transition in the development of the theocratic kingdom program."[243]

"… the Book of the Acts is particularly valuable as giving to us the earliest models of several ordinances and institutions which have since become part of the life of the Christian Church. These first occasions should be studied as types and models of what all subsequent occasions should be."[244]

Griffith Thomas went on to point out many of the new things that Acts introduces:

"The first descent of the Spirit (chap. 2); the first Christian preaching (chap. 2); the first Christian Church (chap. 2); the first opposition to Christianity (chap. 4); the first persecution (chap. 4); the first prayer meeting (chap. 4); the first sin in the Church (chap. 5); the first Church problem (chap. 6); the first martyr (chap. 7); the first Church extension (chap. 8); the first personal dealing (chap. 8); the first Gentile Church (chap. 11); the first Church Council (chap. 11). The first missionary (chap. 13); the first missionary methods (chaps. 13, 14); the first Church contention (chap. 15); the first Church in Europe (chap. 16); the first address to Christian ministers (chap. 20)."[245]

This list could be developed even further.

"… what Acts aims to do is to give us a series of typical exploits and adventures of the great heroic figures of the early Church."[246]

6.     The early state of the church 2:42-47

Luke now moved from describing what took place on a particular day to a more general description of the life of the early Jerusalem church (cf. 4:32—5:11; 6:1-6). Interestingly he gave comparatively little attention to the internal life of the church in Acts. His selection of content shows that his purpose was to stress its outward expansion. This is the first of three summary narratives that describe life in the early church (cf. 4:32-35; 5:12-16).[247]

2:42           These new converts, along with the disciples, were "continually devoting" (Gr. proskartereo, cf. 1:14) themselves to two activities primarily: "the apostles' teaching," and "fellowship." The grammar of the Greek sentence sets these actions off as distinct from the following two activities that define fellowship. The apostles' teaching included the Jewish Scriptures as well as the teachings of Christ on earth and the revelations that He gave to the apostles from heaven. This means the early Christians gave priority to the revealed Word of God.[248]

"The steady persistence in the apostles' teaching means (a) that the Christians listened to the apostles whenever they taught and (b) that they assiduously [with great care and perseverance] practised [sic] what they heard."[249]

The "fellowship" (Gr. te koinonia) refers to sharing things with others. The presence of the article "the" with "fellowship," in the Greek text, indicates that this fellowship was distinctive. It was a fellowship within Judaism. Even though their fellowship included material goods, its primary reference must be to the ideas, attitudes, purposes, mission, and activities that the Christians shared.

Two distinctive activities marked "the fellowship of the early church. "The breaking of bread" is a term that here probably included the Lord's Supper as well as eating meals together (cf. v. 46; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-25; Jude 12).[250] Elsewhere the phrase describes both an ordinary meal (Luke 24:30, 35; Acts 20:11; 27:35) and the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24). Probably these early Christians ate together and, as part of the meal, or after it, used their common food, bread and wine, to commemorate Christ's death.[251]

In "prayer" the believers must have praised and thanked God, as well as petitioning and interceding for His glory (cf. Matt. 6:9-13). The article "the" with "prayer," in the Greek text, probably implies formal times of prayer (cf. 1:14), though they undoubtedly prayed together at other times too.[252]

"Just as Luke has set up in Luke-Acts the parallelism between the Spirit's work in relation to Jesus and the Spirit's work in the church, so he also sets up the parallelism between prayer in the life of Jesus and prayer in the life of the church."[253]

"Prayer is an expression of dependence, and when the people of God really feel their need you will find them flocking together to pray. A neglected prayer meeting indicates very little recognition of one's true need."[254]

The believers' persistence in these activities demonstrated their felt need to learn, to encourage one another, to refocus on Christ's death, and to praise and petition God.

2:43           The "sense of awe" that the obvious working of God in their midst inspired continued among all the people in Jerusalem. The wonder-inspiring miracles that the apostles performed pointed to God's hand at work and kept this spirit alive. Not the least of these "wonders" must have been the remarkable unity and self-sacrifice of these believers. Compare 2:22, where Peter said that Jesus had done wonders and signs, with this verse, where Luke wrote that the apostles performed "wonders and signs." This shows again Jesus' continuing work through His servants following His ascension.[255]

2:44-45      These early believers had frequent contact with each other. Communal living was voluntary and temporary in the Jerusalem church (4:32, 34-35; 5:4); it was not forced socialism or communism. No other New Testament church practiced communal living to the extent that the Jerusalem Christians did. The New Testament nowhere commands communal living, and Acts does not refer to it after chapter five.[256]

The believers' willingness to "sell their property" (real estate, cf. 5:37) and personal "possessions" in order to help others in need demonstrated true Christian love. One writer argued that Luke's portrait of the early church was true to reality and not an idealized picture.[257] Others have disputed this claim.[258] The believers were probably giving to non-believers as well as to their Christian brethren, but what Luke stressed was their sacrificial giving to one another. Besides Christian love, it may have been their hope that Jesus Christ would return very soon that motivated them to live as they did. Furthermore, since Jesus had predicted judgment on Jerusalem, what was the use of keeping property?

2:46-47      This progress report summarizes the growth of the church thus far. It is one of seven in Acts, each of which concludes a major advance of the church in its worldwide mission (cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31).[259]

The believers met with one another "day by day" and were enjoying the unity of the Spirit. They congregated in "the temple" area, probably for discussion and evangelization (cf. 3:11; 5:12). Probably these Jewish believers considered themselves the true remnant within Israel until they began to realize the distinctiveness of the church. Evidently these early believers rotated "from house to house" and ate "meals" together that probably included an observance of the Lord's Supper.

In the ancient Near East eating together reflected a common commitment to one another and deep fellowship. A meal shared together was both a symbol and a seal of friendship. In contemporary pagan religions the meal formed the central rite of the religion, because it established communion between the worshippers and between the worshippers and their gods. In Judaism, too, eating some of the offerings of worship symbolized these things, especially the peace offering. Public church buildings were unknown until the third century A.D., when Christianity became an official religion in the Roman Empire.

At the general time that chapter 2 records, there was no significant opposition to the Christian movement, though there was, of course, difference of opinion about Jesus. The believers enjoyed the blessing of their Jewish brethren. People trusted Christ daily, and the Lord added these to the church so that it grew steadily.

Some interpreters who believe that the church includes "the whole company of regenerate persons in all times and ages, in heaven and on earth" argue that "otherwise there would have been nothing to which those converted upon that day could have been 'added'."[260] But the group to which these believers were added "day by day" were the 3,000 who were saved on the day of Pentecost, plus the apostles (vv. 41-44), namely, the nucleus of the church.

Luke, in harmony with his purpose (1:1-2), stressed the Lord Jesus' work in causing the church to grow (v. 47; cf. Matt. 16:18). R. J. Knowling noted a similarity between the growth of the church and the growth of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 2:52).[261]

"… this is one of the few references in Acts to the Christians worshipping God in the sense of rendering thanks to him. The fewness of such phrases reminds us that according to the New Testament witness Christian gatherings were for instruction, fellowship, and prayer; in other words for the benefit of the people taking part; there is less mention of the worship of God, although of course this element was not absent."[262]

"Christianity was no proletarian movement. It appealed to a broad spectrum of classes."[263]

B.     The expansion of the church in Jerusalem 3:1—6:7

Luke recorded the events of this section of Acts in order to document the continued expansion of the church and to identify the means that God used to produce growth. In chapters 3 through 5 the emphasis is on how the Christians' witness brought them into conflict with the Jewish leaders.

1.     External opposition 3:1—4:31

Opposition to the Christians' message first came from external sources, particularly the leaders of Judaism.

The healing of a lame man 3:1-10

Luke had just referred to the apostles' teaching, to the awe that many of the Jews felt, to the apostles doing signs and wonders, and to the Christians meeting in the temple (2:43-44, 46). Now he narrated a specific incident that included these elements. The Gospel writers also chose a healing to illustrate the nature of Jesus' early ministry (Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16, 24; John 4:46-54). The healing of this man resulted in the leaders of the Jews changing their attitudes toward the disciples from favorable to antagonistic (4:1-4). The Christians were not able to continue to enjoy favor with all the people (2:47).

This is the first of 14 miracles that Luke recorded in Acts (by Peter: 3:1-10; 5:1-11; 9:32-35, 36-42; by an angel: 5:17-26; 12:1-19, 20-23; and by Paul: 13:4-12; 14:8-11; 16:16-19, 20-42; 20:7-12; 28:3-6, 7-8). These include four healings (three paralytics and one involving fever), two raisings from the dead, four liberations (two from physical bondage and two involving exorcisms), three acts of judgment, and one preservation miracle. There are also 10 summary notices of miracles in Acts (2:43; 5:12, 15, 16; 6:8; 8:6-7, 13; 14:3; 19:11-12; 28:9).[264]

"This event shows the community's compassion and how it meets needs beyond merely material concerns [cf. 14:8-11; Luke 5:17]."[265]

3:1             The "John" in view was undoubtedly the writer of the fourth Gospel, the brother of James. "The temple" was Herod's Temple, and the Jewish "hour of prayer" in view began at 3:00 p.m., the other key prayer time for the Jews being 9:00 a.m. (cf. 2:15; 10:9, 30; Dan. 6:10; 9:21; Judith 9:1).[266] The early Jewish Christians continued to follow their former habits of worship in Jerusalem.

3:2             The lame man had been in his condition for over 40 years (4:22). Furthermore he had to be carried by others. His was an apparently hopeless case. "The gate of the temple which is called Beautiful" is descriptive rather than specific designation. We do not know exactly which of the three main entrances into the temple from the east that Luke referred to.[267] He could have meant the Shushan (or Golden) Gate that admitted people into the Court of the Gentiles from the outside world.[268] He could have meant the Corinthian (or Eastern) Gate that led from the Court of the Gentiles into the Women's Court.[269] Another possibility is that it was the Nicanor Gate that led from the Women's Court into the Court of Israel.[270] Josephus' descriptions of the temple do not solve the problem, since he described both of these latter gates as very impressive.[271] The last two of the above options appear more probable than the first.

3:3                      "In the East it was the custom for beggars to sit begging at the entrance to a temple or a shrine. Such a place was, and still is, considered the best of all stances because, when people are on their way to worship God, they are disposed to be generous to their fellow men."[272]

3:4-5          Peter told the beggar to look at him and John because Peter needed his full attention. Peter then gave him a gift far better than the one he expected to receive. This is typical of how God deals with needy people. When we give people the gospel, we give them God's best gift.

"In effect, Peter has given him a new life, which is precisely what the miracles represent, as Peter's subsequent speech will show."[273]

"… the Church's opportunity is lame humanity, lame from its birth."[274]

3:6             The name of a person represented that person then as it does now. When Peter healed this man "in the name of Jesus," he was saying that it was Jesus who was ultimately responsible for the healing, not Peter. Peter healed him in the power of and with the authority of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. v. 16).

This was the first of three crippled people that Luke recorded the apostles healing in Acts (9:32-34; 14:8-10; cf. John 5; 9).

The gift of healing as it existed in the early church was quite different from the so-called gift of healing that some claim to possess today. Examples of people using this gift in the New Testament seem to indicate that the person with this gift could heal anyone, subject to God's will (cf. Matt. 10:1, 8; Acts 28:8-9; et al.). The sick person's belief in Jesus Christ and in God's ability to heal him or her also seems to have been a factor (v. 16; cf. Mark 6:5-6). There is a similar account of Paul healing a lame man in Lystra, in 14:8-10, where Luke said the man's faith was crucial. Jesus Christ gave this gift to the early church in order to convince people that He is God, and that the gospel that the Christians preached had divine authority. He gave it for the benefit of Jewish observers primarily (1 Cor. 1:22).

"The New Testament gift of healing is a specific gift to an individual enabling him to heal. It is not to be confused with the healing performed by God in answer to prayer."[275]

"There is little correspondence between modern-day charismatic 'healings' and the healings recorded in the New Testament. The differences are so vast that many of today's healers are careful to point out that they do not have the gift of healing, but are merely those to whom God often responds with healing."[276]

Of course, many other modern healers do claim that their healings are the same as what the New Testament records.

3:7-8          Peter evidently did not grasp the lame man in order to heal him as much as to help him to his feet. God healed this man completely and instantaneously. The healed beggar began to test the capability of his strengthened limbs immediately. He evidently followed Peter and John into whatever part of the temple they were entering "walking and leaping and praising God."

3:9-10        Almost everyone in Jerusalem would have known this beggar, since he had sat for so long at an entrance to the temple. Jesus may have passed this man many times as He walked in and out of the temple. There would have been no doubt about the genuineness of his healing. Peter performed this sign (a miracle with significance) just like Jesus had healed lame people before His crucifixion. By doing it in Jesus' name, it would have been evident to all present that the power of Jesus was now at work through His disciples. Isaiah had predicted that in Israel's future "those who limp will leap like a deer" (Isa. 35:6). The healing of this lame man, as well as the healing of other lame people in the Gospels and Acts, indicated to the Jews present that the Messiah had come. Peter claimed that Jesus was that Messiah.

"… the similarity between Jesus' healing of the paralytic and Peter's healing of the lame man lies less in the healing itself than in the function of these scenes in the larger narrative. In both cases the healing becomes the occasion for a fundamental claim about Jesus' saving power, emphasizing its importance and general scope ('on earth,' Luke 5:24; 'under heaven,' Acts 4:12). In both cases the healing leads to proclamation of a saving power that goes beyond physical healing. In both cases the claim is made in the face of new opposition and is directly related to the mission announced in the Scripture quotation in the inaugural speech."[277]

This incident, and the other miracles recorded in Acts, have led readers of this book to wonder if God is still working miracles today. He is. God can and does perform miracles whenever and wherever He chooses. Regeneration is one of God's greatest miracles. Perhaps a better question would be: Does God still give the gift of working miracles to believers today as He gave this ability to Peter, Paul, and other first-century apostles?

Significantly, each of the three periods in biblical history when God dramatically manifested this gift to selected servants, was a time when God was giving new revelation through prophets. These three periods are the times of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. However, God has performed miracles throughout history. Each period of miraculous activity was brief, spanning no more than two generations of people. When the miraculous gift was present not even those who had it healed everyone who could have benefited from it (e.g., Mark 6:5-6; Phil. 2:27; 2 Tim. 4:20; et al.).

Peter's address in Solomon's colonnade 3:11-26

As is often true in Acts, an event led to an explanation (cf. ch. 2).

"It seems strange, at first glance, that in his narrative Luke would place two such similar sermons of Peter so close together. But his putting the Pentecost sermon in the introductory section of Acts was evidently meant to be a kind of paradigm [model] of early apostolic preaching—a paradigm Luke seems to have polished for greater literary effectiveness. As for the Colonnade sermon, Luke seems to have included it as an example of how the early congregation in Jerusalem proclaimed the message of Jesus to the people of Israel as a whole."[278]

"In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter had to refute the accusation that the believers were drunk. In this sermon, he had to refute the notion that he and John had healed the man by their own power [cf. 14:8-18]."[279]

The setting of the sermon 3:11


"Peter and John," with the healed lame man clinging to them, moved into the "portico" (colonnade) of the temple, and a large crowed, amazed by the healing, followed them (cf. 21:30). A covered porch supported by a series of columns surrounded the outer temple courtyard: the Court of the Gentiles. The eastern portion of this porch bore the name Solomon's portico "because it was built on a remnant of the foundations of the ancient temple."[280] Peter addressed the curious throng from this convenient shaded area, where Jesus had formerly taught (John 10:23).

Peter's proclamation 3:12-16

"In his former address Peter had testified to the power and presence of the Spirit of God at work in a new way in the lives of men through Jesus. Now he proclaims the power and authority of the name of Jesus by which his disciples are enabled to continue his ministry on earth. In both speeches there is a call for repentance for the crime of crucifying the Messiah, but here Peter stresses the role of Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God and as the new Moses who must be obeyed."[281]

3:12-15      Luke recorded seven of Peter's addresses in Acts (1:16-22; 2:14-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12: 10:34-43; 11:4-17; 15:7-11).[282] It is noteworthy that in these sermons Peter did not discuss abstract doctrines or reason about profound theological problems. He presented the person and work of Christ in simple terms.

Peter spoke to his audience as a fellow Jew. First, he denied that it was the power or good character of himself or John that was responsible for the healing. Rather it was the God of the patriarchs, the God of their fathers, who was responsible for it. God had performed this miracle through the apostles to glorify "His Servant Jesus" (cf. 2:22). It was God's Servant, Jesus, whom Peter's hearers had "disowned" and put to death having preferred "a murderer," Barabbas, to Him.

Peter called Jesus: the Servant (or Son, Gr. paida) of God, the subject of messianic prophecy (Isa. 42:1; 49:6-7; 52:13; 53:11; cf. Mark 10:45); "the Holy One," a title of Messiah (Ps. 16:10; Isa. 31:1; cf. Mark 1:24; 1 John 2:20); "the Righteous One" (Isa. 53:11; Zech. 9:9; cf. 1 John 2:1); and "the Prince [Author] of life" (Ps. 16; cf. John 1:1-18; Col. 1:14-20; Heb. 1:2-3; 2:10; 12:2).

Peter charged these Jews with four things: First, they had handed Jesus over to be killed. He then pointed out three inconsistencies in the Jews' treatment of Jesus and contrasted their treatment of Him with God's. Second, they had condemned Him when Pilate was about to release Him (v. 13). Third, they had rejected "the Holy and Righteous One" out of preference for "a murderer," Barabbas (v. 14; Luke 23:18-19). Fourth, they had executed the Author of Life "whom God raised from the dead," of which the apostles were "witnesses" (v. 15). "Prince" or (better here) Author (Originator) "of life" presents Jesus as the resurrected Messiah who gives life that overcomes death.[283]

3:16           The proclamation portion of Peter's sermon expounds "the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene" (cf. v. 6). The "name" of Jesus summarizes everything about Him here, as elsewhere in Scripture. Peter attributed the beggar's healing to the power of Jesus and to the man's trust in what he knew about Jesus ("faith in His name"). Jesus had given him faith. If the beggar had had no confidence in the deity and divine power of Jesus, he would not have responded to Peter's invitation to walk (v. 6). His response demonstrated his faith. Undoubtedly this man had previously seen and heard Jesus when He was in the temple. Jesus, now unseen but presently working through Peter, had given him "perfect health."

"The Christian knows that so long as he thinks of what I can do and what I can be, there can be nothing but failure and frustration and fear; but when he thinks of 'not I, but Christ in me' there can be nothing but peace and power."[284]

Peter's exhortation 3:17-26

3:17-18      If Peter's charges against his hearers were harsh (vv. 13-15), his concession that they acted "in ignorance" was tender. He meant that they did not realize the great mistake that they were making when they called for Jesus' crucifixion. Peter undoubtedly hoped that his gentle approach would win a reversal of his hearers' attitude.

"Israel's situation was something like that of the 'manslayer' who killed his neighbor without prior malicious intent, and fled to the nearest city of refuge (Num. 35:9-34)."[285]

Jesus did not demonstrate His deity as convincingly as He might have done during His earthly ministry. Consequently the reaction of unbelief that many "rulers," as well as common Israelites, demonstrated was partially due to their ignorance. They were also ignorant of the fact that Jesus fulfilled many messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Peter hastened to point out that Jesus' sufferings harmonized with those predicted of the Messiah by Israel's "prophets." It was the prophets' revelations about the sufferings of Messiah that the Jews in Peter's day, including Jesus' own disciples, had difficulty understanding.

"Doubtless many in Peter's Jewish audience would have been agreeable to much of the preceding statement. They would not have been averse to accepting the idea of a genuine miracle, nor were they unfamiliar with Jesus' reputation as a miracle worker. The problem they faced was identifying Jesus as their conquering Messiah in the light of the crucifixion."[286]

3:19-21      If Jesus was the Messiah, where was the messianic kingdom? Peter proceeded to explain from Scripture that the Jews needed to accept their Messiah before Messiah's earthly kingdom would begin. He again called on his hearers to "repent," in view of what he had pointed out (cf. 2:38). He also invited them to "return" to a proper relationship to God, which was possible only by accepting Jesus. The result would be forgiveness of their "sins." Note that there is no reference to baptism as being essential to either repentance or forgiveness in this verse (cf. 2:38).

What is repentance, and what place does it have in salvation? With reference to salvation, repentance means to think differently about sin, oneself, and the Savior than one used to think. Peter's hearers had thought Jesus was not the Messiah. Now they needed to change their minds and believe that He was the Messiah.

"True repentance is admitting that what God says is true, and because it is true, to change our mind about our sins and about the Saviour."[287]

The Greek verb metanoeo, translated "repent," does not mean to be sorry for sin or to turn from sin. These are the results or fruits of repentance (cf. Luke 3:8).

"The conclusive evidence that repentance does not mean to be sorry for sin or to turn from sin is this: in the Old Testament, God repents. In the King James Version, the word repent occurs forty-six times in the Old Testament. Thirty-seven of these times, God is the one repenting (or not repenting). If repentance meant sorrow for sin, God would be a sinner."[288]

People can repent concerning many things, not just sin, as the Scriptures use this term. They can change their minds about God (Acts 20:21), Christ (Acts 2:37-38), and works (Heb. 6:1; Rev. 9:20; 16:11), as well as sin (Acts 8:22; Rev. 9:21). This shows that in biblical usage, repentance means essentially a change of mind.

Repentance and faith are not two steps in salvation, but one step looked at from two perspectives. Appeals to repent do not contradict the numerous promises that faith is all that is necessary for salvation (e.g., John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 20:30-31; Rom. 4; et al.). The faith that saves includes repentance (a change of mind). A person changes from unbelief to belief (Acts 11:17-18). Sometimes the New Testament writers used the two terms, repent and believe, together (e.g., Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Sometimes they used repentance alone as the sole requirement for salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20; 2 Pet. 3:9). Nonetheless whether one term or both occur, they are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin.

"… true repentance never exists except in conjunction with faith, while, on the other hand, wherever there is true faith, there is also real repentance."[289]

"Biblical repentance may be described thus: the sinner has been trusting in himself for salvation, his back turned upon Christ, who is despised and rejected. Repent! About face! The sinner now despises and rejects himself, and places all confidence and trust in Christ. Sorrow for sin comes later, as the Christian grows in appreciation of the holiness of God, and the sinfulness of sin."[290]

"We believe that the new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ and that repentance is a vital part of believing, and is in no way, in itself, a separate and independent condition of salvation; nor are any other acts, such as confession, baptism, prayer, or faithful service, to be added to believing as a condition of salvation."[291]

"Therefore, in a word, I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God that had been disfigured and all but obliterated through Adam's transgression."[292]

The phrase "times of refreshing" (v. 19) seems to refer to the blessings connected with the day of the LORD, particularly the Millennium, in view of how Peter described these times in verses 20 and 21.[293] They connect with the second coming of Messiah, "the period of restoration of all things" (v. 20). These times are the subjects of Old Testament prophecy. Zechariah predicted that the Jews would one day accept Messiah whom they had formerly rejected (Zech. 12:10-14; cf. Deut. 30:1-3; Jer. 15:19; 16:15; 24:6; 50:19; Ezek. 16:55; Hos. 11:11; Rom. 11:25-27). Peter urged them to do that now.

Some Bible scholars believe that if the Jews had repented as a nation, in response to Peter's exhortation, Christ would have returned and set up His earthly kingdom. There seems to be nothing in scriptural prophecy that would have made this impossible. Peter, therefore, may have been calling for both individual repentance and national repentance. The result of the former was individual forgiveness and spiritual salvation. The result of the latter would have been national forgiveness and physical deliverance from Rome, and the inauguration of the earthly millennial kingdom. The following four paragraphs are Toussaint's defense of this view:

"Was Peter saying here that if Israel repented, God's kingdom would have come to earth? This must be answered in the affirmative for several reasons: (1) The word restore (3:21) is related to the word 'restore' in 1:6. In 3:21 it is in its noun form (apokatastaseos), and in 1:6 it is a verb (apokathistaneis). Both occurrences anticipate the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (cf. Matt. 17:11; Mark 9:12). (2) The concept of restoration parallels regeneration when it is used of the kingdom (cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Matt. 19:28; Rom. 8:20-22). (3) The purpose clauses are different in Acts 3:19 and 20. In verse 19a so that translates pros to (some mss. have eis to) with the infinitive [in the NIV]. This points to a near purpose. The two occurrences of that in verses 19b and 20 are translations of a different construction (hopos with subjunctive verbs), and refer to more remote purposes. Thus repentance would result in forgiveness of sins, the near purpose (v. 19a). Then if Israel as a whole would repent, a second more remote goal, the coming of the kingdom (times of refreshing at the second coming of Christ) would be fulfilled. (4) The sending of the Christ, that is, Messiah (v. 20) meant the coming of the kingdom. (5) The Old Testament 'foretold these days' (v. 24; cf. v. 21). The Old Testament prophets did not predict the church; to them it was a mystery (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-6). But the prophets often spoke of the messianic golden age, that is, the Millennium.

"This offer of salvation and of the Millennium pointed both to God's graciousness and to Israel's unbelief. On the one hand God was giving the Jews an opportunity to repent after the sign of Christ's resurrection. They had refused the 'pre-Cross' Jesus; now they were being offered a post-Resurrection Messiah. On the other hand Peter's words underscore Israel's rejection. They had been given the sign of Jonah but still they refused to believe (cf. Luke 16:31). In a real sense this message confirmed Israel's unbelief.

"Some Bible scholars oppose the view that the kingdom was offered by Peter. They do so on the basis of several objections: (1) Since God knew Israel would reject the offer, it was not a legitimate offer. But it was as genuine as the presentation of the gospel to any nonelect person. (2) This puts kingdom truth in the Church Age. However, church truth is found before the church began at Pentecost (cf. Matt. 16:18; 18:17; John 10:16; 14:20). (3) This view leads to ultradispensationalism. But this is not a necessary consequence if this offer is seen as a transition within the Church Age. Acts must be seen as a hinge book, a transition work bridging the work of Christ on earth with His work through the church on earth.

"In conclusion, Acts 3:17-21 shows that Israel's repentance was to have had two purposes: (1) for individual Israelites there was forgiveness of sins, and (2) for Israel as a nation her Messiah would return to reign."[294]

"Just as in the period of the Gospels the Kingdom had been offered to the nation of Israel, even so during the history of Acts the Kingdom was again offered to Israel. In both periods the offer was authenticated by the same 'signs and wonders' which, according to the prophets, belonged properly to such an offer. And its establishment, in both periods, was conditioned upon repentance and acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah on the part of the nation. Furthermore, in both periods there was Jewish opposition which moved to a crisis of rejection."[295]

Other interpreters believe that this was not a reoffer of the kingdom to Israel. The following three paragraphs are Pentecost's defense of this view:

"Here Peter was not reoffering the kingdom to the nation, nor was he telling them that if the nation repented the kingdom would be instituted at that time. Rather he was telling the nation—the same nation that had committed the sin for which there is no forgiveness [cf. Matt. 12:22-37]—what they must do as a nation in order to enter into the benefits of the kingdom that had been covenanted and promised to them. In a word, they must 'repent.' …

"The time 'for God to restore everything,' to which Peter refers in Acts 3:21, is the same restoration referred to in 1:6. Therefore, this statement does not constitute a reoffer of the kingdom, since the necessary prerequisites are not at hand. Jesus Christ is not personally present and offering Himself to the nation. Only He could make a genuine offer of the kingdom. …

"… Peter was not offering the kingdom to Israel, nor was he stating that the kingdom had already been instituted; instead he was stating the conditions by which the nation will eventually enter into their covenanted blessings."[296]

Whether or not this was a reoffer of the earthly kingdom to the Jews at this time, some individual Jews did repent, but the nation as a whole did not in response to Peter's exhortation (4:1-4).[297]

"Luke's manner of representing the nationalistic hopes of the Jewish people implies that he himself believed that there would be a future, national restoration. If Luke really believed that there would not be a restoration, he has certainly gone out of his way to give the contrary impression."[298]

"In his first sermon S. Peter had explained the Lord's absence by the necessity for the outpouring of the Spirit: now he answers the difficulty about the Messianic kingdom by unfolding its true nature."[299]

3:22-23      Peter proceeded to quote from the first writing prophet in order to confirm what he had just stated. "Moses" had predicted that God would provide prophets, similar to himself, through whom He would make His will clear to His people (Deut. 18:15-19; cf. Lev. 23:29). As time passed, the Jews saw that this prophecy referred to one Prophet in particular who would appear and would be like Moses in other respects as well.[300] He would deliver and judge His people.

Thus believers in Peter's day regarded this passage as messianic prophecy (cf. John 1:21b, 25; 7:40). Peter, by quoting this prophecy, affirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. Then he urged his hearers to accept Him or face destruction (v. 23). Destruction followed in A.D. 70 because most of the Jews continued to reject Jesus as their Messiah. Belief in Moses should have led to belief in Jesus (John 5:46), and belief in Jesus would have made Peter's hearers obedient to Moses.

"The particular interest of this sermon lies in the way in which it gives further teaching about the person of Jesus, describing him as God's servant, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of life and the prophet like Moses. This indicates that a considerable amount of thinking about Jesus, based on study of the Old Testament, was taking place [in Jerusalem following Jesus' death and resurrection]."[301]

3:24           The prophet "Samuel" announced that David would replace Saul (1 Sam. 13:14; 15:28; 28:17; cf. 1 Sam. 16:13), but we have no record that he ever gave an explicitly messianic prophecy. Peter seems to have meant that in announcing David's reign, Samuel was also anticipating Messiah's reign. The other "prophets" whom Peter apparently had in mind were all those who spoke of David's continuing dynastic rule. Peter's statement in this verse, by the way, shows that Joshua did not fulfill Moses' prophecy about the coming prophet.

3:25-26      Peter's hearers were "the sons of the prophets" in that they were the descendants of those prophets that he had been speaking about, not prophets themselves. They were sons "of the covenant" that God had made with Abraham because they were Abraham's physical descendants. They were part of Abraham's physical seed through whom God purposed to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4). Their acceptance of God's Messiah was essential to their fulfilling all of God's purposes through them and in them.

God desired to bless all people, but He purposed to bless humanity by first blessing the Jews (cf. Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). It was to bless the Jews first, and after that all humanity, that God had called Jesus forth as a Prophet. "For you first" (v. 26, Gr. hymin proton) reflects the emphatic position of this phrase in the Greek text, which stresses the primacy of Jewish blessing.

It seems that in view of the context, the phrase "raised up" (v. 26) refers to God raising up Jesus as a prophet like Moses (v. 22). He probably did not mean that God raised Him up from the grave by resurrection, though obviously God did that too.

The gospel went to the Jews before it went to the Gentiles (cf. Matt. 10:5-6; Acts 13:46; Rom. 1:16) because the establishment of Christ's earthly kingdom depends on Israel's acceptance of her Messiah (Matt. 23:39; Rom. 11:26). Before Christ can reign on the earth, Israel must repent (Zech. 12:10-14).

"… as the original offer of the Kingdom by the King was made to Israel first during the 'days of his flesh,' so now again, having been raised from the dead, He is offered 'first' to the chosen nation for the purpose of turning them away from their iniquities (Acts 3:25-26)."[302]

"This speech is one of the most christologically rich addresses in Acts, as Jesus is the servant, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of life, the prophet like Moses, the Christ, and the seed of Abraham."[303]

Should modern Christians evangelize Jews before they evangelize Gentiles, since God's purpose was to bless the Jews first? Christians are not commanded to do so. The Great Commission passages make no Jew-Gentile distinction regarding who should get the gospel first. Evangelizing Jews first was the practice of the early church, but we are not commanded to do so now. How can we tell whether we should practice a New Testament practice, as contrasted with a New Testament precept (command), or not? We should ask ourselves: Is the practice commanded, and is the practice trans-cultural (not limited to one particular situation)? If it is, we should practice it. If it is not, we do not need to practice it.

By the way, there are several meanings of the word "Jew," and it is helpful to distinguish them: Biological or ethnic Jews are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Some were "saved" (believers in Yahweh) in Old Testament times, but some were not. Today, most ethnic Jews are unbelievers in Jesus: non-Christians. Religious Jews are people who have practiced the religion of Israel in one of its various forms throughout history. Some Gentiles became adherents to Judaism as a faith (cf. Ruth). Some of these were "saved" and others were not. Today, a person may follow the religion of Judaism without being an ethnic Jew, and Christian ethnic Jews do not normally adhere to Judaism, though they may observe some Jewish customs. They adhere to Christianity. "Saved" Jews are ethnic Jews who believe in God like Abraham did, trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. Today, many "saved" Jews refer to themselves as Messianic or completed Jews.

In Old Testament times, “Jew” was a term that non-Jews used to describe the Israelites. It comes from the name “Judah.” The Israelites typically referred to themselves as Israelites.

When we read about the Israelites in the New Testament, we have to decide who is in view. Dispensationalists believe that “Israel” always refers to ethnic Jews in the New Testament, either "saved" or "unsaved," as is true in the Old Testament. Sometimes "saved" Jews are in view (e.g., Gal. 6:16), but they are "saved" ethnic Jews. Non-dispensationalists believe that in the New Testament, "Israel" sometimes refers to the new people of God: Christians, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles.

The arrest of Peter and John 4:1-4

In chapters 4 through 7 there is a series of similar confrontations, with each one building up to the crisis of Stephen's death and the persecution of Christians that followed.[304] The first four verses of chapter 4 conclude the incident recorded in chapter 3 ("As they were speaking," v. 1), and they introduce what follows in 4:5 through 31.

4:1             Evidently John spoke to the people as did Peter ("they"), though Luke did not record what John said. Three separate though related individuals and groups objected to Peter and John addressing the people as they did (cf. 5:17). Jesus had also encountered opposition from leaders who questioned His authority when He taught in the temple (Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1-2). The "captain" (Gr. strategos) of the temple guard was the commanding officer of the temple police force. The Talmud referred to this officer as the Sagan.[305] This individual was second in command under the high priest.[306] He apparently feared that this already excited throng of hearers might get out of control.

"The Sadducees" were Levitical priests who claimed to represent ancient orthodoxy. They opposed any developments in biblical law, and they denied the doctrine of bodily resurrection (23:8) and therefore disagreed with Peter's teaching on that subject (3:15; cf. John 12:10). They believed that the messianic age had begun with the Maccabean heroes (168-134 B.C.) and continued under the Sadducees' supervision. So they rejected Peter's identification of Jesus as the Messiah (3:20).[307]

"For them the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event. Furthermore, as political rulers and dominant landlords, to whom a grateful nation had turned over all political and economic powers during the time of the Maccabean supremacy, for entirely practical reasons they stressed cooperation with Rome and maintenance of the status quo. Most of the priests were of Sadducean persuasion; the temple police force was composed entirely of Levites; the captain of the temple guard was always a high-caste Sadducee, and so were each of the high priests."[308]

4:2             Two things disturbed these leaders: First, the apostles were "teaching the people." This was the Sadducees' self-appointed function, since they were the recognized leaders of the Jews. Second, the apostles were teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead and that there was a "resurrection from the dead."

"… a woman called and asked me to serve on a committee that was trying to clean up downtown Los Angeles. I agreed it needed cleaning up, but I told her that I could not serve on the committee. She was amazed. 'Aren't you a minister?' she asked. 'Aren't you interested in cleaning up Los Angeles?' I answered, 'I will not serve on your committee because I don't think you are going about it in the right way.' Then I told her what the late Dr. Bob Shuler had told me years ago. He said, 'We are called to fish in the fish pond, not to clean up the fish pond.' This old world is a place to fish. Jesus said He would make us fishers of men, and the world is the place to fish. We are not called upon to clean up the fish pond. We need to catch the fish and get the fish cleaned up. I have found that the biggest enemies of the preaching of the gospel are not the liquor folk. The gangsters have never bothered me. Do you know where I had my trouble as a preacher? It was with the so-called religious leaders, the liberals, those who claimed to be born again. They actually became enemies of the preaching of the gospel. It was amazing to me to find out how many of them wanted to destroy my radio ministry."[309]

Having worked with Dr. McGee in his church in Los Angeles, I know that he sought to help people physically as well as spiritually. His point here was that spiritual help is more important than physical help.

4:3             It was too late in the day to begin a hearing to examine Peter and John formally, though this had not stopped the Sanhedrin from abusing Jesus (cf. Luke 22:63-66). Therefore the temple officials arrested the two and "put them in prison," probably the Antonia Fortress.

"Some of the most glorious traditions in Jewish history were connected with this castle, for there had been the ancient 'armoury of David,' the palace of Hezekiah and of Nehemiah, and the fortress of the Maccabees."[310]

Thus the Sadducees became the first opponents of Christianity (cf. 2:47).

4:4             Belief was the key factor in many more Jews becoming Christians (cf. 3:19), not believing plus being baptized (2:38). Note that Luke simply wrote that they "believed" "the message" that they "had heard." The total number of male converts in Jerusalem now reached "5,000" (cf. 1:15; 2:41) because of Peter's message. The Greek word andron specifies males ("men") rather than people. Normally most of the people in the temple courtyard who would have witnessed these events would have been Jewish males.

Estimates of Jerusalem's total population at this time range from 25,000 to 250,000, though the lower figure seems more probable.[311] One writer argued for 60,000 or more inhabitants.[312] Another believed that 100,000 to 120,000 people inhabited the city in the forties.[313] Obviously there is a wide range of speculation.

Peter's explanation before the Sanhedrin 4:5-12

4:5             "The Council" (v. 15) before which soldiers brought Peter and John the next day was the Sanhedrin, which was the senate and supreme court of Israel. It consisted of the high priest, who served as its presiding officer, and 70 other men. Its aristocratic members, the majority, were Sadducees, and its lay leaders were Pharisees. Most of the experts in the Jewish law were Pharisees who were also nationalistic, but the Sadducees supported Rome. The Sadducees were more conservative, though rationalistic theologically, and the Pharisees were more liberal since they accepted oral traditions as authoritative in addition to the Old Testament.

The Sanhedrin normally held its meetings, including the one described in this chapter, in a hall adjoining the southwest part of the temple courtyard: in the Chamber of Hewn Stone.[314] The "rulers" were priests who represented the 24 priestly courses (cf. 23:5; Matt. 16:21), the "elders" were tribal and influential family heads of the people, and the "scribes" were teachers of the law. Individuals from these three groups made up this body (cf. Luke 9:22). The rulers and elders were mainly Sadducees, while most of the scribes were Pharisees.

"The Sanhedrin was acting within its jurisdiction when it convened to examine Peter and John. The Mosaic Law specified that whenever someone performed a miracle and used it as the basis for teaching, he was to be examined, and if the teaching were used to lead men away from the God of their fathers, the nation was responsible to stone him (Deut. 13:1-5). On the other hand, if his message was doctrinally sound, the miracle-worker was to be accepted as coming with a message from God."[315]

This is the first of four times that some of Jesus' followers stood before the Sanhedrin according to Acts. The others were Peter and the apostles (5:27), Stephen (6:12), and Paul (22:30).

4:6             "Annas," whom Luke called "the high priest" here, was technically not the governing high priest at this time. He had served as high priest from A.D. 6 to 15, but from A.D. 18 to 36, his son-in-law "Caiaphas" had been the governing high priest. However, Annas continued to exert great influence in the Sanhedrin (cf. Luke 3:2; John 18:13-24). He was so powerful that Luke could refer to him as "the high priest," even though he was only the power behind the office (cf. Luke 3:2; John 18:13; Acts 7:1). During this time, former high priests seem to have kept their titles and membership in the Sanhedrin.[316] At this time in Israel's history, the Roman governor of Palestine appointed the high priest. "John" may refer to Jonathan, a son of Annas who succeeded Caiaphas as high priest in A.D. 36. Luke did not mention "Alexander" elsewhere, and he is presently unknown.


The High Priests of Israel
ca. A.D. 6-66

Annas (c. A.D. 6-15)

·      Unofficial high priest with Caiaphas during Jesus' trial (Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24

·      Unofficial high priest who, with Caiaphas, tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)

Eleazar (ca. A.D. 16-17)

·      Son of Annas

Caiaphas (ca. A.D. 18-36)

·      Son-in-law of Annas

·      Official high priest during Jesus' earthly ministry (Matt. 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49-50)

·      With Annas tried Peter and John (Acts 4:6)

Jonathan (ca. A.D. 36-37)

·      Son of Annas, and possibly the "John" of Acts 4:6

Theophilus (ca. A.D. 37-41)

·      Son of Annas

Matthias (ca. A.D. 42)

·      Son of Annas

Ananias (ca. A.D. 47-59)

·      Tried Paul in Jerusalem and Caesarea (Acts 23:1-10; 24:1-23)

Annas (ca. A.D. 61)

·      Son of Annas

Matthias (ca. A.D. 65-66)

·      Son of Theophilus, grandson of Annas


4:7             The healed lame man (3:1-10) was also present (v. 14), though we do not know if he had been imprisoned with Peter and John or was simply brought in for the hearing. The Sanhedrin wanted to know "by what power" (authority)—or "in what "name" (under whose jurisdiction)—Peter and John (plural "you") had been "teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (v. 2) in connection with the healing of the lame man.

"The judges sat cross-legged in a half-circle on a raised platform."[317]

4:8             Jesus had promised that when His disciples stood before hostile adversaries God would give them the words to speak (Luke 21:12-15). This special filling with the Holy Spirit appears to be in view in this verse ("filled with the Holy Spirit"). Again, filling reflects control by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit filled (controlled) Peter as he served as a witness in obedience to Jesus (1:8). The Greek aorist passive participle plestheis ("filled") indicates an act performed on Peter rather than a continuing state. Peter addressed all the Sanhedrin members as "rulers and elders" of the Jews.

4:9-10        Peter referred to this "trial" as a preliminary hearing (Gr. anakrinomai), which it was. Jewish law required that people had to be informed of the consequences of their crime before being punished for it.[318] Peter's answer was straightforward and plain: "the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene" (i.e., He) had benefited the sick man by healing him. This was good news not only for the Sanhedrin but for all the people of Israel. Peter used a Greek word that means saved (sothenai), which some English translators have rendered "made well" (v. 9). His use of this word anticipates the use of the same word in verse 12 where it has a broader meaning.

Peter's intent was obviously to prick the consciences of these men, as well as to answer their question (cf. 2:23, 36; 3:13-15). He laid the guilt for Jesus' death at their feet, and gave witness that God had "raised Him from the dead." The Sanhedrin did not now, or at any later time, attempt to deny the fact that Jesus had arisen.

4:11           Peter showed that this teaching did not lead the people away from God, but it rather fulfilled something that God had predicted. By quoting Psalm 118:22 Peter applied to Jesus Christ what David had said about the nation of Israel (cf. Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). Israel's leaders had "rejected" Jesus as an unacceptable Messiah, but He would prove to be the most important part of what God was building.

Some scholars believe Peter meant that Jesus was "the chief cornerstone," namely, the foundation of what God was building (cf. Isa. 28:16; 1 Pet. 2:7).[319] Others believe that he meant the capstone, the final piece of what God was building (cf. Dan. 2:34-35).[320] If the former interpretation is correct, Peter was probably anticipating the church as a new creation of God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-8). In the latter view, he was viewing the Messiah as the long-expected completion of the house of David. Since Peter was addressing Israel's rulers, I think he probably meant that Jesus was the capstone, their Messiah. These rulers, the builders of Israel, had rejected their Messiah.

4:12           The verses immediately following Psalm 118:22 in the Book of Psalms refer to Messiah's national deliverance of Israel. It seems that Peter was referring to both national deliverance and personal salvation in this address, as he had in the previous one (3:17-26). The former application would have been especially appropriate in view of his audience on this occasion. The earthly kingdom to which the Jews looked forward could only come if Israel's leaders repented and accepted Jesus as their Messiah.

Peter boldly declared that salvation comes through "no one else" but Jesus—not the Maccabean heroes, or the Sadducees, or anyone else. Zechariah (Luke 1:69), Simeon (Luke 2:30), and John the Baptist (Luke 3:6) had previously connected God's salvation with Jesus. Peter stressed that Jesus was a man: He lived under heaven and "among mankind." Jesus, the Messiah, the Nazarene (v. 10), is God's only authorized Savior. Apart from Him there is no salvation for anyone (cf. John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

"Peter (and/or Luke) is no advocate of modern notions of religious pluralism."[321]

"… when we read the speech of Peter, we must remember to whom it was spoken, and when we do remember that it becomes one of the world's great demonstrations of courage. It was spoken to an audience of the wealthiest, the most intellectual and the most powerful in the land, and yet Peter, the Galilaean [sic] fisherman, stands before them rather as their judge than as their victim. But further, this was the very court which had condemned Jesus to death. Peter knew it, and he knew that at this moment he was taking his life in his hands."[322]

The Sanhedrin's response 4:13-22

4:13-14      The Sanhedrin observed in "Peter and John" what they had seen in Jesus, namely, courage to speak boldly and authoritatively without formal rabbinic training (cf. Matt. 7:28-29; Mark 1:22; Luke 20:19-26; John 7:15). They may also have remembered seeing them with Jesus (John 18:15-16), but that does not seem to be Luke's main point here.

"They spoke of the men as having been with Jesus, in a past tense. What was the truth? Christ was in the men, and speaking through the men; and the similarity which they detected was not that lingering from contact with a lost teacher, but that created by the presence of the living Christ."[323]

These powerful, educated rulers looked on the former fishermen with contempt. What a change had taken place in the apostles in the short time since Peter had denied that he knew Jesus (Luke 22:56-60)! The rulers also observed facility in handling the Scriptures that was extraordinary in men who had not attended the priests' schools. This examining board could not dispute the apostles' claim that Jesus' power had healed the former beggar. The obvious change in the man had made that impossible. They had no other answer and had nothing to say. Unwilling to accept the obvious, the Sanhedrin could offer no other explanation.

Several details in the stories of the apostles' arrests recall Jesus' teaching concerning the persecution that the disciples would experience (cf. Luke 12:12 and Acts 4:8; Luke 21:12 and Acts 4:3 and 5:18; Luke 21:13 and Acts 4:8-12 and 5:29-32; Luke 21:15 and Acts 4:13).

4:15-17      Evidently someone in the Sanhedrin, or someone else present in the room who was then or later became a Christian, must have reported the information in these verses to Luke. Perhaps Gamaliel told Paul, and Paul told Luke. Perhaps Nicodemus or some other believing member of the Sanhedrin was the source of this information. The most the Sanhedrin felt that it could do was to warn and try to intimidate the apostles. The Sanhedrin members acknowledged that a miracle had taken place.

It seems clear that the Jewish leaders could not disprove the miracle. They were completely silent about the apostles' claims that Jesus was alive. After all, the simplest way to discredit the apostles would have been to produce Jesus' body or in some other way prove to the people that Jesus had not risen.

4:18-20      The Sanhedrin commanded the apostles "not to speak or teach at all" as Jesus' spokesmen. This order provided a legal basis for further action against the apostles should that be necessary (cf. 5:28).[324] Peter and John saw the command of the Sanhedrin as contradicting the command that Christ had given them (1:8; Matt. 28:19-20). They could not obey both, so they had to obey God (cf. Jer. 20:9). This is the only basis for civil disobedience that Scripture permits. In all other matters we must obey those in authority over us (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).[325] Speaking what one has "seen and heard" (v. 20) is the essence of witnessing (1:8). Contempt and threats have silenced many witnesses, but these tactics did not stop the Spirit-filled apostles.[326]

In many parts of the world these days Christians wonder if they should break the law in order to evangelize. The principle that the apostles followed, and that we should follow is: breaking the law is only legitimate when it requires (not just permits) us to disobey the Lord. If our government and/or culture deny us the right to preach and teach the Word of God, we must not be silent.[327]

4:21-22      Even in the face of open defiance, the Sanhedrin could do no more than threaten the apostles again. Peter and John had done nothing wrong. Furthermore they had become popular heroes by this healing. By punishing them, the rulers would have antagonized the people.

The church's reaction 4:23-31

4:23-28      After hearing the apostles' report, the Christians sought the Lord (Gr. Despota, Sovereign Ruler) in prayer.

"Three movements may be discerned in this prayer of the early church: (1) God is sovereign (v. 24). (2) God's plan includes believers' facing opposition against the Messiah (vv. 25-28). (3) Because of these things they petitioned God to grant them boldness to preach (vv. 29-30)."[328]

The believers contrasted God's position as sovereign with that of His servants: David (v. 25), Jesus (vv. 27, 30), and themselves (v. 29). The Greek word translated "servant" (pais), used of David (v. 25) and Jesus (v. 27), contrasts appropriately with the word rendered "bond-servants" (doulos), used of the disciples (v. 29).

The opening reference to God's creative power in the disciples' prayer (v. 24) has many parallels in other Old Testament prayers (e.g., Exod. 20:11; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 146:6; Isa. 42:5; cf. Acts 14:15; 17:24). This was a common and appropriate way to approach God in prayer, especially when a request for the exercise of that power followed, as it did here (cf. 2 Kings 19:15-19; Isa. 37:15-20).

Note the testimony to the divine inspiration of Psalm 2 contained in verse 25. God is the author of Scripture who has worked through human instruments to announce and record His revelations (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21).

The believers saw a parallel to Jesus' crucifixion in the psalmist's prophecy that Messiah would experience opposition from Gentiles and leaders (vv. 25-27). This prophecy will find its fullest fulfillment in events still future from our time in history. God "anointed" Jesus at His baptism (cf. 10:38). David's references to "the nations," "the peoples," "the  kings," and "the rulers" (vv. 25-26) applied to the Roman "Gentiles," "the peoples of Israel," "Herod," and "Pontius Pilate" (v. 27). However the believers again saw God's sovereign hand (the ultimate effective cause) behind human actions (the secondary instrumental cause, v. 28; cf. 2:23a; 3:18).

"They see in this beginning of persecution the continued fulfilment [sic] of Scripture which had been evident in the Passion of Jesus."[329]

4:29-30      The disciples called on God to take note of the "threats" of the Sanhedrin. They may have done so more to stress their need for more of His grace than to call down His wrath on those rulers. The will of God was clear: The disciples were to witness for Christ (1:8; Matt. 28:19-20). Consequently they only needed divine enablement to carry out their task. They did not assume that God would automatically give them the courage to witness boldly, as He had done in the past. They voiced a fresh appeal for this grace, since additional opposition and temptations lay ahead of them (cf. Mark 9:29). They also acknowledged that God, not they, was doing a spiritual work. In these respects their prayer is a helpful model for us.

"Prayer is not an escape from responsibility; it is our response to God's ability. True prayer energizes us for service and battle."[330]

"It might have been thought that when Peter and John returned with their story a deep depression would have fallen on the Church, as they looked ahead to the troubles which were now bound to descend upon them. The one thing that never even struck them was to obey the Sanhedrin's command to speak no more. Into their minds at that moment there came certain great convictions and into their lives there came a tide of strength."[331]

It bears repeating that these Christians did not pray for judgment on their persecutors, nor freedom from persecution, but for "confidence" and enablement in their persecution (cf. Isa. 37:16-20). They rightly saw that their number one priority was preaching Jesus to a needy world.[332]

4:31           It is not clear whether we should understand the shaking of "the place" where the disciples had assembled literally or metaphorically (cf. Exod. 19:18; 1 Kings 19:11-12; Isa. 6:4; Acts 16:26). In either case, those assembled received assurance from this phenomenon that God was among them and would grant their petition.

"This was one of the signs which indicated a theophany in the Old Testament (Ex. 19:18; Isa. 6:4), and it would have been regarded as indicating a divine response to prayer."[333]

"'The place was shaken, and that made them all the more unshaken."[334]

The same control by the Spirit that had characterized Peter (v. 8) and the disciples earlier (2:4) now also marked these Christians. They now spoke with "boldness" (Gr. parresias, with confidence, forthrightly; cf. v. 13, 29) as witnesses, as Peter had done.

Note that tongues-speaking did not occur here. This was not another baptism with the Spirit but simply a fresh filling.[335]

"In Luke 22:39-46, just before Jesus' arrest and just after Peter's assertion of readiness to suffer, Jesus urged the disciples to pray in order that they might not enter into temptation. Instead, the disciples fell asleep and were unprepared for the following crisis. In Acts 4:23-31 Jesus' followers are again confronted with the dangerous opposition of the Sanhedrin. Now they pray as they had previously been told to do. As a result they receive power from God to continue the mission despite the opposition. We have already noted that Peter's boldness before the Sanhedrin in Acts contrasts with his denial of Jesus in Luke. The church in Acts, finding power for witness in prayer, also contrasts with the disciples who slept instead of praying in Luke. These contrasts contribute to the narrator's picture of a dramatic transformation in Jesus' followers."[336]

2.     Internal compromise 4:32—5:11

As was true of Israel when she entered Canaan under Joshua's leadership, failure followed initial success in the early church. The source of that failure lay within the company of believers, not their enemies.

"The greater length of the story of Ananias and Sapphira should not lead to the conclusion that it is the important incident, the preceding section being merely an introduction to give it a setting; on the contrary, it is more likely that 4:32-35 describes the pattern of life, and is then followed by two illustrations, positive and negative, of what happened in practice."[337]

The unity of the church 4:32-35

This brief pericope illustrates what Luke wrote earlier, in 2:44 through 46, about the early Christians sharing and selling their possessions, as well as giving verbal witness. Luke recorded this description to emphasize the purity and unity in the church that resulted from the Spirit's filling (v. 31). This is the second summary narrative that pictures exemplary life in the church (cf. 2:42-47; 5:12-16).[338]

4:32           The unity of the believers extended beyond spiritual matters to physical, material matters (cf. Matt. 22:37-39). They owned personal possessions, but they did not consider them private possessions. Rather, they viewed their belongings as "common [Gr. koina, cf. koinonia, fellowship] property." Customarily they shared what they had with one another (cf. 2:44, 46; Deut. 15:4). Their unity showed itself in a sense of responsibility for one another. Love, not law, compelled them to share (cf. 1 John 3:17-18).

"Their generosity sprang not from coercive legislation (as modern Socialists and Marxists demand) but from a true union of hearts made possible by regeneration."[339]

The economic situation in Jerusalem was deteriorating at this time due to famine and political unrest.[340] Unsaved Jews were beginning to put economic and social pressure on the Christians, and employment opportunities were declining.

4:33           The great power in the witness of the believers was their love for one another (cf. John 13:35), not just their rhetorical (persuasive speaking) and miraculous power. Notice the central place that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus occupied in their witness. His resurrection fulfilled prophecy and identified Jesus as the Messiah (cf. 2:29-32). The "abundant grace" that rested upon these Christians was the divine enablement that God granted them to speak and to live as they did. This grace was on the young church as it had been on the young Jesus (cf. Luke 2:40).

4:34-35      The voluntary sharing described in verse 32 seems to have been customary, but the occasional selling mentioned here was evidently exceptional (cf. 2:45). The Greek imperfect tense verbs here imply "from time to time" (NIV). The apostles were in charge of distributing help to those in need (cf. 6:1-4). The Christians were witnessing with their works (vv. 32, 34-35) as well as with their words (v. 33).

Sincerity or insincerity could motivate these generous deeds. An example of each type of motivation follows.

The generosity of Barnabas 4:36-37

Luke now gave a specific instance of what he had just described in verses 34 and 35. This reference to "Barnabas" is significant because it introduces him to the reader. Barnabas becomes an important character in Acts later, mainly as a missionary (apostle) and preacher.[341] Furthermore Barnabas provides a vivid contrast to Ananias in chapter 5.

4:36           Barnabas' given Jewish name was "Joseph," but people called him by his Jewish nickname (cognomen): "Barnabas," which means "Son of Encouragement" (Gr. huios parakleseos). The Jews often called a person "son of ___" in order to denote his or her characteristics (e.g., "son of Beliel"). They probably did so because Barnabas was a constant positive influence on those around him, as further references to him in Acts will demonstrate (cf. 9:27; 11:22-30; 13:1—14:28; 15:2-4, 12, 22, 36-41; 1 Cor. 9:6).[342] Luke probably mentioned that Barnabas was "a Levite" just to identify him more specifically, not to throw a cloud of suspicion over him. The Mosaic Law forbade Levites from owning property in the Promised Land (Num. 18:24).

"… the rule was no longer rigidly adhered to, and would not have applied to those living overseas."[343]

Levites had connections to the temple, but not everyone with temple connections opposed the apostles (cf. 4:1). Barnabas had lived on the island of Cyprus at some time, though he had relatives in Jerusalem, namely, John Mark, Mark's mother, and perhaps others (cf. 12:12; Col. 4:10).

4:37           Barnabas evidently "sold" some of his "land"—where it was we do not know—in order to provide cash for the needs of the church members. He humbly presented the proceeds of the sale to "the apostles" for their distribution.

"Barnabas is a first example in Acts of the tendency to introduce an important new character first as a minor character, one who appears and quickly disappears. Philip (6:5) and Saul (7:58; 8:1, 3) are similarly introduced before they assume important roles in the narrative. This procedure ties the narrative together, and in each case the introductory scene contributes something significant to the portrait of the person."[344]

The hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira 5:1-11

We might conclude from what precedes that the church was a sinless community at this time. Unfortunately this was not the case. There were sinning saints in it. This episode reveals that God was working dramatically in the church's early days in judgment as well as in blessing. Luke did not idealize his portrait of the early church but painted an accurate picture, as Oliver Cromwell said: "warts and all."[345]

"The passage shows that God knows the hearts of believers. Peter is not the major figure in the text: God is. Luke is teaching about respect for God through one's action."[346]

The death of Ananias 5:1-6

5:1-2          "But" introduces another sacrificial act that looked just as generous as Barnabas' was (4:37). However in this case the motive was quite different. "Ananias" is an Aramaic name. Ananias' Jewish name, Hananiah, means "Yahweh Is Gracious," and Sapphira's Aramaic name, "Sappira," means "Beautiful." Their names proved as ironic as their behavior was hypocritical.

"Until a few years ago, no evidence had been found of the name Sapphira outside of the Bible. In 1933, publication was made of the discovery of several ossuaries [boxes in which the bones of dead people were placed] and other objects contemporary with New Testament times on which was written the name Sapphira … showing that it was a perfectly good name and fits into this period."[347]

The Greek word nosphizo, ("kept back") also appears at the beginning of the record of Achan's sin in the Septuagint (Josh. 7:1, translated "took"). Ananias presented their gift to the apostles exactly as Barnabas had done (4:37).

5:3-4          Rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to fill him (cf. 2:4; 4:8, 31) Ananias had allowed "Satan" to control ("filled") his "heart." However Ananias was personally responsible for his action. He could not claim: The devil made me do it. Peter said, "you have conceived this deed in your heart."

Ananias' sin was lying. He sought to deceive the Christians by trying to gain a reputation for greater generosity than he deserved. By deceiving the church Ananias was also trying to deceive the Holy Spirit who indwelt the church. In attempting to deceive the Holy Spirit he was trying to deceive God. Note the important identification of "the Holy Spirit" as "God" in these verses. Ananias' sin was misrepresenting his gift by claiming that it was the total payment that he had received when it was really only a portion of it. Since believers were free to keep their money, the Jerusalem church did not practice socialism or communism. Ananias' sin was hypocrisy, which is a particular form of lying.

"I am a preacher of the Word—a glorious privilege—and if I have prayed once I have prayed a thousand times and said, 'Don't let me be able to preach unless in the power of the Holy Ghost.' I would rather be struck dumb than pretend it is in the power of the Spirit if it isn't; and yet it is so easy to pretend. It is so easy to come before men and take the place of an ambassador for God, and still want people to praise the preacher instead of giving the message only for the Lord Jesus."[348]

Achan, as well as Ananias and Sapphira, sinned because they loved material possessions (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 4:10).

"Like Judas, Ananias was covetous; and just as greed of gain lay at the bottom of most of the sins and failures in the Acts—the sin of Simon Magus, the opposition of Elymas, of the Philippian 'masters' and the Ephesian silversmiths, the shortcomings of the Ephesian converts and the injustice of Felix—so Ananias kept back part of the price."[349]

Lying to the Holy Spirit is a sin that Christians commit frequently today. When Christians act hypocritically, by pretending a devotion that is not theirs, or a surrender of life they have not really made, they lie to the Holy Spirit. If God acted today as He did in the early Jerusalem church, undertakers would have much more work than they do.

"Those that boast of good works they never did, or promise good works they never do, or make the good works they do more or better than really they are, come under the guilt of Ananias's lie."[350]

Acts clearly presents the Holy Spirit as a Person who can be lied to (v. 3), tested (v. 9), who bears witness (v. 32), is resisted (7:51), gives orders (8:29; 10:19; 13:2), refuses permission (16:7), and speaks (28:25).[351]

5:5             Peter identified Ananias' sin, but God judged it (cf. Matt. 16:19). Luke did not record exactly how Ananias died, even though he himself was a physician. His interest was solely in pointing out that he died immediately because of his sin. The Greek word ekpsycho ("died," lit. expired) occurs in the New Testament here and only where God strikes someone in judgment (v. 10; 12:23; cf. Judg. 4:21, LXX, where Sisera was the victim). Ananias' sin resulted in premature physical death.[352] It was a sin unto death (cf. 1 John 5:16; 1 Cor. 11:30).

We should not interpret the fact that God rarely deals with sinners this way as evidence that He cannot or should not. He does not do so out of mercy. He dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, Achan, Nadab and Abihu, and others severely when He began to deal with various different groups of believers. He did so for those who would follow in the train of those judged in order to illustrate how important it is for God's people to be holy (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6). Furthermore, God always deals more severely with those who have greater privilege and responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48; 1 Pet. 4:17).

5:6             Immediate burial was common in the land of Israel at this time, as the burial of Jesus illustrates. Evidently some of the younger and stronger believers disposed of Ananias' corpse by preparing it for burial.[353] Many people were buried in caves or holes in the ground that had been previously prepared for this purpose, as we see in the burials of Lazarus and Jesus.

"Burial in such a climate necessarily followed quickly after death, and such legal formalities as medical certification were not required."[354]

"… when a man had been struck down by the hand of Heaven (as Joshua specifically says was the case with Achan: Josh. 7.25) his corpse must surely be consigned rapidly and silently to the grave. No one should mourn him. The suicide, the rebel against society, the excommunicate, the apostate, and the criminal condemned to death by the Jewish court would be buried … in haste and without ceremonial, and no one might (or need) observe the usual lengthy and troublesome rituals of mourning for him."[355]

The death of Sapphira 5:7-11

5:7             The answer to the question of whether someone tried to find Sapphira to tell her of Ananias' death lay outside Luke's purpose in writing. He stressed that she was as guilty as her husband and therefore experienced the same fate.

5:8             Peter graciously gave Sapphira an opportunity to tell the truth, but she did not. He did not warn her ahead of time by mentioning her husband's death because he wanted her to speak honestly. She added a spoken lie to her hypocrisy.

5:9-10        Peter's "Why" question to her means virtually the same thing as his "why" question to Ananias (v. 3). Putting "the Spirit of the Lord to the test" means seeing how far one can go in disobeying God—in this case lying to Him—before He will judge (cf. Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:7). This is very risky business.

Some readers of Acts have criticized Peter for dealing with Sapphira and Ananias so harshly. Nevertheless the text clearly indicates that in these matters Peter was under the Holy Spirit's control (4:31), even as Ananias and Sapphira were under Satan's control (v. 3). Peter had been God's agent of blessing in providing healing to people (3:6), but he was also God's instrument to bring judgment on others, as Jesus Christ had done.

"Peter was severe, and the fate of the two delinquents shocking, but the strictures of Christ on hypocrisy must be borne in mind (Mt. xxiii). … The old 'leaven of the Pharisees' was at work, and for the first time in the community of the saints two persons set out deliberately to deceive their leaders and their friends, to build a reputation for sanctity and sacrifice to which they had no right, and to menace [threaten], in so doing, all love, all trust, all sincerity. And not only was the sin against human brotherhood, but against the Spirit of God, so recently and powerfully manifest in the Church."[356]

5:11           Luke reemphasized the sobering effect that these events produced in "all who heard" about them (v. 5; cf. 2:43). People probably said: There but for the grace of God go I.

Here is the first of 23 uses of the word "church" in Acts. The Western (Beza) Greek text used it in 2:47, but probably incorrectly there. The Greek word, ekklesia, means "called out assembly." This was a common word that writers often used to describe assemblies of people that congregated for political and various other types of meetings. The word "church," like the word "baptism," can refer to more than one thing. Sometimes it refers to the body of Christ as it has existed throughout history: the universal church. Sometimes it refers to Christians living in various places during one particular period of time (e.g., the early church). Sometimes it refers to a group of Christians who live in one area at a particular time: a local church. Here it seems to refer to the local church in Jerusalem.

"When Luke speaks of 'the church' with no qualification, geographical or otherwise, it is to the church of Jerusalem that he refers."[357]

The writers of Scripture always referred to the church, the body of Christ, as an entity distinct from the nation of Israel. Every reference to Israel in the New Testament refers to the physical descendants of Jacob. This is true in the Old Testament as well as in the New.[358]

Ananias and Sapphira presented an appearance of commitment to God that was not true of them. They were insincere, appearing to be one way but really not being that way. Had Ananias and Sapphira never professed to be as committed as they claimed, when they brought their gift, God probably would not have judged them as He did. They lacked personal integrity.

"So familiar are we with 'spots and wrinkles' in the church that we can with difficulty realize the significance of this, the first sin in and against the community. It corresponds to the entrance of the serpent into Eden with the fall of Eve in the OT: and the first fall from the ideal must have staggered the apostles and the multitude. … The sin really was not the particular deceit, but the state of heart [cf. v. 3]—hypocrisy and unreality."[359]

Some interpreters have wondered if Ananias and Sapphira were genuine believers. Luke certainly implied that they were. They were as much a part of the church as Barnabas was. Are true Christians capable of deliberate deceit? Certainly they are. One writer gave four reasons for concluding that they were real Christians.[360]

"It is plain that the New Testament not only teaches the existence of the carnal Christian [1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18] but of true Christians who persisted in their carnality up to the point of physical death."[361]

3.     Intensified external opposition 5:12-42

God's power, manifest through the apostles in blessing (3:1-26) as well as in judgment (5:1-11), made an increasingly powerful impact on the residents of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders increased their opposition to the apostles just as they had increased their opposition to Jesus. Luke preserved the record of the developing attitudes that resulted. The Sadducees became more jealous and antagonistic, the Pharisees chose to react with moderation, and the Christians gained greater joy and confidence.

The expanding influence of the apostles 5:12-16

This pericope is another of Luke's summaries of conditions in the church that introduces what follows (cf. 2:42-47; 4:32-35).[362] It also explains why the Sadducees became so jealous that they arrested, not only Peter and John, but other apostles as well. The apostles were gaining great influence, not only in Jerusalem, but also in the outlying areas. The healing of one lame man had triggered initial opposition (3:1-10), but now many people were being healed.

5:12           The lame beggar was not the only person who benefited from the apostles' ministry of performing miracles. Many other needy people did as well. These miracles signified who Jesus really was, and they filled the people with awe. The believers continued to meet in "Solomon's portico" (cf. 3:11).

5:13           The "rest" (Gr. hoi loipoi) probably refers to the unbelieving Jews.[363] Other possibilities are that they were the apostles, other Christians, or other Jerusalemites. They steered clear of the Christians because of the Jewish leaders' opposition (4:18) and the apostles' power (vv. 1-10). The "people" (Gr. ho laos), the responsive Jews, honored the believers.

5:14           Luke stopped giving numbers for the size of the church (cf. 1:15; 2:41; 4:4) and just said that God was adding "large numbers" of both men and women to the church constantly.

5:15           Peter's powerful influence reminds us of Jesus' influence during the early days of His Galilean ministry, when all Capernaum gathered at His door (Mark 1:32-34). Elsewhere Luke described the power of God's presence overshadowing someone (cf. Luke 1:35; 9:34). The text does not say that Peter's "shadow" healed people. It says that people wanted to get close to Peter because he was so powerful.[364]

"In the ancient world many people believed that a person's shadow could possess magical healing powers. The people referred to in this verse were not necessarily Christians, but those who believed that Peter, as an advocate of a new religion, had magical powers. The people imposed their superstitions upon this new faith."[365]

Even today some people superstitiously believe that a person's shadow carries his power. Some parents have pulled their children away from the shadow of a wicked person and thrust them into the shadow of an honored person for this reason. The action of these first-century Near Easterners shows their respect for Peter, who was God's instrument to heal. These "signs and wonders" (v. 12) authenticated the apostles as the representatives of Jesus and God (cf. 19:11-12; Matt. 10:8).

"All healings emanate from the Lord and his will; the apostles are not more than his instruments."[366]

"We need find no stumbling-block in the fact of Peter's shadow having been believed to be the medium (or, as is surely implied, having been the medium) of working miracles. Cannot the 'Creator Spirit' work with any instruments, or with none, as pleases Him? And what is a hand or a voice, more than a shadow, except that the analogy of the ordinary instrument is a greater help to faith in the recipient? Where faith, as apparently here, did not need this help, the less likely medium was adopted."[367]

"I have often told how my oldest son at one time had an eclipse of faith until one day several of us were invited to spend an afternoon with William Jennings Bryan in his Florida home, and I was asked to bring my son. During that visit, for two or three hours we discussed the Word of God and exchanged thoughts on precious portions of Scripture. The young man sat apart and said very little, but as we left that place he turned to me and exclaimed, 'Father, I have been a fool! I thought I couldn't believe the Bible, but if a man like that with his education and intelligence can believe, I am making a fool of myself to pretend I cannot accept it.' So much for the shadow ministry of William Jennings Bryan."[368]

5:16           News of the apostles' powers was spreading beyond Jerusalem. People from outlying areas were bringing their "sick" friends to them, and people who were "tormented with unclean spirits," just as people had brought such needy people to Jesus from miles around (cf. Luke 5:15). Luke probably meant that "all" whom the apostles intended to heal experienced restoration, not that they healed every single individual who was sick (cf. Matt. 8:16). Even Jesus' healings were limited in their scope (cf. Luke 5:17).[369]

This verse is one of the texts that advocates of the "prosperity gospel" appeal to as proof that it is never God's will for anyone to be sick. Other texts they use include Exodus 15:26; 23:25; Psalm 103:3; Proverbs 4:20-22; Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 30:17; Matthew 4:23; 10:1; Mark 16:16-18; Luke 6:17-19; and Acts 10:38.[370]

This section (vv. 12-16) is very similar to 4:32-35, though this summary shows the church gaining many more adherents and much greater influence than the former one documented.

The apostles' appearance before the Sanhedrin 5:17-33

The popularity and effectiveness of the apostles annoyed the Sadducees just as Jesus' popularity and effectiveness had done earlier.

"One of the central motifs of Acts is the rejection of the Gospel by the Jewish nation. This section [vv. 17-42] traces a further step in rejection and persecution by the Jewish officials."[371]

5:17-18      "The high priest," who was presumably Annas (cf. 4:6), "stood up" (Gr. anastas, cf. v. 34), taking official action as leader of the Sanhedrin. As mentioned above, the high priest and most of the Sanhedrin members were Sadducees (4:1). The Holy Spirit filled the believers, Satan had filled Ananias and Sapphira, and now "jealousy" filled the Sanhedrin members, particularly the Sadducees. They had the apostles arrested and confined in a "public prison" (Gr. teresis demosia). This is one of some 27 instances of Christians being persecuted in the New Testament.[372]

"The Sadducees are often seen as more hostile to the new movement than the Pharisees in Acts, whereas in Luke's Gospel the Pharisees are major opponents of Jesus. This fits the shift of attention to Jerusalem from the setting of Jesus's ministry outside the city. The Sadducees have more to lose, since they control the council and have worked out a compromise with the Romans to share power."[373]

"Sadduceeism is rampant, so is Pharisaism; they are represented to-day by rationalism and ritualism. These are the opponents of living, vital Christianity to-day, just as they were in Jerusalem."[374]

"It is amazing how much envy can be hidden under the disguise of 'defending the faith.'"[375]

Peter and John have been the apostles in view to this point, but now we read that Peter and "the apostles" (plural) stood before "the Council" (Sanhedrin, vv. 25, 27, 29). It is probable, therefore, that more apostles than just Peter and John are in view in this whole incident beginning with verse 17.

5:19           The word "angel" (Gr. angelos) means messenger. Wherever this word occurs, the context usually determines whether the messenger is a human being or a spirit being. Luke did not identify which kind of messenger God used here. His point was that the Lord secured the apostles' release. The messenger's message had a very authoritative ring, so probably he was a spirit being (cf. 12:6-10; 16:26-27). This is one of three "jail door miracles" that Luke recorded in Acts (cf. Peter in 12:6-11; and Paul and Silas in 16:26-27).

"There is no prison so dark, so strong, but God can both visit his people in it, and fetch them out of it."[376]

5:20           The angel instructed the apostles to "go" (Gr. poreuesthe) and "stand" their ground (stathentes). They were to resist the opposition of the Sanhedrin and were to continue addressing the people in the temple courtyard with the full message that they had been heralding. They were not to back down or trim their words. "The whole message of this Life" is a synonym for the message of salvation through Jesus Christ (cf. 4:12; 13:26).[377] The Greek words zoe ("life") and soteria ("salvation") both translate the same Hebrew word hayyah.

5:21           The apostles obeyed their instructor and began teaching in "the temple" again—early the next morning. At this same time, the full Sanhedrin assembled to try the apostles, whom they assumed were still in jail.

5:22-23      Luke's account of the temple police's bewilderment is really quite amusing. This whole scene calls to mind scenes from old Keystone Cops movies. The people readily accepted the miracles that the apostles were performing, but their leaders seem to have been completely surprised by this miracle.

5:24           The major concern of the leaders ("captain of the temple guard" and "chief priests") was the potential public reaction when what had happened became known. They appear again to have been more concerned about their own reputation and security than about the facts of the case.

"If they had only known how this grain of mustard seed would grow into the greatest tree on earth and how dwarfed the tree of Judaism would be beside it!"[378]

5:25           Eventually word reached the Sanhedrin that the prisoners were "teaching" the people "in the temple." Probably they expected to discover that the apostles had fled the city.

5:26           The apostles were so popular with the people that the captain and his temple police had to be very careful not to create the impression that they were going to harm the apostles. The apostles had become local heroes, as Jesus recently had been in the eyes of many. Earlier, when Israel's leaders had wanted to arrest Jesus, they were also careful about how they did so, because they feared the reaction of the people (Luke 20:19; 22:2).

Perhaps the apostles accompanied the captain and his officers submissively ("without violence") because they remembered Jesus' example of nonviolence and nonretaliation when He was arrested (Luke 22:52-53). Furthermore, the guards' power over them was inferior to their own. They may have offered no resistance as well because they realized that their appearance before the Sanhedrin would give them another opportunity to witness for Christ.

5:27-28      The high priest introduced his comments with a reference to the authority of Israel's leaders. Pilate had similarly threatened Jesus with his authority (cf. John 19:10-11). The high priest showed his dislike for Jesus by not referring to the Lord by name, but by referring instead to "this name." Official Jewish opposition to Jesus was firm. The high priest believed that the authority of the Sanhedrin was greater than the authority of Jesus (cf. Matt. 28:18).

The leaders earlier had instructed Peter and John not to teach in the name of Jesus (4:18, 21), but Peter had said that they would continue to do so because of Jesus' greater authority (4:19-20). Moreover Peter had charged Israel's leaders with Jesus' death (4:10-11). These rulers had rationalized away their guilt for Jesus' death, probably blaming it on Jesus Himself and the Romans (cf. 3:15). The Jewish leaders felt that the disciples were unfairly heaping guilt on them for having shed Jesus' blood. However, only a few weeks earlier they had said to Pilate, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (Matt. 27:25; cf. Matt. 23:35).

5:29           This verse clarifies that the authorities had arrested other "apostles" besides Peter and John. Peter, as spokesman for the apostles, did not attempt to defend their civil disobedience. He simply repeated their responsibility to "obey God rather than men," specifically the Sanhedrin men (4:19; cf. Luke 12:4-5).[379] This is Peter's fourth speech that Luke reported in Acts.

5:30           Peter also reaffirmed that "the God" of the Jews' "fathers" had "raised up Jesus" from the dead, and that the Sanhedrin was responsible for His crucifixion, which was an extremely brutal and shameful death. "Hanging Him on a cross" is a euphemism for crucifying Him (cf. Deut. 21:22-23; 1 Pet. 2:24).

5:31           Peter further claimed that God had "exalted" Jesus to the place of supreme authority, namely, at "His right hand." The Sanhedrin had asked Jesus if He was the Christ, and Jesus had replied that they would see Him seated at God's right hand (cf. Luke 22:67-71). Jesus was Israel's national "Prince" (leader, Messiah) and the Jews' individual and collective "Savior" (deliverer). Jesus had the authority to grant "repentance" (a change of mind) about Himself to the nation, and consequently He could grant the "forgiveness of sins." Jesus' authority to forgive sins had been something Israel's leaders had resisted from the beginning of the Lord's ministry (Luke 5:20-24).

5:32           The apostles thought of themselves, not just as heralds, but as eyewitnesses ("witnesses") of that to which they now testified. The witness of "the Holy Spirit," to which Peter referred, was evidently the evidence that Jesus was the Christ, which the Spirit provided through fulfilled messianic prophecy. The apostles saw themselves as the human mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised to send to bear witness concerning Himself (John 15:26-27).

The apostles were announcing the fulfillment of what the Holy Spirit had predicted in the Old Testament, namely, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Furthermore, God had now given the great gift of the Holy Spirit to those who obeyed God by believing in Jesus (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit was also the greatest gift God had given people who lived under the Old Covenant (cf. Num. 11:17-29; Judg. 3:10; 1 Sam. 16:13; Luke 11:13). These leaders needed to obey God by believing in Jesus, and then they too would receive this wonderful gift.

The early gospel preachers never presented belief in Jesus Christ as a "take it or leave it" option as recorded in Acts. God has commanded everyone to believe in His Son (e.g., 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). Failure to do so constitutes disobedience, and it results in judgment. The Holy Spirit now baptizes and indwells every person who obeys God by believing in His Son (John 3:36; 6:29; Rom. 8:9). This must be the obedience that Peter had in mind.

5:33           Peter's firm but gracious words so infuriated the Sadducees that they were now about to order the death of the apostles, regardless of public reaction.

"While the Sanhedrin did not have authority under Roman jurisdiction to inflict capital punishment, undoubtedly they would have found some pretext for handing these men over to the Romans for such action—as they did with Jesus himself—had it not been for the intervention of the Pharisees, as represented particularly by Gamaliel."[380]

Gamaliel's wise counsel 5:34-40

Gamaliel's advocacy of moderation is the main point and reason for Luke's record of the apostles' second appearance before the Sanhedrin. Whereas the high priest "stood up" against the apostles (v. 17), Gamaliel "stood up" against the Sadducees (v. 34). He proved to be God's instrument for preserving the apostles, and perhaps all the early Christians in Jerusalem, at this time. This is the first speech by a non-Christian that Luke recorded in Acts, which shows its importance.

5:34           As mentioned previously, the Pharisees were the minority party in the Sanhedrin, though there were more than 6,000 of them in Israel at this time.[381] They were, notwithstanding their minority position, far more influential with the masses than the Sadducees were. The Pharisees looked for a personal Messiah, they believed in the resurrection of the dead and the existence and activity of angels and demons, and they tried to live a simple life, in contrast to the Sadducees' luxurious living.[382]

The name "Pharisee" evidently comes from the Aramaic verb peras, meaning "to separate." The Pharisees considered themselves to be separated to holiness and dedicated entirely to God. Most of the scribes, the Bible teachers of that day, were Pharisees. Consequently the Sadducees listened to the Pharisees and especially to Gamaliel.

"In short, theologically the Christian Jews had a lot more in common with the Pharisees than they did with the Sadducees."[383]

"Gamaliel" was the leader of the more liberal school of Hillel, one of the two most influential branches of Pharisaism. He had been a protégé of Hillel, who may have been Gamaliel's grandfather.[384] Saul of Tarsus was one of Gamaliel's own promising young disciples (22:3). People called him Rabban Gamaliel. Rabban (lit. "our teacher") was a title of higher honor than rabbi (lit. "my teacher"). Gamaliel was perhaps the most respected Pharisee of his day ("respected by all the people"). The Mishnah, a collection of commentaries on the oral laws of Israel that was published toward the end of the second century A.D., contains the following statement about him:

"Since Rabban Gamaliel the elder died there has been no more reverence for the law; and purity and abstinence died out at the same time."[385]

Gamaliel was able to direct the Sanhedrin as he did through his personal influence, not because he had any superior official authority within that body.

5:35-36      After the apostles had left the meeting room, Gamaliel addressed his colleagues with the traditional designation: "Men of Israel" (cf. 2:22). He warned his brethren to do nothing rash. He pointed to two similar movements that had failed when their leaders had died. Historians do not know anything about the "Theudas" that Gamaliel referred to, though he may have come to prominence shortly after Herod the Great's death (c. A.D. 4).[386] Josephus referred to a revolt led by a man named Theudas, but this occurred more than a decade after Gamaliel's speech.[387]

5:37           "Judas of Galilee" led a revolt against Rome in A.D. 6.[388] "The census" in view was probably the one that Quirinius, legate of Syria, took in A.D. 6, when Archelaus was deposed and Judea became part of the Roman province of Syria.[389] Judas founded the Zealot movement in Israel that sought to throw off Roman rule violently.

"Judas was a fanatic who took up the position that God was the King of Israel; to Him alone tribute was due; and that all other taxation was impious and to pay it was a blasphemy."[390]

Judas' influence was considerable, though it declined after his death. Gamaliel seems to have been playing down the influence of Judas a little more than it deserved.

5:38-39      Gamaliel's point was that if God was not behind the apostles, their influence would peter out in time. Obviously Gamaliel believed that this was the case, or else he would likely have become a Christian. He offered the theoretical option that if the apostles were of God, the Sanhedrin would find itself in the terrible position of "fighting against God" by opposing them. Obviously Gamaliel believed in the sovereignty of God. He advised his brethren to wait and see. He did not believe that the apostles presented as serious a threat to the leaders of Judaism as the Sadducees believed they did.

Saul of Tarsus, on the other hand, took a different view of how the Jews should respond to the growing threat of Christianity. He executed many Christians, but that was after the number and influence of the Christians had increased dramatically (cf. chs. 6—7).

"The point made … by Gamaliel … has already been made by the narrator through the rescue from prison and the ensuing scene of discovery. Here we have an instance of reinforcement through reiteration. A message is first suggested by an event and then clearly stated in the interpretive commentary of a story character."[391]

Gamaliel's counsel helps us to understand how objective unbelieving Jews were viewing the apostles' claims at this time. There had been others besides the apostles who had insisted that their leaders were great men. Yet their claims had eventually proven to be false. Many of the Jews, whom Gamaliel represented, likewise viewed the apostles' preaching as well-meaning but mistaken. Jesus to them was no more special than Theudas or Judas of Galilee had been. Other than their ideas about Jesus being the Messiah, the apostles held views that did not challenge fundamental Pharisaic theology. However the disciples, like Jesus, rejected the authority of oral tradition over Scripture, which the Pharisees accepted.

"Gamaliel belongs to that class of men whom the most convincing evidence does not convince. They still demand other evidence, more and more signs, Matt. 12:39, etc."[392]

"No credence whatever can be attributed to the tradition that Gamaliel became a Christian, or that he was secretly a Christian, although we may sympathise [sic] with St. Chrysostom's words, 'it cannot be that he should have continued in unbelief to the end'. The Talmud distinctly affirms that he died a Jew, and, if he had betrayed his faith, we cannot understand the honour which Jewish tradition attaches to his name …"[393]

5:40           Gamaliel convinced his fellow Sanhedrin members. They decided to settle for flogging the apostles, probably with 39 blows (Deut. 25:3; Acts 22:19; 2 Cor. 11:24). The Mishnah contains a description of how the Jews normally did this.[394] This whipping was for disobeying the Sanhedrin's former order to stop preaching (4:18). This is the first instance recorded by Luke in Acts of Christians receiving a physical beating for witnessing. The rulers also threatened the apostles again and "then released them" (cf. 4:21). The official ban against preaching in Jesus' name remained in force.

The response of the apostles 5:41-42

5:41           Rather than emerging from their beating repentant or discouraged, the apostles went on their way "rejoicing." They did not enjoy being beaten, but they considered it an honor to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus' "name" (cf. 3:6; 16:25). Jesus had predicted that people would hate and persecute His disciples, and He had instructed them to rejoice when that happened (Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23). Peter later wrote that Christians should count it a privilege to suffer for Christ's sake (1 Pet. 4:13; cf. 2:18-21; 3:8-17; Phil. 1:29). As the Master had suffered abuse from His enemies, so too His servants were suffering "shame" for their witness.

5:42           This treatment did not demoralize the apostles at all. Instead they continued "teaching" (Gr. didasko) and "preaching"  (evangelizing, euaggelizomai) daily, publicly "in the temple" and privately "from house to house" (cf. 2:46), declaring that Jesus was the Messiah (cf. 28:31).

"It [v. 42] is a statement that has nuances of defiance, confidence, and victory; and in many ways it gathers together all Luke has set forth from 2:42 on."[395]

4.     Internal conflict 6:1-7

In chapter 6 we see two of Satan's favorite methods of assailing the church that he has employed throughout history: internal dissension (vv. 1-7) and external persecution (vv. 8-15).

In verses 1 through 7 the scene shifts back to life within the church (cf. 4:32—5:11). Luke wrote this pericope in order to explain some administrative changes that the growth of the church made necessary. He also wanted to introduce the Hellenistic Jews, who took the lead in evangelizing the Gentiles. Their activity began shortly after the event that he recorded here.

6:1             The number of the disciples of Jesus continued to grow. This is the first mention of the word "disciple" in Acts, where it occurs 28 times. In addition, this word appears about 238 times in the Gospels, but nowhere else in the New Testament. This is probably because when Jesus was present, or had just departed to heaven, the New Testament writers referred to His followers in relationship to Him. Later they identified them in relation to one another and society.[396]

Two types of Jews made up the Jerusalem church: Some were native "Hebrews," who had lived primarily in Palestine, spoke Aramaic predominantly but also Greek, and used the Hebrew Scriptures. The others were "Hellenists," who originally lived outside the land of Israel (Jews of the Diaspora), but were now living in Israel. Many of these Jews returned to Palestine to end their days in their ancestral homeland. They spoke Greek primarily, as well as the language of the area where they had lived, and they used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul classed himself among the Hebrews (2 Cor. 11:22; cf. Phil. 3:5), even though he grew up outside what later became known as Palestine.

"It is enough to say, generally, that in the Aramaean ["Hebrew"] theology, Oriental elements prevailed rather than Greek, and that the subject of Babylonian influences has more connection with the life of St. Peter than that of St. Paul."[397]

The basic distinction between the Hebrews and Hellenists appears to have been linguistic.[398] Those who could speak a Semitic language were Hebrews, and those who could not were Hellenists.[399] Philo of Alexandria was the great intellectual representative of the Hellenists. Within Judaism, frequent tensions arose between these two groups, and this cultural problem carried over into the church. The Hebrews observed the Mosaic Law much more strictly than their Hellenistic brethren. Conversely the Hellenists typically regarded the Hebrews as quite narrow-minded and self-centered.

The Hebrews and the Hellenists had their own separate synagogues in Jerusalem.[400] But when they became Christians they came together in one fellowship. As the church grew, some of the Christians believed that the church leaders were discriminating against the Hellenists unfairly (cf. Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). The complaint arose over the distribution of food to church "widows" (cf. 2:44-45; 4:32—5:11). Care of widows and the needy was a priority in Judaism (Exod. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; et al.). The Jews provided for their own widows weekly in their own synagogues along with the poor.[401]

"… it is quite possible that the Hellenistic widows had previously been helped from the Temple Treasury, but that now, on their joining the Christian community, this help had ceased."[402]

"It is not here said that the murmuring arose among the widows, but because of them. Women and money occasion the first serious disturbance in the church life."[403]

6:2             The 12 apostles wisely delegated responsibility for the church's ministry to these widows to other qualified men in the congregation, so that it would not distract them from their primary duties.

"They will no more be drawn from their preaching by the money laid at their feet than they will be driven from it by the stripes laid on their backs. Preaching the gospel is the best work that a minister can be employed in. He must not entangle himself in the affairs of this life, no, not in the outward business of the house of God."[404]

This is the only reference to "the Twelve" in Acts (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5), though Luke referred to "the Eleven" earlier (2:14). Serving "tables" probably involved the organization and administration of ministry to the widows, rather than simply serving as waiters or dispensers (cf. Matt. 21:12; Luke 19:23).[405]

6:3-4          The leaders of the church asked the congregation to nominate ("select") "seven men" whom the apostles would officially appoint. Many churches today take this approach in selecting secondary church leaders, basing their practice on this model. For example, the congregation nominates deacons, and the elders appoint some or all of them. This approach was common in Judaism. It was not a new method of leadership selection that the apostles devised, though it was new for the church.

"Selecting seven men may go back to the tradition in Jewish communities where seven respected men managed the public business in an official council."[406]

Each of these men needed to have a "good reputation," to be under the Spirit's control ("full of the Spirit"), and to be full "of wisdom." Note that these are character traits, not special talents or abilities (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). The Twelve then would be free to concentrate on their primary responsibilities, namely, "prayer" and "the ministry of the word" of God.

"It is not necessarily suggested that serving tables is on a lower level than prayer and teaching; the point is rather that the task to which the Twelve had been specifically called was one of witness and evangelism."[407]

As explained elsewhere in Scripture, prayer is the primary way that God has ordained whereby His people secure His working in human affairs.

"Observe here, that the apostles put prayer before preaching in their work, their conflict with the power of evil being more especially carried on in it, as well as their realization of the power of God for the strength and wisdom they needed …"[408]

"Prayer is the most powerful and effective means of service in the Kingdom of God … It is the most dynamic work which God has entrusted to His saints, but it is also the most neglected ministry open to the believer. The Bible clearly reveals that believing prayer is essential for the advancement of the cause of Christ. It is the essential element for Christian victory … We may marvel at the spiritual power and glorious victories of the early apostolic church, but we often forget that its constant prayer life was the secret of its strength … If the church today would regain the spiritual power of the early church it must recover the truth and practice of prayer as a vital working force."[409]

6:5             All seven men whom the congregation chose had Greek names. Luke gave the impression, by recording only Greek names, that these seven were from the Hellenistic group in the church, though many Jews who lived in Israel at that time had Greek names.[410] Thus Hellenists appear to have been given responsibility for settling a Hellenist complaint, which was a wise approach.

"One commentator has called it the first example of affirmative action—'Those with political power generally repressed complaining minorities; here the apostles hand the whole system over to the offended minority.'"[411]

"Stephen" and "Philip" appear later in Acts in important roles as apologist and evangelist respectively. Luke did not mention "Prochorus," "Nicanor," "Timon," or "Parmenas" again. "Nicolas" was a Gentile who had first become a Jew by the "proselyte" process, and then he became a Christian. He came from "Antioch" of Syria, which Luke may have mentioned because of Antioch's later prominence as a center of Christianity. Traditionally Antioch was Luke's hometown. Tradition also links this Nicolas with the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6, 15), but this connection is questionable since there is no solid evidence to support it. Many Jews lived in Syria because of its proximity to Judea, and most of these lived in the city of Antioch.[412]

6:6             Laying "hands" on someone symbolized the bestowal of a blessing (Gen. 48:13; et al.). It also represented identification with the person (Lev. 1:4; 3:2; et al.), commissioning as a kind of successor (Num. 27:23), and granting authority (8:17-19; 9:17; 13:3; 19:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Heb. 6:2). Here commissioning for a task is in view (cf. 13:1-3) rather than formal ordination, which came later in church history.[413] Prayer accompanied this ceremony on this occasion as was customary.

Many Bible students regard these seven men as the first deacons of the church. However the text never uses the term "deacon" to describe them (cf. 21:8). The Greek word diakonos ("deacon") does not occur in Acts at all, though related forms of the word do, even in this pericope. Diakonia ("serving" and "ministry") appears in verses 1 and 4, and diakonein ("serve") occurs in verse 2. I think it is more likely that these seven men represent a stage in the development of what later became the office of deacon. They probably served as a model for this office. Office typically follows function.

The historical origin of deacons lies in Jewish social life. The historical origin of the elder office, incidentally, lies in Jewish civil and religious life, most recently in synagogue organization. As the Jerusalem church grew, and as its needs and activities proliferated, it adopted some of the organizational features of Jewish culture that these Jewish believers knew well.[414]

"The early church had problems but, according to Acts, it also had leaders who moved swiftly to ward off corruption and find solutions to internal conflicts, supported by people who listened to each other with open minds and responded with good will."[415]

6:7             This verse is another one of Luke's summary progress reports that ends each major section of Acts (cf. 2:47; 9:31; 12:24; 16:6; 19:20; 28:31). It also corresponds to other summary paragraphs within this section of the book (cf. 4:32-35; 5:12-16). Luke linked the spread of God's Word with church growth.[416] This cause-and-effect relationship has continued throughout history. The advances of the gospel and the responses of the people were Luke's primary concern in 3:1 through 6:7. Many of the numerous "priests" in Jerusalem were also becoming Christians. One writer estimated that about 2,000 priests lived in Jerusalem at this time.[417] The gospel did not win over only the "laity" in Israel.

"The ordinary priests were socially and in other ways far removed from the wealthy chief-priestly families from which the main opposition to the gospel came. Many of the ordinary priests were no doubt men holy and humble of heart, like Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, men who would be readily convinced of the truth of the gospel."[418]

This pericope helps us to see several very important things about the priorities of the early church: First, the church showed concern for both spiritual and physical needs. Its leaders gave priority to spiritual needs (prayer and the ministry of the Word), but they also gave attention to correcting injustice and helping the poor. This reflects the Christians' commitment to loving God wholeheartedly and loving their neighbors as themselves, which are God's great ethical demands (cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

Second, the early church was willing to adapt its organizational structure and administrative procedures in order to minister effectively and to meet needs. It did not view its original structure and practices as binding but adapted traditional structures and methods to facilitate the proclamation of the gospel and the welfare of the church. In contrast, many churches today try to duplicate the form and functions of the early church because they feel bound to follow them.

Third, the early church did not practice some things that the modern church does. Rather than blaming one another for a problem that arose, the disciples corrected the injustice and continued to give prayer and the ministry of the Word priority. Rather than paternalistically feeling that they had to maintain control over every aspect of church life, the apostles delegated authority to a group within the church—a group that had the greatest vested interest—and let them solve the distribution problem.[419]

Verse 7 concludes Luke's record of the early Christians' witness in Jerusalem. From that city the gospel spread out into the rest of Judea, and it is that expansion that Luke emphasized in the chapters that follow next.


In this next major section of Acts, Luke narrated three significant events in the life and ministry of the early church. These events were the martyrdom of Stephen, the ministry of Philip, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Luke's presentation of these events was primarily biographical. In fact, he began his account of each event with the name of its major character (6:8; 8:5; 9:1). The time when these events took place was probably shortly after those that are recorded in the preceding chapters of this book.

A.     The martyrdom of Stephen 6:8—8:1a

Luke presented the events surrounding Stephen's martyrdom in Jerusalem next. He did so in order to explain the means that God used to scatter the Christians and the gospel from Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This record also throws more light on the spiritual strength and vitality of the church at this time. Stephen's experiences as recorded here resemble those of our Lord, as Peter's did in the earlier chapters.

1.     Stephen's arrest 6:8—7:1

6:8             Stephen was "full of grace" (cf. cf. 4:33; Luke 4:22) "and power" (cf. 2:22; 4:33). These characteristics were a result of his being "full of the Holy Spirit" (vv. 3, 5), "wisdom" (v. 3), and "faith" (v. 5). His ability to perform miracles ("wonders and signs") seems unrelated to his having been appointed as one of the Seven (v. 5; cf. 21:8). Jesus and the Twelve were not the only Christians who had the ability to perform miracles (cf. 2:22, 43; 5:12).

6:9-10        Many different synagogues existed in Jerusalem at this time (cf. 24:12). The Talmud recorded that there were 390 of them before the Romans destroyed the city.[420] Other rabbinic sources set the number at 460 and 480, but these may be exaggerations.[421] Like local churches today, these synagogues tended to attract people with similar backgrounds and preferences. Many families that had experienced liberation from some kind of slavery or servitude evidently populated "the Synagogue of the Freedmen." Alford believed that those who attended this synagogue were mainly descendants of freed Jews who had been expelled from Rome by Tiberius.[422] Some scholars believe that as many as five synagogues are in view in this reference, but the best interpretation seems to be that there was just one.[423]

"The Freedmen were Roman prisoners (or the descendants of such prisoners) who had later been granted their freedom. We know that a considerable number of Jews were taken prisoner by the Roman general Pompey and later released in Rome, and it is possible that these are meant here."[424]

These people had their roots in North Africa (they were "Cyrenians and Alexandrians") and Asia Minor ("Cilicia and Asia"). Thus these were Hellenistic Jews, the group from which Stephen himself probably came. Since Saul of Tarsus was from Cilicia, perhaps he attended this synagogue, though he was not a freed man. He had been born free (22:28).

The leading men in this congregation took issue with "Stephen," whom they had heard defend the gospel. Perhaps he too attended this synagogue. However, they were unable to defeat him in debate. Stephen seems to have been an unusually gifted defender of the faith, though he was not one of the Twelve. He was a forerunner of later apologists, who specialized in defending the faith. God guided wise Stephen by His Spirit as he spoke (cf. Luke 21:15).

"They [Stephen's critics] thought they had only disputed with Stephen; but they were disputing with the Spirit of God in him, for whom they were an unequal match."[425]

It is not clear where this confrontation initially took place, but it may have been in this synagogue. Until now we have read that the disciples taught and preached in the temple (courtyard) and from house to house (5:42). Paul normally preached first in the synagogue in the towns that he evangelized on his missionary journeys.

"While not minimizing the importance of the apostles to the whole church, we may say that in some way Stephen, Philip, and perhaps others of the appointed seven may well have been to the Hellenistic believers what the apostles were to the native-born Christians."[426]

6:11           Failing to prove Stephen wrong by intellectual argumentation, his adversaries falsely accused him of slandering "Moses and God" (cf. Matt. 26:61, 65). The Greek word blasphemia means "slander, detraction, speech injurious to another's good name."[427] At this time in history, the Jews defined blasphemy as any defiant sin.[428]

6:12           Stephen's accusers stirred up the Jewish "people," the Jewish "elders" (family and tribal leaders), and the "scribes" (Pharisees) against Stephen. Soldiers then arrested him and brought him before "the Council" (the Sanhedrin), like they had done to Jesus, Peter, John, and the other apostles (4:15; 5:27; cf. 22:30). Until now we have read in Acts that Jewish persecution focused on the apostles, but now we read that other Christians began to experience this persecution as well.

6:13-14      The "false" testimony against Stephen was that he was saying things about the temple ("this holy place") and the Mosaic "Law" that the Jews regarded as untrue and unpatriotic (cf. Matt. 26:59-61). Stephen appeared to be challenging the authority of the Pharisees, the Mosaic Law, and a major teaching of the Sadducees, namely, the importance of the temple. He was evidently saying the same things that Jesus had said (cf. Matt. 5:21-48; 12:6; 24:1-2; Mark 14:58; John 2:19-21).

"Like the similar charge against Jesus (Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58; cf. John 2:19-22), its falseness lay not so much in its wholesale fabrication but in its subtle and deadly misrepresentation of what was intended. Undoubtedly Stephen spoke regarding a recasting of Jewish life in terms of the supremacy of Jesus the Messiah. Undoubtedly he expressed in his manner and message something of the subsidiary significance of the Jerusalem temple and the Mosaic law, as did Jesus before him (e.g., Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6; 7:14-15; 10:5-9). But that is not the same as advocating the destruction of the temple or the changing of the law—though on these matters we must allow Stephen to speak for himself in Acts 7."[429]

"For Luke, the Temple stands as a time-honored, traditional place for teaching and prayer in Israel, which serves God's purpose but is not indispensable; the attitude with which worshippers use the temple makes all the difference."[430]

6:15           Luke may have intended to stress Stephen's being full of the Holy Spirit—which resulted in his confidence, composure, and courage—by drawing attention to "his face." What does "the face of an angel" look like? Moses' face shone when he descended from Mt. Sinai after seeing God (cf. 7:55-56; Exod. 34:29, 35). Perhaps Stephen's hearers recalled Moses' shining face. If so, they should have concluded that Stephen was not against Moses, but was like Moses. Perhaps Stephen's face shone with "a divine radiance."[431]

Stephen proceeded to function like an angel (a messenger from God)—as well as looking like one—by bringing new revelation to his hearers, just as Moses had done. The Old Covenant had come through angelic mediation at Mt. Sinai (Deut. 33:2 LXX; cf. Heb. 2:2). Now revelation about the New Covenant was coming through one who acted, and even looked like, an angel. As on the day of Pentecost, God was giving both auditory (through Stephen's words) and visual (through his appearance) evidence that what the speaker was saying came from Him.

7:1             "The high priest" was probably Caiaphas, the official high priest at that time, but this may be a reference to Annas (cf. 4:6).[432] Jesus had stood before both of these men separately to face similar charges (John 18:13-14, 24; Matt. 26:57). This was the third time that Christian leaders had defended their preaching before the Sanhedrin that Luke recorded in Acts. Previously Peter and John had been arraigned before this Council (cf. 4:15; 5:27).

2.     Stephen's address 7:2-53

As a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen possessed a clearer vision of the universal implications of the gospel than did most of the Hebraic Jews. It was this breadth of vision that drew attack from the more temple-bound Jews in Jerusalem and led to his arrest. His address was not a personal defense designed to secure his acquittal by the Sanhedrin. It was, instead, an apologetic (defense) for the new way of worship that Jesus taught and which His followers embraced. Hopefully Israel's leaders would this time repent and believe in Jesus.

"On the surface it appears to be a rather tedious recital of Jewish history [cf. 13:16-33] which has little relevance to the charges on which Stephen has been brought to trial; on closer study, however, it reveals itself as a subtle and skilful [sic] proclamation of the Gospel which, in its criticism of Jewish institutions, marks the beginning of the break between Judaism and Christianity, and points forward to the more trenchant [penetrating and focused] exposition of the difference between the old faith and the new as expressed by Paul and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews."[433]

Luke evidently recorded this speech, which is the longest one in Acts, in order to explain and defend this new way of worship quite fully. He showed that the disciples of Jesus were carrying on God's plan, whereas the unbelieving Jews had committed themselves to beliefs and behavior that God had left behind and now disapproved. The story of his speech opens with a reference to "the God of glory" (v. 2), and it closes with mention of "the glory of God" (v. 55).

The form of Stephen's defense was common in his culture, but it is uncommon in western culture. He reviewed the history of Israel and highlighted elements of that history that supported his contentions. He built it mainly around outstanding personalities: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and, to a lesser degree, David and Solomon.

The first section of Stephen's defense (vv. 2-16) deals with Israel's patriarchal period and refutes the charge of blaspheming God (6:11). The second major section (vv. 17-43) deals with Moses and the Law, and responds to the charge of blaspheming Moses (6:11) and speaking against the Law (6:13). The third section (vv. 44-50) deals with the temple, and responds to the charge of speaking against the temple (6:13), and Stephen's allegedly saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and alter Jewish customs (6:14). Stephen then climaxed his address with an indictment of (an accusation against) his hardhearted hearers (vv. 51-53).[434] Longenecker summarized Stephen's main subjects as the land (vv. 2-36), the Law (vv. 37-43), and the temple (vv. 44-50), plus a concluding indictment (vv. 51-53).[435]

"Stephen … was endeavoring to show how the Christian message was fully consistent with and the culmination of OT revelation."[436]

Specifically, Stephen's purpose was also to show that Jesus experienced the same things that Abraham, Joseph, and Moses had experienced as God's anointed servants. Since the Sanhedrin recognized them as men whom God had anointed for the blessing of Israel and the world, so should they recognize Jesus as a person whom God had anointed for the blessing of Israel and the world. The people to whom these three patriarchs went as God's representatives all initially rejected them, but they later accepted them, which was also Jesus' history.

Stephen quoted from the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament. This was the translation most commonly used by Hellenistic Jews such as himself. His selective history of Israel stressed the points that he wanted to make.

"In this discourse three ideas run like cords through its fabric: 1. There is progress and change in God's program. … 2. The blessings of God are not limited to the land of Israel and the temple area. … 3. Israel in its past always evidenced a pattern of opposition to God's plans and His men."[437]

Stephen's view of God 7:2-16

The false witnesses had accused Stephen of blaspheming God (6:11). He proceeded to show the Sanhedrin that his view of God was absolutely orthodox. However, in relating Israel's history during the patriarchal period, he mentioned things about God and the patriarchs that his hearers needed to reconsider.

The Abrahamic Covenant 7:2-8

Stephen began his defense by going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, and to the Abrahamic Covenant, God's foundational promises to the Jews.

7:2-3          Stephen called for the Sanhedrin's attention ("Listen to me"), and addressed his hearers respectfully as "brothers and fathers" (cf. 22:1). These men were his brothers in that they were fellow Jews, and they were fathers in that they were older leaders of the nation.

Stephen took the title "God of glory" from Psalm 29:2, where it occurs in a context of God revealing His glory by speaking powerfully and majestically. God had revealed His glory by speaking this way to their "father [ancestor] Abraham" when he was "in Mesopotamia" (cf. Gen. 15:7; Neh. 9:7). Genesis 12:1 through 3 record God's instruction for Abraham to leave his homeland to go to a foreign country that God would show him. It appears that this call came to Abram when he was in Haran (cf. Gen. 11:31-32). Stephen was quoting from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 12:1.[438] According to Rackham, this is one of 15 historical problems in Stephen's speech, but these problems include additions to previous revelation as well as apparent contradictions.[439] The problem is: Did God call Abram when he was in Mesopotamia or in Haran?

At least three solutions are possible: First, Stephen may have been referring to a Jewish tradition that God first called Abraham in Ur.[440] Second, he may have been telescoping Abraham's moves, from Ur and then from Haran, and viewing them as one event. Third, he may have viewed Genesis 15:7 as implying Abraham's initial call to leave Ur.[441]

In any case, God directed Abraham to a promised "land." The Promised Land had become a Holy Land to the Jews, and in Stephen's day the Jews venerated it too greatly. We see this in the fact that they looked down on Hellenistic Jews, such as Stephen, who had not lived there all their lives. What was a good gift from God, the land, had become a source of unjustifiable pride that made the Jews conclude that orthodoxy was bound up with being in the land.

7:4             Obeying God's call, Abraham left Mesopotamia, specifically Ur of the Chaldeans (cf. Gen. 15:7; Josh. 24:3; Neh. 9:7), and settled temporarily in "Haran," which was near the top of the Fertile Crescent. After Abraham's father Terah died, God directed Abraham south into Canaan, the land that the Jews occupied in Stephen's day (Gen. 12:5).

"A comparison of the data in Genesis (11:26, 32; 12:4) seems to indicate that Terah lived another 60 years after Abraham left [Haran]. … The best solution seems to be that Abraham was not the oldest son of Terah, but was named first because he was the most prominent (11:26)."[442]

"It is more likely that Stephen is using an old and alternate Jewish tradition here that has left its trace in the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch, although the possibility also exists that Gen. 11:26 should be read differently, so that the MT and the LXX are closer than it might appear."[443]

The father of Judaism was willing to depart from where he was in order to follow God into unknown territory—because of the word of God alone. The Jews in Stephen's day were not willing to depart from where they were in their thinking, even though God's word was leading them to do so, as Stephen would point out. Stephen wanted them to follow Abraham's good example of faith and courage.

7:5             Stephen also contrasted Abraham's lack of "inheritance" in the land with God's promise to give the land to Abraham and his "descendants" as an inheritance (Gen. 12:7; cf. Heb. 11:8). God promised this when the patriarch had no children. Thus, the emphasis is on God's promise of future possession of the land through descendants to come. Of course, Abraham did possess the cave of Machpelah in Canaan (Gen. 23:3-20), but perhaps Stephen meant that God gave no continuing or full possession to Abraham.

7:6             God also told Abraham that his offspring would be slaves and suffer mistreatment outside their land "for 400 years" (Gen. 15:13), namely, from the year their enslavement began, which was evidently 1845 B.C., to the Exodus, in 1446 B.C. Some interpreters take the 400 years as a round number.[444]

The Israelites were currently under Roman oppression, but they were again about to lose their freedom and experience antagonism, outside the land, for many years. Jesus had predicted this (Matt. 23:1—25:46).

7:7             God promised to "judge" the nations that oppressed Israel (Gen. 12:3) and to bring her back into the land eventually (Gen. 15:13). God had told Moses that He would bring the Israelites out of Egypt and that they would worship Him at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 3:12). Stephen's point was that God had promised to punish those who oppressed His people. The Jews had been oppressing the Christians by prohibiting their preaching and even flogging them (4:18; 5:40). Gamaliel had warned that if the Christians were correct, the Jewish leaders would be fighting against God by opposing them (5:39). God's promise to judge His people's oppressors went back into the Abrahamic Covenant, which the Jews treasured and Stephen reminded them of here.

7:8             Stephen probably referred to God giving Abraham "the covenant of circumcision" (Gen. 17) because circumcision was the sign that God would deliver what He had promised. It was the seal of the Abrahamic Covenant. God's promise was firm. Moreover, God supernaturally enabled Abraham to father "Isaac," whom Abraham obediently circumcised, and later Isaac begot "Jacob," who fathered "the 12 patriarchs." Thus, this chapter in Israel's history ends with emphasis on God's faithfulness to His promises to Abraham. The Sanhedrin needed to reevaluate these promises in the light of how God was working in their day.

Stephen affirmed belief that the God of glory had given the Abrahamic Covenant, which contained promises of land (vv. 2-4), seed (v. 5), and blessing (vv. 6-7). He had sealed this covenant with a sign, namely, circumcision (v. 8). Circumcision was one of the Jewish customs that would pass away in view of the new revelation that had come through Jesus Christ (cf. 6:14).

Throughout his speech Stephen made many statements that had revolutionary implications for traditional Jewish thinking of his day. He did not expound these implications, but they are clear in view of what the disciples of Jesus were preaching. As such his speech is a masterpiece of understatement, or rather non-statement. That the Sanhedrin saw these implications and rejected them becomes clear at the end of the speech, when they reacted as negatively as possible.

God's faithfulness to His people 7:9-16

Stephen next proceeded to show what God had done with Joseph and his family. He apparently selected this segment of the patriarchal narrative primarily for two reasons: First, it shows how God miraculously preserved His people in faithfulness to His promises. Second, it shows the remarkable similarity between the career of Joseph, who was a savior that God raised up, and that of Jesus. Jesus repeated many of Joseph's experiences thus illustrating God's choice of Him. Also, the Israelites in the present were similar to Joseph's brothers in the past. Stephen's emphasis continued to be on God's faithfulness to His promises despite the fact that Joseph's brothers were wicked and the chosen family was outside the Promised Land. Stephen mentioned Jesus explicitly only once in his entire speech, in his very last sentence (v. 52). Nevertheless, he referred to Him indirectly many times by drawing parallels between the experiences of Joseph and Moses and those of Jesus.

7:9-10        "The patriarchs"—here the reference is to Joseph's brothers—became jealous of him (Gen. 37:11), and "sold him" as a slave "into Egypt" (Gen. 37:28). One of Jesus' 12 disciples was responsible for selling Him, even as one of Joseph's 11 brothers had been responsible for selling him. Nevertheless, "God was with" Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 21) and "rescued" him from prison, gave him "favor and wisdom" before "Pharaoh" (lit. Great House), and made him ruler ("governor") over "Egypt" (Gen. 41:41) and Pharaoh's "entire household." God was with Joseph, even though his brothers rejected him, because he was one of God's chosen people and because he followed God faithfully. This is what the Christians were claiming to be and do.

"The treatment of Joseph by his Hebrew brothers should have been a pointed reminder of the way Jesus had been dealt with by the Jewish nation."[445]

Like Joseph, Jesus' brethren rejected and literally sold Him for the price of a slave. Nevertheless, God was with Joseph, and Jesus. God exalted Joseph under Pharaoh, and placed him in authority over his domain. God had done the same with Jesus.

7:11-12      The Jews' forefathers suffered from a "famine" in the Promised Land and were sent to Egypt for "food" by Jacob (Gen. 41:54-55; 42:2, 5). When hard times came upon God's people, God sustained them and brought them into blessing and under the rule of Joseph. So will it be in the future with Jesus. The Jews would first suffer hardship (in the destruction of Jerusalem and in the Tribulation), and then God will bring them into blessing under Jesus' rule (in the Millennium).

7:13-14      On their "second visit" to Egypt, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, who could not believe that he was their ruler, and he "revealed" his family's identity to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:1-4). In the future, similarly, Israel will finally recognize Jesus as her Messiah (Zech. 12:10-14). Joseph then "invited … Jacob and all his relatives," who numbered "75," to live in "Egypt" (Gen. 45:9-10). I take it that this was the number of people invited to live in Egypt. The number of people who made the trip and entered Egypt was probably 70 (Gen. 46:26-27; Exod. 1:5; Deut. 10:22). Some interpreters believe 75 people entered Egypt.

"Stephen apparently cited the LXX figure which really was not an error, but computed the total differently by including five people which the Masoretic text did not."[446]

"One of the most widely accepted solutions is to recognize that the Hebrew text includes Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (a total of 70), but that the Septuagint omits Jacob and Joseph but includes Joseph's seven grandchildren (mentioned in 1 Chron. 7:14-15, 20-25). This is supported by the Hebrew in Genesis 46:8-26 which enumerates 66 names, omitting Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph's two sons."[447]

7:15           Jacob "died" safe and blessed under Joseph's rule. Likewise Israel will end its days under Jesus' rule in the Millennium. Jacob died in "Egypt," as did his sons and their immediate descendants. Thus verses 11 through 15 record both a threat to the chosen people and God's preservation of them, which is a second testimony to God's faithfulness in this pericope (cf. vv. 9-10).

7:16           From Egypt the chosen people eventually returned to the Promised Land. God had been with them away from the land, and He now returned them to the land. Believers in Jesus will end up in the final resting place of Jesus: heaven.

"Shechem" was of special interest to Stephen. The Israelites buried Joseph's bones there after their initial conquest of the land (Josh. 24:32). Stephen's allusion to this event was his way of concluding this period of Israel's history.

Moses wrote that Jacob, not Abraham, had purchased a tomb from Hamor in Shechem (Gen. 33:19; cf. 23:16; 50:13). This may be a case of attributing to an ancestor what one of his descendants did (cf. Heb. 7:9-10). In the ancient Near Eastern view of things, people regarded an ancestor as in one sense participating in the actions of his descendants (Gen. 9:25; 25:23; cf. Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:11-13). Abraham had purchased Joseph's burial site in the sense that his grandson Jacob eventually purchased it (cf. Heb. 7:9-10).

Two other explanations of this apparent error are these: First, Stephen telescoped two events into one, namely, Abraham's purchase from Ephron in Hebron (Gen. 23:1-20), and Jacob's purchase from Hamor in Shechem.[448] Second, Abraham really did purchase the plot in Shechem, though Moses did not record that (cf. Gen. 12:6-7), and Jacob repurchased it later because the Canaanites had retaken it.[449]

In Stephen's day Shechem was in Samaritan territory. Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that their ancestral deliverer, Joseph, was buried in the land that orthodox Jews despised and avoided. This was yet another instance of helping them understand that they should not think the only place that God worked was in the Promised Land. Stephen had previously referred to Mesopotamia as the place where God had revealed Himself to Abraham (v. 2).

Stephen probably intended that his reference to "Abraham," rather than to Jacob, would remind his hearers of God's faithfulness in fulfilling the promises that God gave to Abraham. He did this in one sense when Israel possessed Canaan under Joshua's leadership. Israel will experience the ultimate fulfillment of God's land promises to Abraham when she enters rest under Jesus' rule in the Millennium.

Stephen's view of Moses and the Law 7:17-43

Stephen continued his review of Israel's history by proceeding into the period of the Exodus. He sought to refute the charge that he was blaspheming against (slandering) Moses (6:11) and was speaking against the Mosaic Law (6:13).

The career of Moses 7:17-36

Stephen's understanding of Moses was as orthodox as his view of God, but his presentation of Moses' career made comparison with Jesus' career unmistakable. As in the previous pericope, there is a double emphasis in this one: first, on God's faithfulness to His promises in the Abrahamic Covenant and, second, on Moses as a forerunner of Jesus.

"More specifically than in the life of Joseph, Stephen sees in the story of Moses a type of the new and greater Moses—Christ himself."[450]

7:17-18      Stephen had gotten ahead of himself briefly in verse 16. Now he returned to his history of Israel just before the Exodus. "The promise" that God had made to Abraham was that He would judge his descendants' enslaving nation and free the Israelites (vv. 6-7; Gen. 15:14). This was a particular way that He would fulfill the earlier promises to give Israel the land, to multiply the Israelites, and to curse those nations that cursed Israel (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). The Israelites increased in Egypt until "another king [Pharaoh] arose" who disregarded ("did not know") "Joseph" (Exod. 1:7-8).

Before Moses appeared on the scene, Israel "increased" in numbers and fell under the control of an enemy that was hostile to her. Likewise, before Jesus appeared, Israel had increased numerically and had fallen under Roman domination. Similarly, Christ had come in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4).

7:19           This new Pharaoh took advantage of the Israelites and "mistreated" them by decreeing the death of their "infants" (Exod. 1:10, 16, 22). Like Pharaoh, Herod the Great had tried to destroy all the Jewish babies at the time of Jesus' birth. But God had preserved both of the Israelites' deliverers: Moses and Jesus.

7:20-22      "Moses," the great deliverer of his people, was "born," preserved, protected ("nurtured"), and "educated" in Egypt.

"… the pillar of the Law was reared in a foreign land and in a Gentile court."[451]

Moses became a powerful man in word and deed. All this took place outside the Promised Land, which further depreciated the importance of that land in Stephen's speech.

Like Moses, Jesus was lovely in God's sight when He was born, because God chose Him, and Mary nurtured Him at home, temporarily, before He came under the control of the Romans (cf. Matt. 1:18-21). Moses had great knowledge, as did Jesus. Both became powerful men in "speaking and action" (v. 22).

"… after forty years of learning in Egypt, God put him [Moses] out into the desert. There God gave him his B. D. degree, his Backside of the Desert degree, and prepared him to become the deliverer."[452]

7:23-29      Moses' presumptive attempt to deliver his people resulted in his having to flee from Egypt to "the land of Midian," where he became an alien ("stranger," cf. v. 6). These verses relate another story of an anointed leader of God's people who, like Joseph, was rejected by those people. Yet God did not abandon Moses or His people. God blessed Moses in a foreign land, Midian, by giving him "two sons."

Although Moses offered himself as the deliverer of his brethren, they did not understand him. The same thing happened to Jesus. Moses' Jewish brethren, who did not recognize that God had appointed him as their "ruler and judge," rejected him even though Moses sought to help them. Likewise, Jesus' Jewish brethren rejected Him. Moses' brethren feared that he might use his power to destroy them rather than help them. Similarly, the Jewish leaders feared that Jesus, with His supernatural abilities, might bring them harm rather than deliverance and blessing (cf. John 11:47-48). Moses' rejection led him to leave his brethren and to live in a distant land where he fathered "sons" (v. 29). Jesus, too, had left His people (the Israelites), and had gone to live in a distant land (heaven) where He was producing sons (i.e., Christians).

7:30-34      It was in Midian, "after 40 years," that God appeared to Moses in "the flame of a burning thorn bush." The "angel" that appeared to Moses was the angel of the Lord, very possibly the pre-incarnate Christ (vv. 31-33; cf. Exod. 3:2, 6; 4:2; John 12:41; 1 Cor. 10:1-4; Heb. 11:26). God commanded Moses to return to Egypt as His instrument of deliverance for the Israelites. Again, God revealed Himself and His Law outside the Holy Land.

Moses received a commission from God, in Midian, to return to his brethren in order to lead them out of their oppressed condition. Jesus, upon God's order, will return to the earth to deliver Israel from her oppressed condition during the Tribulation, when He returns at His second coming.

7:35-36      The very man whom the Israelite leaders had rejected as their ruler and judge (v. 27) God sent back to fulfill that role with His help (cf. 3:13-15). Moses proceeded to perform "wonders and signs" in "Egypt," at "the Red Sea," and "in the wilderness."

This third reference to "40 years" (cf. vv. 23, 30, 36) divides Moses' career into three distinct parts. These stages were: (1) preparation ending with rejection by his brethren, (2) preparation ending with his return to Egypt, and (3) ruling and judging Israel. The parallels with the career of Jesus become increasingly obvious as Stephen's speech unfolds.

"Jesus too had been brought out of Egypt by Joseph and Mary, had passed through the waters of Jordan at his baptism (the Red Sea), and had been tempted in the wilderness for forty days."[453]

As Moses became Israel's ruler and judge with angelic assistance, so will Jesus. As Moses had done miracles, so had Jesus. The ultimate Prophet, whom Moses had predicted would follow him, was Jesus (Deut. 18:15, 18; cf. 3:22).

"Stephen naturally lingers over Moses, 'in whom they trusted' (Jn. v. 45-47), showing that the lawgiver, rejected by his people (35), foreshadowed the experience of Christ (Jn. i. 11)."[454]

The teaching of Moses 7:37-43

Stephen continued dealing with the Mosaic period of Israel's history, but he focused next, more particularly, on Moses' teaching: the Mosaic Law. This is what the Jews of his day professed to venerate and follow exactly, but Stephen showed that they really had rejected what Moses taught.

7:37-38      Stephen stressed the fact that Moses was the man who had given the prophecy about the coming "Prophet" (Deut. 18:15), and he had received other divine oracles (revelations) for the Israelites. "This" (Gr. houtos estin), with the articular adjectival participle in verses 37 and 38, is an intensified form of the demonstrative pronouns translated "this" in verses 35 (touton) and 36 (houtos). Stephen clearly respected Moses, but he noted that Moses himself had predicted that a Prophet "like me" would appear (cf. Acts 3:22). Therefore, the Jews should not have concluded that the Mosaic Law was the end of God's revelation to them. The fact that Stephen spoke of the Mosaic Law as "living words" suggests that he viewed it more in its revelatory than in its regulatory aspect.[455]

"… preaching Christ was not disloyalty to an ancient tradition, but its fulfilment. This was powerful argument, and a continuation of Peter's theme (iii. 22, 23). (This truth was to be more fully developed for similar minds in the Epistle to the Hebrews; see iii. 1-6, ix. 18-20, xii. 24).)"[456]

Jesus had spent a time of temptation in the wilderness (40 days), and had heard God speaking audibly from heaven at His baptism. He, too, like Moses, had rubbed shoulders with Israel's leaders, and had received revelations from God for His people.

7:39           The Israelites in the wilderness refused to listen ("were unwilling to be obedient") to Moses, and "rejected" his leadership of them (Num. 14:3-4; Exod. 32:1, 23). By insisting on the finality of the Mosaic Law so strongly, as they did, Stephen's hearers were in danger of rejecting what Moses had prophesied about the coming Prophet.

The Israelites refused to follow Moses, wanting instead to return to their former place of slavery. So had Israel refused to follow Jesus, but turned back instead to her former condition of bondage under the Law (cf. Gal. 5:1).

7:40-43      The Israelites turned from Moses to idolatry (the golden calf "idol"), and in this rebellion their high priest, "Aaron," helped them. Consequently, God "gave them over" to what they wanted (cf. Rom. 1:24). He also purposed to send them into captivity as punishment (Amos 5:25-27).

By implication, turning from the revelation that Jesus had given amounted to idolatry. Stephen implied that by rejecting Moses' coming Prophet, Jesus, his hearers could expect a similar fate, despite the sacrifices that they brought to God.

"Stephen's quotation of Amos 5:27, 'I will carry you away beyond Babylon,' differs from the OT. Both the Hebrew text and the LXX say 'Damascus.' The prophet Amos was foretelling the exile of the northern kingdom under the Assyrians which would take them beyond Damascus. More than a century later, the southern kingdom was captured because of her similar disobedience to God and was deported to Babylon. Stephen has merely substituted this phrase in order to use this Scripture to cover the judgment of God on the entire nation."[457]

Israel had turned from Jesus to idolatry, and her high priest had helped her do so. One of Stephen's concerns in this speech  was false "worship." The Israelites had previously rejoiced in their idolatry, in the wilderness, and once again more recently, since Jesus was out of the way. God had "turned away" from them because of their apostasy (rejection of truth previously held) in the past, and He was doing the same in the present. They did not genuinely offer their sacrifices to God, and He did not accept them, since they had rejected His Anointed Ruler and Judge. The Israelites were heading for another wilderness experience. They adopted a house of worship, and an object of worship, that were not God's choice but their own creations. God would remove them ("deport you") far from their land in punishment (in A.D. 70).

Stephen had answered his accusers' charge that he had spoken against Moses (6:11, 13) by showing that he believed what Moses had predicted about the coming Prophet. It was really his hearers, like Jesus' hearers earlier, who rejected Moses, since they refused to allow the possibility of prophetic revelation that superseded the Mosaic Law.

"Joseph's brethren, rejecting the beloved of their father, Moses' people, turning with scorn and cursing on the one who only sought to give them freedom—these were prototypes which the audience would not fail to refer to themselves."[458]

Stephen's view of the temple 7:44-50

Stephen had effectively refuted the general charges that he had blasphemed God and Moses (6:11; cf. vv. 2-16) and had spoken against the Law (6:13; cf. vv. 17-43). He next addressed the charge that he spoke against the temple (6:13). The charges that he had said that Jesus would destroy the temple and alter Jewish customs (6:14) were really specific accusations growing out of Stephen's view of the temple.

The Jewish leaders of Stephen's day attached inordinate importance to the temple, as they did to the Mosaic Law and the Promised Land. They had distorted God's view of the temple, as they had distorted His meaning in the Law. Instruction concerning both the Law, which specified Israel's walk before people, and the tabernacle, which specified her worship of God, came to Moses when he was not in the Promised Land but at Mt. Sinai.

7:44           Stephen pointed out that it was the "tabernacle of testimony" in the wilderness that God had ordered built, not the temple. God even gave Moses blueprints ("the pattern") to follow in constructing it, because its design had instructive value. The tabernacle of testimony was important primarily because it contained God's revealed will, and it was the place that God's presence resided in a localized sense. The "testimony" refers to the tablets of the Mosaic Law that rested within the ark of the covenant.

7:45           The tabernacle was so important that the Israelites brought it with them into the Promised Land when they conquered Palestine under Joshua's leadership. The Greek form of the name "Joshua" is Jesus. God "drove out" the Canaanites in faithfulness to His promise to give the land to His people. The tabernacle continued to be God's ordained center of worship throughout David's reign.

7:46           God blessed David's reign, and it was the tabernacle, not the temple, that existed then. The initiative to build the temple was David's, not God's. It had been David's desire to build God a more glorious place in which to dwell. However, God did not "jump" at this suggestion, because He did not need another place in which to dwell.

"The temple, Stephen implies, was a royal whim, tolerated of God."[459]

7:47           God did not even permit David to build the temple. He was not that eager to have a temple. However, He allowed "Solomon," a king who did not find as much favor in God's sight as David did, to build it.

7:48-50      Stephen hastened to clarify that "the Most High" God, for whom a suitable house was certainly a reasonable desire, does not restrict Himself to a habitation constructed "by human hands." Solomon himself had acknowledged this when he dedicated the temple (cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1-2).

"Judaism never taught that God actually lived in the temple or was confined to its environs but spoke of his 'Name' and presence as being there. In practice, however, this concept was often denied. This would especially appear so to Stephen, when further divine activity was refused out-of-hand by the people in their preference for God's past revelation and redemption as symbolized in the existence of the temple."[460]

Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1 and 2 for support. He referred to Isaiah as "the prophet." As a prophet, Isaiah was worthy of as much respect as Moses. Significantly, the last part of Isaiah 66:2 says that God esteems those who are humble and contrite in spirit and who tremble at His Word. Stephen left this timely and powerful challenge unstated for his hearers.

"It would seem that these verses form the real thrust of Stephen's speech. In quoting with approval Isaiah's words, Stephen would appear to imply that, as Christ is the new Moses, he is also the new Temple. In him and through him alone can men approach God."[461]

Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that the temple, which they venerated excessively, was not the primary venue of God's person and work. He was arguing that Jesus was God's designated replacement for the temple, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also taught (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:11-28).

There have been three major interpretations of Stephen's view of the temple: (1) God would replace it, (2) God had rejected it, and (3) God is above it. All three views are implications of Stephen's words.[462]

"Throughout his speech he has, of course, been undermining the superstition which exalted a place of worship. The first great revelations of God had, in fact, taken place in foreign lands, Ur, Sinai, Midian, long before the temple existed (2-4, 29-34, 44-50)."[463]

Stephen's accusation 7:51-53

Stephen concluded his defense by accusing his accusers. They had brought charges against him, but now he brought more serious charges against them.

In his first speech to the Sanhedrin Peter had been quite brief and forthright (4:8-12). He had presented Jesus as the only Person by which people must be saved (4:12). In his second speech to that body, Peter had again spoken briefly but more directly (5:29-32). He had charged the Sanhedrin with crucifying the Prince and Savior whom God had provided for His people (5:30-31). In this third speech before the Sanhedrin, Stephen spoke extensively, giving even more condemning evidence. He charged the Sanhedrin with being guilty of unresponsiveness to God's Word and of betraying and murdering "the Righteous One" (v. 52).

7:51           By rejecting Jesus the Sanhedrin was doing just what their forefathers had done in rejecting God's other anointed servants such as Joseph and Moses. They were "stiff-necked," a figure of speech for being self-willed. Moses used this expression to describe the Israelites when they rebelled against God and worshipped the golden calf (cf. Exod. 33:5; Deut. 9:13). While Stephen's hearers had undergone physical circumcision, and were proud of it, they were "uncircumcised" in their affections and responsiveness to God's Word ("in heart and ears"). They were "always resisting" the Holy Spirit, rather than allowing Him to control them. They were similar to the apostates in Israel's past (cf. Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16) whom the former prophets had rebuked (cf. Jer. 4:4; 9:26). By resisting Stephen, who was full of the Holy Spirit (6:3, 5), they were "resisting the Holy Spirit."

7:52           The Sanhedrin members were behaving just like their forefathers. Note that Stephen had previously associated himself with "our fathers" (vv. 2, 11-12, 15, 19, 39, 44-45), but now he disassociated himself from the Sanhedrin by referring to "your fathers." "Our fathers" were the trusting and obeying patriarchs, but "your fathers" were the unresponsive apostates (cf. Matt. 23:29-32).

The Jews' ill treatment of their prophets was well known and self-admitted (cf. 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 2:30). They had consistently resisted the messengers whom God had sent to them, even killing the heralds  of God's "Righteous One" (cf. 3:14; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 26:20-24; Luke 6:23; 11:49; 13:34; 1 Thess. 2:15; Heb. 11:36-38). Stephen said the Sanhedrin members were responsible for the betrayal and murder of that same "One": Jesus.

7:53           Their guilt was all the greater because they had received God's "Law," which "angels" had delivered (Deut. 33:2 LXX; cf. Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2), but they had disobeyed it. They were the real blasphemers (defiant sinners), not Stephen. Stephen, like an angel (cf. 6:15), had brought them new insight, but they were about to reject it too.

The primary theme of Stephen's speech is that Israel's leaders had failed to recognize that God had told His people ahead of time that they could expect a change. They had falsely concluded that the present state of Judaism was the final stage in God's plan of revelation and redemption. Christians, too, can become so preoccupied with the past and the present that we forget what God has revealed about the future. We need to keep looking ahead.

"He [Stephen] saw that the men who played a really great part in the history of Israel were the men who heard God's command, 'Get thee out,' and who were not afraid to obey it [cf. vv. 3, 15, 29, 36, 45]. The great men were the men who were prepared to make the adventure of faith. With that adventurous spirit, Stephen implicitly contrasted the spirit of the Jews of his own day, whose one desire was to keep things as they were and who regarded Jesus and His followers as dangerous innovators."[464]

A second related theme in this speech is that Israel's leaders had departed from God's priorities in order to give prominence to secondary issues for their own glory (the Holy Land, Moses, the temple). Christians also can think too highly of our own country, our leaders, and our place of worship.

Another related theme, the theme of Israel's rejection of the Lord's anointed servants, also runs through Stephen's speech. Jesus was another of God's anointed servants. The Jews had dealt with Him as they had dealt with the other anointed servants whom God had sent them. They could expect to experience the consequences of their rejection like their forefathers had. Christians need to anticipate the pattern of humiliation followed by glorification that has marked the careers of God's servants in the past, and we need to observe that pattern in our own careers and let it influence our thinking and actions.

"… it [Stephen's defense] is not designed to secure Stephen's acquittal of the charges brought against him, but to proclaim the essence of the new faith. It has been well said that, although the name of Christ is never mentioned, Stephen is all the while 'preaching Jesus'. He is demonstrating that everything in Israel's past history and experience pointed forward to God's culminating act in his plan for the redemption of the world in sending the Christ. The witness of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David in one way or another underlined the transitory nature of existing Jewish institutions and the hollowness of Jewish claims to have the monopoly of the way to salvation. The presence of God could not be restricted to one Holy Land or confined in one holy Temple, nor could his Law be atrophied [emaciated, weakened] in the ceremonialism of the Sadducees or the legalism of the Pharisees."[465]

Stephen's speech demonstrated remarkable insight, but this was more than mere human genius, because the Holy Spirit was controlling (filling) him (6:5, 10). While it is easy to overstate Stephen's importance, he seems to have understood the changes that would take place because of the Jews' rejection of Jesus. He did so earlier, and more clearly, than some of the other leaders of the Jerusalem church, such as Peter (cf. ch. 10). He appears to have been an enlightened thinker, whom God enabled to see the church's future in relationship to Israel as few did this early in the church's history. Many Jewish Christians, who still observed the Jewish hour of prayer, feasts, and temple ritual, probably did not appreciate this relationship. Stephen was in a real sense the forerunner of Paul, who became the champion of God's plan to separate Christianity from Judaism.[466]

"So he [Stephen] perceived, and evidently was the first to perceive clearly, the incidental and temporary character of the Mosaic Law with the temple and all its worship. This was the first germ of doctrine which S. Paul was afterward to carry out to its full logical and far-reaching consequences, viz. the perfect equality of Jew and Gentile in the church of God … S. Stephen then is the connecting link between S. Peter and S. Paul—a link indispensable to the chain. Stephen, and not Gamaliel, was the real master of S. Paul. … For 'the work' of Stephen lasts on till chapter xii (see xi 19), and then it is taken up by his greater pupil and successor—Paul."[467]

There have been scholars who believed that Stephen probably did not understand the issues behind the cause for which he died.[468] However many careful students of his speech have concluded that he did.

3.     Stephen's death 7:54—8:1a

Stephen's speech caused a revolution in the Sanhedrin's attitude toward the disciples of Jesus, and his martyrdom began the first widespread persecution of the Christians.

Luke recorded the Sanhedrin's response to Stephen's message in order to document Jesus' continued rejection by Israel's leaders. He did this in order to explain why the gospel spread as it did, and why the Jews responded to it as they did, following this event.

7:54           Stephen's charge of "always resisting the Holy Spirit" (v. 51) convicted and "infuriated" the members of the Sanhedrin. They retaliated fiercely. "Gnashing [grinding] their teeth" (as a sign of anger) pictures hateful antagonism.

"The possibilities are that what took place was a spontaneous act of mob violence or that Stephen was legally executed by the Sanhedrin, either because there was some kind of special permission from the Romans or because there was no Roman governor at the time and advantage was taken of the interregnum. The first of these possibilities is the more likely."[469]

7:55           Fully controlled by (being "full of") the Holy Spirit (cf. 6:3, 5, 8, 15) Stephen received a vision (a mental image) of Jesus "standing at the right hand of God" in all His "glory." This vision of God's throne room in heaven is similar to visions that Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John saw.

"Stephen, under accusation of blaspheming the earthly temple, is granted a sight of the heavenly temple; being cited before the Sadducee High Priest who believed [in] neither angel nor spirit, he is vouchsafed [graciously given] a vision of the heavenly HIGH PRIEST, standing and ministering at the throne amidst the angels and just men made perfect."[470]

The unusual fact that Stephen "saw" Jesus "standing," rather than seated, as the biblical writers elsewhere describe Him (e.g., Ps. 110:1), may imply several things: It may imply His activity as Prophet and Mediator, standing between God and man, and as a Witness, since He was witnessing through His witnesses on earth.

"Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing His servant before God. The proper posture for a witness is the standing posture. Stephen, condemned by an earthly court, appeals for vindication to a heavenly court, and his vindicator in that supreme court is Jesus, who stands at God's right hand as Stephen's advocate, his 'paraclete.' When we are faced with words so wealthy in association as these words of Stephen, it is unwise to suppose that any single interpretation exhausts their significance. All the meaning that had attached to Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13f. is present here, including especially the meaning that springs from their combination on the lips of Jesus when He appeared before the Sanhedrin; but the replacement of 'sitting' by 'standing' probably makes its own contribution to the total meaning of the words in this context—a contribution distinctively appropriate to Stephen's present role as martyr-witness."[471]

"Standing" may also imply Jesus' welcome of Stephen into His presence as the first Christian martyr.

"Here Jesus, functioning as Judge, welcomed Stephen into heaven, showing that despite earthly rejection, Stephen was honored in heaven."[472]

Psalm 110:1 describes Messiah as at God's right hand, where Stephen saw Jesus. Jesus' position in relation to God suggests His acceptance by God, His authority from God, and His access to God.

7:56           Stephen announced his vision and described Jesus as "the Son of Man," this being the only time after His ascension that someone used this title of Jesus in speaking of Him as recorded in Scripture (cf. Rev. 1:13 and 14:14 where "Son of Man" was used of Him in writing). This was a title of the Messiah that was used by Daniel in connection with the universal aspect of His rule (Dan. 7:13-14). Only Jesus used this title of Himself in the Gospels. It was His favorite designation of Himself. He had used it of Himself when He stood before the Sanhedrin not many weeks earlier (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69). Stephen was virtually saying that his vision confirmed Jesus' claim to be the Son of Man. Access to God is through Jesus Christ, not through obedience to the Law, residence in the Promised Land, or observance of the temple ritual, as the Jews taught (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).

7:57-58      Stephen's declaration amounted to blasphemy to the Sanhedrin. They knew that when he said "Son of Man" he meant Jesus. Furthermore, the Jews believed that no one had the authority to be at God's right hand in heaven.[473] The Sanhedrin members therefore cried out in agony of soul, "covered their ears" so that they would hear no more, and seized Stephen to prevent him from saying more or escaping. Stoning was the penalty for blasphemy in Israel (Lev. 24:16; Deut. 17:7), and the Sanhedrin members went right to it.

There are two traditions concerning the place of Stephen's execution: The older one is a site north of the present Damascus Gate, and a more recent one is east of the present St. Stephen's Gate.[474] The exact location is impossible to nail down.

In the three trials before the Sanhedrin that Luke recorded thus far, the first ended with a warning (4:17, 21), the second with flogging (5:40), and the third with stoning (7:58-60). The Sanhedrin now abandoned Gamaliel's former moderating advice (5:35-39). This Council did not have the authority to execute someone without Roman sanction, and Jewish law forbade executing a person on the same day as his trial.[475] However, since witnesses were present to cast the first stones, as the Mosaic Law prescribed, Stephen's death seems to have been not simply the result of mob violence, but official action. Probably it was mob violence precipitated and controlled by the Sanhedrin, along the lines of Jesus' execution (cf. Matt. 26:67-68).

One of the officially approved methods of punishment, when a person supposedly violated a positive precept of the Mosaic Law, or the traditions of the elders, was the "rebel's beating." Such offenders could be punished on the spot, without a trial.[476]

"The message of Stephen, it seems, served as a kind of catalyst to unite Sadducees, Pharisees, and the common people against the early Christians."[477]

"Saul" of Tarsus was there at Stephen's stoning, and he cooperated with the authorities by guarding "their cloaks" while they carried out their wicked business (cf. 8:1; 22:20). He was then "a young man" (Gr. neanias, cf. 20:9; 23:17-18, 22), but we do not know his exact age. Since he died about A.D. 68, and since Stephen probably died about A.D. 34, perhaps Saul was in his early or mid-thirties. Jesus and Saul appear to have been about the same age. This verse does not imply that Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin.[478]

This is the first reference to Saul of Tarsus in the Book of Acts. Saul's importance in the growth of Christianity can hardly be overestimated. The famous Jewish historian Abram Sachar wrote of Him:

"Of Paul we know more than of any other influential religious character of antiquity [except Jesus Christ]."[479]

7:59-60      Stephen "called on the Lord" (Gr. epikaloumenon), as Peter had exhorted his hearers to do (2:21), but not for deliverance: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Stephen died as Jesus did, with prayers for his executioners ("Lord, do not hold this sin against them!") being his last words (cf. Luke 23:34, 46; cf. 2 Chron. 24:22; Luke 6:27-28). However, Stephen prayed to Jesus whereas Jesus prayed to His Father.

"It is good to die praying."[480]

Luke probably wanted his readers to connect the two executions, Stephen's and Jesus', but they were not exactly the same. Some commentators have argued that Luke presented Stephen's execution as a reenactment of Jesus' execution.[481] Witherington listed 10 parallels between the passions of Jesus and Stephen.[482]

"Between Stephen and Jesus there was communion of nature, there was communion of testimony, there was communion of suffering, and finally there was communion of triumph."[483]

Stephen's body, not his soul, "fell asleep" to await resurrection (cf. 8:1; 13:36; John 11:11; 1 Thess. 4:13, 15; et al.).

"For Stephen the whole dreadful turmoil finished in a strange peace. He fell asleep. To Stephen there came the peace which comes to the man who has done the right thing even if the right thing kills him."[484]

"As Paul is to become Luke's hero, in that he more than any other single man was instrumental in spreading the Gospel throughout the Gentile world, so Stephen here receives honourable recognition as the man who first saw the wider implications of the Church's faith and laid the foundations on which the mission to the Gentiles was built."[485]

8:1a            Saul's active approval of Stephen's execution reveals his commitment to the extermination of Jesus' disciples, which he proceeded to implement zealously. This verse, along with 7:58,  introduces Saul and provides a transition to what follows later concerning Saul's conversion and subsequent ministry.

"What was done unto Stephen was done unto Saul. The Jews and Saul with them, as we believe, disputed and resisted Stephen in the synagogue. The Jews disputed with Paul, resisted him, and rejected his testimony. Stephen was accused of blasphemy; so was Paul (Acts xix:37). Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses, the holy place and the customs; so was Paul (Acts xxi:28; xxiv:6; xxv:8; xxviii:17). They rushed upon Stephen with one accord and seized him. The same happened to Paul (Acts xix:29). Stephen was dragged out of the city. So was Paul (Acts xiv:19). Stephen was tried before the Sanhedrim [sic]; so did Paul appear before the Sanhedrim. Stephen was stoned and Paul was stoned at Lystra. Stephen suffered martyrdom; so did Paul in Rome."[486]

B.     The ministry of Philip 8:1b-40

Luke next featured other important events in the expansion of the church and the ministry of another important witness. Philip took the gospel into Samaria, and then indirectly to Ethiopia, one of the more remote parts of the earth (cf. 1:8). The account of Philip's ministry in this chapter has several connections with chapters 6 and 7: Philip, like Stephen, was a member of the Seven (6:5). The persecution begun in chapters 6 and 7 continues in chapter 8, where it became a "great persecution" (8:1b), and the church increasingly felt Saul's antagonism.

1.     The evangelization of Samaria 8:1b-25

The first part of Philip's important witness took place in Samaria. Luke recorded the reason for Philip's ministry there (vv. 1b-3), its nature (vv. 4-8), and its effects (vv. 9-24).

The dispersion of the witnesses 8:1b-3

This short section sets the stage for Philip's ministry by giving us the reason for it.

8:1b           Stephen's execution ignited the first widespread "persecution" of Christian Jews.[487] Luke showed that the early Jerusalem Christians first received a warning (4:21), then flogging (5:40), then martyrdom (7:58-60), then extensive persecution. Since Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew, the Hellenistic Jewish Christians were probably the main targets of this antagonism. The unbelieving Jews who were living in Jerusalem turned against the believing Jews ("the church in Jerusalem"). This hostility resulted in many of the believers leaving Jerusalem for more secure places of residence. They took the gospel with them and planted churches in all "Judea" (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14) as well as in "Samaria."

The Greek word diesparesen, translated "scattered" here, and in verse 4, comes from the verb speiro, which elsewhere describes sowing seed (cf. Matt. 6:26; 13:3-4, 18; 25:24, 26; Luke 8:5; 12:24; et al.). The word "diaspora" derives from it. This persecution was hard on the Christians, but it was good for the church, because it resulted in widening evangelization. "The apostles" probably stayed in Jerusalem because they believed that their presence there was essential regardless of the danger. Moreover, the persecution seems to have been against Hellenistic Jews particularly, and the Twelve were Hebraic Jews.

8:2             The "devout men" who buried Stephen were probably God-fearing Jews like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who buried Jesus (Luke 23:50-53). There were undoubtedly many Jews in Jerusalem who were still sympathetic with the Christians (cf. 6:7). Some of them evidently gave Stephen a burial suitable to his importance. The Mishnah considered open lamentation for someone who had suffered death by stoning inappropriate.[488] Luke's notation that people "mourned loudly" for Stephen may, therefore, be evidence that there were many Jews, including Christian Jews, who regarded Stephen's stoning as extremely unfortunate.

8:3             The Greek word translated "ravaging" (lumainomai) occurs only here in the New Testament. The Septuagint translators used it in Psalm 80:13 to describe wild boars destroying a vineyard. In English we sometimes use "ravaging" as a synonym for raping. This is how Saul began behaving, though I do not mean to imply that he raped women. The verb is evidently an inceptive imperfect in Greek, indicating the beginning of the action. Saul was a leader of the persecution in Jerusalem (9:1-2, 29; 22:4-5; 26:11). Evidently Stephen's execution fueled Saul's hatred for the Christians and encouraged him to be  increasingly antagonism toward them. He not only went from house to house arresting Christians (cf. 2:46; 5:42) and putting them in prison, but he also carried his purges into the synagogues (cf. 6:9) and tried to force believers to blaspheme (confess Jesus as the God-man) there so that he could persecute them (22:19; 26:11).

Philip's evangelization of Samaria 8:4-8

8:4             Whereas persecution resulted in the death of some believers, it also dispersed Jesus' disciples over a wider area. Luke described what they did, as "scattered" believers, as "preaching the word" (Gr. euaggelizomenoi ton logon, lit. "proclaiming good news the word"). The gospel message is in view. Sometimes, what appears to be very bad—in this case persecution and dispersion—turns out to be very good (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 8:28).

"… persecution faced faithfully can have positive results for the church (see also Acts 11:19-30 for more results from this dispersion)."[489]

"… the thrust of the church into its mission after the persecution of the Christian community in Jerusalem is parallel with Luke's portrayal in his Gospel of the spread of Jesus' fame after the devil's assault in the wilderness."[490]

"As the mission begins to move beyond Jerusalem and Judea, it is useful to distinguish two roles within it: the role of the initiator and the role of the verifier. The apostles shift at this point from the former to the latter role. That is, their function is reduced to recognizing and confirming the work of the evangelists who bring the gospel to new areas and groups, or to working as evangelists in areas already opened for mission (cf. 8:25; 9:32-42)."[491]


8:5             "Philip" was apparently a Hellenistic Jew like Stephen. He was Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven (cf. 6:5), not the Philip who was one of the Twelve. He traveled north from Jerusalem to "Samaria" and followed Jesus' example of taking the gospel to the Samaritans (cf. John 4).

The Hebraic Jews did not like the people who lived in this area and had no dealings with them (John 4:9). They regarded them as racial and religious half-breeds. They did so because their ancestors were the Jews who had intermarried with the Gentiles, whom the Assyrians had sent to live there following Assyria's conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. Furthermore, the Samaritans had opposed the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra's day and had erected their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in competition with the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.

In view of Stephen's recent negative comments about the Jerusalem temple (7:44-50) it is not incredible to read that Philip took the gospel to Samaritans. The Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch as authoritative, and they looked for a personal Messiah who would be like Moses.

We do not know exactly where Philip went, because Luke did not identify the place specifically.[492] It was "down" from Jerusalem topographically, not geographically. Some ancient versions of Acts refer to "a city of Samaria" whereas others have "the city of Samaria." Some scholars believe that "the city" is correct, but others believe that the region of Samaria is in view.[493] The capital town stood a few miles west and a little north of Old Testament Shechem and very near New Testament Sychar (cf. John 4:5).

The Old Testament city of Samaria—"Sabaste" was the Greek name of Caesar Augustus that Herod the Great gave the city[494]—had been the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Philip's willingness to preach the Messiah (cf. v. 12) to the Samaritans demonstrates an openness that had not characterized Jesus' disciples formerly (cf. John 4:9). Sometimes God moves us out of our comfort zone because He has a job for us to do elsewhere. A whole new people-group came to faith in Christ as a result of Philip's ministry in Samaria.

8:6-8          Philip also could perform miracles like Jesus and the apostles. He cast out demons and healed "paralyzed" and lame people. These "signs" of Jesus' power attracted the attention of crowds of Samaritans, and they supported Philip's claim that God was with him. Perhaps the fact that the Jerusalem Jews had rejected Philip made him attractive to the Samaritans, since they too had experienced rejection by those Jews. Again, deliverances brought "rejoicing" (cf. 2:46-47).

"It is not too difficult to imagine what would have happened had the apostles at Jerusalem first been the missioners to Samaria. Probably they would have been rebuffed, just as they were rebuffed earlier in their travels with Jesus when the Samaritans associated them with the city of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51-56). But God in his providence used as their evangelist the Hellenist Philip, who shared their fate (though for different reasons) of being rejected at Jerusalem; and the Samaritans received him and accepted his message."[495]

Simon the Sorcerer's conversion 8:9-13

8:9-11        Another person who was doing miracles in Samaria, but by satanic power, was "Simon," whom people have sometimes called Simon Magus. "Magus" is the transliteration of the Greek word magos meaning "magician" or "sorcerer." The magic that he did was not sleight of hand deception, but sorcery: the ability to control people and/or nature by demonic power. This ability had made Simon very popular, and he had encouraged people to think that he was a great "power" whom God had sent.[496]

"As the counterfeit of the true, these false prophets were among the most dangerous enemies of Christianity; and the distinction between the true and the false, between religion and spiritualism, had to be sharply drawn once for all."[497]

8:12           Simon promoted himself, but Philip preached Christ.

"I believe that Simon is the first religious racketeer in the church—but, unfortunately, not the last."[498]

Luke described Philip's message as "the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (cf. 1:3, 6; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). Those who trust in Christ become partakers in His spiritual rule over them now, and eventually they will enter into His future earthly millennial kingdom. Both aspects of the kingdom are probably in view here (cf. 1:3). The phrase "name of Jesus Christ" points to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, God's anointed Messiah (cf. 1 John 5:1). Note that water baptism followed conversion almost immediately (cf. 2:38). "Both men and women" believed and "were being baptized." This was clearly water baptism, since they did not experience Spirit baptism until later (v. 17).

8:13           "Even Simon himself believed." I see no reason to conclude that Simon's faith was hypocritical, though many students of this passage have concluded that he was an unbeliever.[499] The text says that "Simon himself believed," just like the others that Luke mentioned (v. 12), and there is no reason to doubt the reality of their faith.

"We have no reason to think that Philip did amiss in baptizing him. Prodigals, when they return, must be joyfully welcomed home, though we cannot be sure but that they will play the prodigal again. It is God's prerogative to know the heart. The church and its ministers must go by a judgment of charity. We must hope the best as long as we can."[500]

Having practiced Satan's "magic arts," Simon could hardly believe the difference between Philip's God-given "signs and great miracles" and his own magic.

Compromise in the Samaritan church 8:14-24

"… Simon's story is told so fully because it is a parallel to that of Ananias and Sapphira. Both stand out in the first church as glaring examples of the frightful attempt by means of money to obtain what can be obtained only by God's grace."[501]

8:14-17      The 12 "apostles" were, of course, the divinely appointed leaders of the Christians (ch. 1). It was natural and proper, therefore, that they should send representative apostles to investigate the Samaritans' response to the gospel.[502] This was especially important in view of the hostility that existed between the Hebraic Jews and the Samaritans. The way the Jews and the Samaritans felt about one another was similar to how most Israelis and Palestinians feel about one another today.

It was important that both the Samaritan Christians and the Jewish Christians believed that God had united them in Christ. When "Peter and John" "came down" to Samaria, they observed that these Samaritans had, like themselves, also accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They asked God in prayer to send His "Holy Spirit" to baptize them, as He had baptized the Jews who believed in Jesus (cf. Luke 11:13).

"Being baptized 'into' [Gr. eis, cf. 19:5] … the name denotes incorporation into the Lord and his community, declaring one's allegiance and implying the Lord's ownership …"[503]

"This was a period of transition from the OT dispensation to the NT era, and these believers at Samaria were in a position similar to the believers at Jerusalem prior to Pentecost."[504]

However, this baptism with the Holy Spirit occurred somewhat differently than it had in Jerusalem (ch. 2; cf. 8:38; 10:44). There it happened spontaneously, but here it came in answer to the apostles' prayer and with the laying on of their hands. There the sound of a mighty wind, visible flames of fire, and speaking in tongues had accompanied it. Here there is no mention that these phenomena were present. Perhaps tongues were not spoken here, if they were not, because the Jews and the Samaritans spoke the same language. In both places, Jerusalem and Samaria, the Spirit's permanent indwelling through Spirit baptism is in view, and the Holy Spirit baptized people who were already believers in Jesus Christ.

"But what if the Spirit had come upon them [the Samaritans] at their [water] baptism when administrated by Philip? Undoubtedly what feelings there were against Philip and the Hellenists would have carried over to them, and they would have been doubly under suspicion. But God in his providence withheld the gift of the Holy Spirit till Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans—Peter and John, two leading apostles who were highly thought of in the mother church at Jerusalem and who would have been accepted at that time as brothers in Christ by the new converts in Samaria."[505]

Does what happened in Jerusalem and Samaria set a precedent for a "second blessing" experience (i.e., the baptism of the Spirit as a separate work of God after regeneration)? Paul described normative Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 8:9. He wrote that the person who has not experienced Spirit baptism is not a Christian (Rom. 8:9). Therefore the instances of Spirit baptism in Acts, when it followed salvation later, must have been exceptional occasions. This unusual separation of salvation and Spirit baptism in time is understandable. People needed to perceive Spirit baptism as such at the beginning of the church's history. God baptized believers with the Spirit in this way in order to validate Jesus' promise that He would send the Spirit to indwell believers permanently, something that had not occurred previously (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).[506]

In chapter 2, God identified Spirit baptism, which normally takes place without the believer being aware that it is happening, with wind, fire, and speaking in tongues. These things served as signs to the Jews present of God's working. Here in chapter 8, signs apparently did not announce the baptism of the Spirit, but they accompanied Philip's preaching. What would have convinced the Samaritans that the baptism of the Spirit was taking place? And what would have convinced the Jews in Jerusalem that it had taken place in Samaria? The Spirit's baptizing work taking place in response to the laying on of the apostles' hands (v. 18) would have done so (cf. 9:17; 19:6). This is, of course, exactly what happened.

"Peter used the keys committed to him (Matt. 16:18, 19) to open the door officially to the Samaritans, just as he did to 3,000 Jews at Pentecost, and would again a little later to the gentiles at the house of Cornelius (chap. 10). It would be a great mistake, however, to treat this incident at Samaria as normative for all subsequent believers. A look at the Spirit's coming upon Saul (9:17) and Cornelius (10:44) will reveal considerable differences, so that the Samaritan experience was not the regular pattern in the Book of Acts."[507]

8:18-19      Clearly, something accompanied the coming of the Spirit to baptize, because the people present perceived it as happening ("Simon saw that the Spirit was given"). What did Simon see? Some believe that he saw the Samaritans speaking in tongues.[508] But the text does not say that. Furthermore, Simon would have heard them, not seen them, speaking in tongues. And what Simon did see was that the apostles laid their hands on the Samaritans. Consequently, it seems improper to infer that speaking in tongues occurred on this occasion.[509] Obviously there was some observable evidence that the Spirit had baptized these new believers, but what it was we do not know.

Simon desired to buy the ability to produce Spirit baptism and its accompanying sign from Peter and John (cf. 19:19). This practice—the attempt to buy spiritual powers and offices—has become identified with Simon's name (i.e., simony).

Simon may have thought that paying for this power ("authority") was legitimate, since others had probably paid him for the secret power of his magic.[510] Simon failed to appreciate the uniqueness and holiness of Spirit baptism. He appears to have wanted to produce this in anyone, not just believers. Possibly Simon's error was an innocent mistake, due to theological ignorance. It was clear to Simon, however, that the laying on of hands communicated Spirit baptism (v. 19).

8:20-23      Peter's stern response, however, revealed the seriousness of Simon's error. J. B. Phillips paraphrased Peter's opening words: "To hell with you and your money!"[511] Literally Peter said: Your silver be with you into hell! By his request Simon had revealed that he hoped he could buy God's gifts, namely, the Holy Spirit and the ability and authority to impart the Holy Spirit to others. Peter corrected him harshly. God's gifts are gifts. People cannot purchase them because God gives them freely and sovereignly. Simon had much to learn about the grace of God.

Peter then told Simon that God would not grant what he sought, because his heart was "not right before God." Simon wanted to be able to bring glory to himself rather than to God. Barclay referred to James Denney, the Scottish preacher, as having said that we cannot at one and the same time show that we are clever and that Christ is wonderful.[512] Proper motives are essential as Christians seek to serve Jesus Christ. Simon's flesh (his sinful human nature), rather than the Holy Spirit, still controlled him. "Bitterness," "bondage," and "unrighteousness" still characterized him (v. 23). Probably Peter received prophetic insight into Simon's motivation (cf. 5:3).[513]

"Peter describes Simon's offer as poison {"gall"] and a chain [bond, "bondage"]."[514]

Simon was to the Samaritan church what Ananias and Sapphira were to the Jerusalem church: an early instance of self-seeking (cf. 5:1-11). Peter may have wondered if God would judge Simon as He had Ananias and Sapphira, and if Simon was about to fall dead at his feet. But God had mercy on Simon.

8:24           Peter's rebuke terrified Simon. A man with the tremendous power that Peter had demonstrated, which Simon himself had witnessed, was no one to antagonize. Probably Simon's request for prayer that God would be merciful to him was sincere.

Many interpreters believe that Simon was not a genuine believer, but he may have been. True Christians can do, and have done, everything that Simon said and did. His background, fresh out of demonism, makes his conduct easier to understand. I see him as another Ananias, except that Ananias knew exactly what he was doing, whereas Simon's error seems to have involved ignorance to some extent. Probably that is why he did not suffer the same fate as Ananias. Both men became examples to the Christians, in their respective geographical and ethnic areas, of how important it is to behave under the control of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:15-21).

Evangelism elsewhere in Samaria 8:25

The subjects of this verse ("they") are evidently Peter and John (cf. v. 14). The fact that while the apostles were returning to Jerusalem they preached the gospel "to many villages of the  Samaritans" shows that they now fully accepted the Samaritans as fellow believers. Furthermore, they welcomed them into the church. Quite a change had taken place in John's heart, in particular, and in Peter's, since the time when these disciples had first visited Samaria with Jesus. John had wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (cf. Luke 9:52-54).

This mission into Samaria constituted a further gospel advance to the Gentiles. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as half Jew and half Gentile. In view of Peter's later reluctance to go to the Gentiles (ch. 10), this incident was clearly part of God's plan to broaden his vision. It prepared him to accept Gentiles into the church on an equal basis with Jews.

2.     Philip's ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch 8:26-40

Luke recorded this incident in order to show the method and direction of the church's expansion to God-fearing Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism at this time. The Ethiopian eunuch had visited Jerusalem to worship, was studying the Old Testament, and was open to instruction by a Jew. Therefore he was much more sympathetic to the Christians' gospel than the average Gentile. This man appears to have been the first full-fledged Gentile that Luke recorded being evangelized in Acts, though he could have been a diaspora Jew.

"The admirably-told story of the Ethiopian is probably in Philip's own words, passed on to the author when he and Paul were entertained in the evangelist's house at Caesarea, twenty years later (xxi. 8). As a piece of narrative it ranks with the stories of the Lord's own personal work (e.g. John iii and iv)."[515]

8:26           God's messenger ("an angel," cf. 5:19) directed Philip to "go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." Whenever Luke introduced "an angel of the Lord" (Gr. angelos kyriou) into his narrative, he desired to stress God's special presence and activity (Luke 1:11; 2:9; Acts 12:7, 23; cf. Acts 7:30, 35, 38; 10:3, 7, 22; 11:13; 12:11; 27:23).[516] The Lord's direction was evidently clear and precise because Philip had been involved in evangelizing multitudes successfully (v. 6). Now God definitely told him to leave that fruitful ministry and to go elsewhere. Luke did not say exactly where Philip was when he received this direction, but he was probably somewhere in Samaria or in Caesarea, where we find him later in Acts (v. 40; 21:8).

"The church did not simply 'stumble upon' the idea of evangelizing the Gentiles; it did so in accordance with God's deliberate purpose."[517]

Luke added for the benefit of Theophilus (1:1), who was evidently not familiar with the geography of Palestine, that this was "desert" territory. The word "desert" can modify either road or Gaza.

"The old town was referred to as 'Desert Gaza', and this is probably meant here rather than a desert road, which properly begins only at Gaza on the way to Egypt."[518]

To get from Jerusalem to Gaza a traveler such as this eunuch would normally proceed west through the hill country of Judah, the Shephelah (foothills), and down to the coastal plain. There he would finally turn south onto the international coastal highway that ran along the Mediterranean Sea connecting Damascus and Egypt. Only as it left Gaza, the southeasternmost city in Palestine, did the road pass through desert. This is in the modern Gaza Strip.

The Ethiopian's spiritual condition when Philip met him was as arid as the desert. However, when the two men parted, the eunuch had experienced the refreshing effects of having been washed by the Water of life.

8:27-28      We can see Philip's yieldedness to the Spirit's control in his obedience. Traveling down the road he met the man who was evidently in charge of all of Queen Candace's (i.e. the Ethiopian nation's) treasury (cf. Isa. 56:3-8; Ps. 68:31). The name "Ethiopia" at this time described a kingdom located south of modern Egypt in Sudan (i.e., Nubia). It lay between the first Nile cataract at Aswan and the modern city of Khartoum, many hundreds of miles from Jerusalem.

"When told that a man was Ethiopian, people of the ancient Mediterranean world would assume that he was black, for this is the way that Ethiopians are described by Herodotus and others."[519]

By the way, there is no evidence that there was prejudice based on skin color in antiquity.[520] However, human nature being what it is, it is probable that skin color was, for some people, an occasion for prejudice and discrimination.

"… in ancient Greek historiographical works there was considerable interest in Ethiopia and Ethiopians precisely because of their ethnic and racially distinctive features. … Furthermore, in the mythological geography of the ancient Greek historians and other writers as well, Ethiopia was quite frequently identified with the ends of the earth … in a way that Rome most definitely was not. We are entitled, then, to suspect that Luke the historian has decided to portray in miniature a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the rest of Jesus' mandate (Acts 1:1) in Acts 8 …"[521]

"Candace," according to Pliny the Elder, was the hereditary name of the queens of Meroe.[522] As such it was the title of the queen mother, who at this time served as the head of the government in Ethiopia. Her personal name was evidently Amanitare (sometimes spelled Amantitere; A.D. 25-41).[523] The king of Ethiopia did not involve himself in the routine operations of his country, since his people regarded him as the "Child of the Sun."

"Archaeological light on this group of queens called Candace was found my McIver in his excavations in Nubia, 1908-1909. In the Christian period these Nubians still called their queen Candace; they fed her on milk, and regarded obesity as an attribute of royalty …"[524]

It was not uncommon for men in high Near Eastern government positions to be castrated. This prevented them from impregnating royal women and then making claims on the throne. However, the word "eunuch" (Gr. eunouchos) appears often in the Septuagint (e.g., of Potiphar, Gen. 39:1), and in other Greek writings, as describing a high military or political figure.[525] This eunuch, therefore, might not have been emasculated but simply a high official. Some scholars believe that he was probably both.[526] Luke repeatedly referred to him as a eunuch (vv. 27, 34, 36, 38, 39). Emasculated men could not participate fully in Israel's worship (Deut. 23:1).

This official had made a pilgrimage "to worship" Yahweh "in Jerusalem." Somehow he had heard of Him and had come to reverence Him. He was making the trip home, probably to the capitol city of Meroe, in his "chariot," or "carriage," or, as Bruce translated the Greek word: "covered wagon."[527] While traveling, he was reading the Septuagint translation of Isaiah's prophecy (i.e., Isa. 53:7-9; cf. Isa. 56:3-6). Perhaps he had purchased a scroll of Isaiah in Jerusalem.

"The chariot would have been in fact an ox-drawn wagon and would not have moved at much more than a walking pace, so that it would cause no difficulty for Philip to run alongside it and call out to the occupant."[528]

It was unusual for a non-Jew to possess a personal copy of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures).[529] Scrolls were expensive in the first century, but this man could have afforded one. Perhaps he was able to do so because of his high government position, or perhaps he had only a part of Isaiah's prophecy, which he or someone else had copied. In any case, his great interest in the Jews' religion is obvious.

"In those days the world was full of people who were weary of the many gods and the loose morals of the nations. They came to Judaism and there they found the one God and the austere moral standards which gave life meaning. If they accepted Judaism and were circumcised and took the Law upon themselves they were called proselytes; if they did not go that length but continued to attend the Jewish synagogues and to read the Jewish scriptures they were called God-fearers. So this Ethiopian must have been one of these searchers who came to rest in Judaism either as a proselyte or a God-fearer."[530]

"Some of the God-fearers were only one step from becoming converts [to Judaism], while others just added the Jewish God to their pantheon. So long as they showed some kind of sympathy with the Jewish religion they were considered God-fearers."[531]

8:29-31      Philip felt compelled by the Holy Spirit's leading to approach the Ethiopian's wagon (cf. v. 26). The Spirit's leading is essential in evangelism. He sometimes directs us to people whom He has prepared to trust in Jesus Christ.

"An especial stress is placed throughout this narrative on God's engineering of this conversation, and thus that it is part of God's plan."[532]

Quite possibly this important official was part of a caravan that was heading to Africa, and Philip may have joined it temporarily.[533] Evidently the eunuch's vehicle was either standing still or moving slowly down the road. Luke's comment that Philip "ran up" to the wagon may reflect the evangelist's willing compliance or simply the fact that he needed to run to catch up with it. There were probably other people besides Philip who were walking beside the various vehicles in this caravan.

As he approached, Philip heard the Ethiopian "reading" aloud. This was the common method of reading in ancient times due to the difficulty of deciphering sentences in those various languages that had no spaces between words and no punctuation marks.[534] Philip recognized what the Ethiopian was reading and he struck up a conversation with him. The official was having difficulty understanding what he was reading, so he invited Philip into his wagon to see if he could get some help.

"The Spirit of God does not eliminate the need for human teachers or diligent study. The Spirit is not given to make study needless but to make study effective."[535]

8:32-35      Philip responded to the eunuch's perplexity by explaining how Jesus had fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant. The clause "Philip opened his mouth" stresses the importance of what Philip said.

"… there is no evidence that anyone in pre-Christian Judaism ever thought of the Messiah in terms of a Suffering Servant."[536]

Most of the Jews regarded Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12 as referring either to their nation or to the Gentile nations. Jesus Himself had quoted Isaiah 53 as finding fulfillment in His passion (Luke 22:37). Philip here followed Jesus' interpretation, and from this very passage he proceeded to preach Jesus to the eunuch.

This is an excellent example of the Spirit of God using the Word of God through a man of God to bring salvation to the elect of God (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Note also the parallels between this story and the one in Luke 24: the one about Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

"There is evidence that Luke has very carefully structured his narrative [of Philip's ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch] in the form of a chiasm. Vv. 32-35, the citation of Isa. 53:7-8, are at the heart of the passage and serve as its hinge."[537]

8:36-38      "The road" on which this conversation took place crossed several stream beds that empty "water" from the higher elevations into the Mediterranean Sea during the wetter months. Even though the land generally was desert, water was not entirely absent at some times of the year. Perhaps the man was "baptized" in the Mediterranean Sea, which would have been not far from this road. The Ethiopian may have already known about water baptism, since he had an interest in Judaism. The Jews required water baptism of Gentile converts. Philip may have instructed him further on the importance of baptism (cf. 2:38; 8:12). In any case, the official was eager to submit to it. The Jews did not baptize physical eunuchs and take them in as proselytes of Judaism (Deut. 23:1). If the official was a physical "eunuch," perhaps this was why he asked Philip if there was some reason that he could not undergo baptism as a Christian.

Obviously there was enough water for Philip to immerse the Ethiopian ("they both went down into the water," v. 38). This was the normal method of baptism in Judaism and early Christianity. Some interpreters have argued, however, that the two men may have stood in the water while Philip poured water over or sprinkled the Ethiopian.[538] This is a possibility but, I think, it is improbable. The normal meaning of the Greek word baptizo (to "baptize") is to "immerse," and this was the common custom.[539]

"He [Philip] would have met the chariot somewhere southwest of Latron. There is a fine steam of water, called Murubbah, deep enough even in June to satisfy the utmost wishes of our Baptist friends. This Murubbah is merely a local name for the great Wady Surar, given to it on account of copious fountains which supply it with water during summer."[540]

The Ethiopian official testified to his faith in Jesus as the Messiah by submitting to water baptism (cf. 2:38; 8:12).

8:39           The Holy Spirit had directed Philip to the eunuch (v. 29), and then He "snatched Philip away" from him (v. 39). Luke stressed the Spirit's leadership in this evangelism of the first Gentile convert that is recorded in Acts (cf. Matt. 12:18). God had prepared both Philip (v. 29) and the eunuch (v. 30) for their especially important conversation.

Luke described the Lord leading Philip away from the eunuch very dramatically. Perhaps the Spirit jerked Philip out of the wagon physically (cf. 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16).[541] More likely, I think, this description reflects the Lord's immediate relocation of Philip to the place where He wanted him to serve next. The Greek verb translated "snatched … away" (arpazo) means "to seize, carry off by force … to seize on, claim for one's self eagerly … to snatch out or away … to seize and carry off speedily … used of divine power transferring a person marvelously and swiftly from one place to another, to snatch or catch away."[542]

"Philip's behavior in this incident is reminiscent of that of Elijah, following impulses which he recognizes as divine prompting, appearing in unexpected places, and disappearing equally unexpectedly. It has also often been noted that there are curious correspondences between Zeph. 2—3 and this passage—among other similarities Gaza, Ethiopia and Azotus are mentioned in both."[543]

"There is a contrast between Simon Magus and this Ethiopian treasurer which recalls the contrast between Gehazi and the stranger Naaman who was baptized in the Jordan."[544]

The eunuch rejoiced in his new faith (cf. 2:46-47; 8:8; 16:34). Presumably he returned home and became one of the earliest Gentile witnesses and missionaries in Africa. This is what happened according to early Christian tradition.[545]

8:40           Philip proceeded north up the coast, probably along the international highway, to "Azotus" (Ashdod) and farther on to "Caesarea." He preached "the gospel" in "all" the intermediate cities. About 20 years later we find him living in Caesarea (21:8). In the Roman world, the average distance that people would travel in one day on land was about 20 miles.[546] If traveling by camel, it would normally take 10 hours to travel 25 miles.[547]

Philip was the first Jewish Christian in Acts to evangelize a Gentile who lived in a remote country, which the first readers of this book regarded it as the uttermost part of the earth (cf. 1:8).

"The conviction that the Ethiopians lived at the ends of the earth is well documented in ancient literature."[548]

The very first Christians were Jews (2:1-8:4). Then Samaritans became Christians (8:5-25). Now a Gentile, who was either a Jewish proselyte or a near-proselyte, entered the church. Probably all these converts thought of themselves, at this point, as simply religious Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only later did they learn that what God was doing was not just creating a group of believers in Jesus within Judaism, or a faithful remnant, but a whole new entity, namely, the Christian church (cf. Eph. 2—3).

C.     The mission of Saul 9:1-31

Luke next focused our attention on a key figure in the spread of the Christian mission and on significant events in the development of that mission to the Gentiles. Peter's evangelization of Cornelius (ch. 10) will continue to advance this theme. Luke has given us three portraits of significant individuals in the evangelization of Gentiles: Stephen, Philip, and now, climactically, Saul. He stressed that Saul's conversion and calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles came supernaturally and directly from God, and Saul himself played a passive role in these events. Saul (Paul) retold the story of his conversion and calling twice, in Acts 22 and 26, and a third time in Galatians 1. Its importance in Acts is clear from its repetition.[549]

"It cannot be stressed enough that these accounts are summaries and Luke has written them up in his own style and way."[550]

Saul became God's primary instrument in taking the gospel to the Gentile world.

1.     Saul's conversion and calling 9:1-19a

Luke recorded the conversion and calling of Saul of Tarsus in order to demonstrate the supernatural power and sovereign direction of God. Saul's conversion was one of the most miraculous and significant instances of repentance that took place during the early expansion of the church. His calling to be God's main missionary to the Gentiles was equally dramatic.

"The conversion of Saul was like the call of a second Abraham."[551]

Saul's conversion on the Damascus road 9:1-9

"Without question, the story of Saul's 'conversion' is one of the most important events, if not the most important event, that Luke records in Acts."[552]

"In this passage we have the most famous conversion story in all history."[553]

"The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch was in a chariot; the conversion of Saul of Tarsus was down in the dust."[554]

9:1-2          Since Stephen's martyrdom (cf. 8:3), "Saul" had been persecuting Jews who had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.[555]

"The partitive genitive of apeiles ["threats"] and phonou ["murder"] means that threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a warhorse who sniffed the smell of battle. He breathed on the remaining disciples the murder that he had already breathed in from the death of the others. He exhaled what he inhaled."[556]

The Jewish high priest's Roman overseers gave "the high priest" authority to punish Jews who were strictly religious offenders and had fled outside the Sanhedrin's jurisdiction.[557] Saul obtained "letters" from the high priest, who was probably either Annas or Caiaphas (cf. 4:6), giving Saul the legal authority to arrest Jesus' Jewish disciples from Palestine who had fled to "Damascus" because of persecution in Jerusalem. This "grand inquisitor" undoubtedly believed that he was following in the train of other zealous Israelites who had purged idolatry from Israel (e.g., Moses in Num. 25:1-5; Phinehas in Num. 25:6-15; Elijah in 1 Kings 18; and Mattathias in 1 Macc. 2:23-28, 42-48).

"Saul never forgave himself for that. God forgave him; the Christians forgave him; but he never forgave himself … 1 Cor. 15:9[;] Gal. 1:13."[558]

The King of the Nabateans, who governed Damascus at this time, cooperated with Saul. He was Aretas IV (9 B.C.-A.D. 40).[559] Damascus stood about 135 miles to the north-northeast of Jerusalem, about a week’s journey. It was within the Roman province of Syria and was one of the towns of the Decapolis, a league of 10 self-governing cities. "The Way" was one of the earliest designations of Christianity (cf. 18:24-25; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), and it appears only in Acts. It meant the path characterized by life and salvation. This title may go back to Jesus' teaching that He was "the way," and that His way of salvation was a "narrow way" (John 14:6; Matt. 7:14).

9:3-4          Other passages throw more light on the details of Saul's blinding vision. It took place about midday, when the sun would usually have been shining its brightest (22:6; 26:13). What blinded Saul was not the sun, however, but a revelation of Jesus Christ (vv. 17, 27; 22:14; 26:16; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). He now saw the same Person that Stephen had seen while Saul witnessed Stephen dying (7:55). Jesus spoke to Saul from heaven, addressing him by his Jewish name and in the language of the Jews (cf. 26:14). After riveting his attention, Jesus asked Saul why he was "persecuting" Him—not His followers, but Himself. Saul would have understood the "voice" as God's, since in rabbinism a voice from heaven always connoted a rebuke or instruction from God.[560]

"Therefore when the voice went on to ask the question 'Why do you persecute me?' Saul was without doubt thoroughly confused. He was not persecuting God! Rather, he was defending God and his laws!"[561]

Jesus' question made Saul begin to appreciate the intimate union that Christians enjoy with Jesus, the Head of the body, the church. He was in His disciples, not just with them or ruling over them, by His Spirit (cf. John 14:17). What they suffered He suffered.

9:5-6          In what sense did Saul address Jesus as "Lord" (Gr. kyrios)? It seems from Saul's reaction to this vision, and his later descriptions of it, that he believed that the Person addressing him was God. "Lord" therefore seems to be more than a respectful "Sir." Yet God was Saul's master already, even before he became a Christian. So he probably addressed the voice as his personal master as well as God. The identity of the "voice" was not completely clear to Saul. When Stephen had a similar vision he recognized Jesus (7:55-56), but Saul did not recognize Him. This may imply that Saul had never seen Jesus during His earthly ministry. Or perhaps he asked "Who are You?" because, even though he believed that God was speaking to him, he had never heard a voice from heaven before.

Jesus' self-revelation totally shocked Saul, who until then had regarded Jesus as a blasphemous pretender to Israel's messianic throne. Saul now discovered that Jesus was God, or at least was with God in heaven, yet He was in some sense also present in His followers whom Saul was "persecuting." Jesus again referred to Saul's persecution of Himself, a doubly convicting reminder of Saul's incorrect theology and sinful conduct. Jesus did not condemn him but graciously commanded him to "enter" Damascus and to wait for further directions from Himself. Saul now learned that Jesus had a mission for him, although he did not know what or how extensive it would be.

9:7-9          Evidently Saul's traveling companions heard the voice-like sound, but only Saul understood Jesus' words (cf. v. 7; 22:9; 26:14; cf. John 12:29). They all fell to the ground when they saw the light (26:14), but now they stood speechless. The intense light of the vision that Saul had just seen blinded him temporarily. His companions had to lead him off into Damascus where he waited "three days" for further instructions: blind, fasting, and praying (cf. 1:14; Luke 1:22).[562]

"He who had intended to enter Damascus like an avenging fury was led by the hand into that city, blind and helpless as a child."[563]

"'He who would strike others was himself struck, and the proud Pharisee became a deeply humbled penitent—a guide of the blind' he was himself to be guided by others (Felten)."[564]

"In the light of Paul's subsequent career, his single-minded devotion to Christ, his tireless efforts to bring Jews and Gentiles alike face to face with the same Lord as he had encountered on the Damascus road, his remorse for his vindictive cruelty, his atonement for it in selfless service of the Church he had tried to crush, it is frivolous to attempt to explain away Paul's conversion as a hallucination, an attack of sunstroke, or an epileptic fit [as some Bible critics have tried to do]. It was as is every genuine conversion experience a miracle of the grace of God."[565]

Having been a persecutor of Christians, Saul became a proclaimer of Christ. Having obtained a commission from the Jewish high priest, he received a new commission from the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Having received letters from the high priest to destroy Christians, he wrote letters to edify and exhort Christians. Having unwittingly done what his teacher Gamaliel had warned against, namely fighting against God, he fought for God.

Saul's calling from the Lord 9:10-19a

9:10-12      Evidently "Ananias" was not a refugee from Jerusalem (22:12) but a resident of "Damascus." He, too, received "a vision" of the Lord Jesus (v. 17), to whom he submitted willingly (cf. 1 Sam. 3:4, 10). Jesus gave Ananias specific directions to another man's house in Damascus where he would find "Saul." "Straight" Street is still one of the main thoroughfares that runs through Damascus east and west.

Saul had been preying on Christians, but now he was "praying" to Christ. Saul, like most Pharisees, was a man of prayer, and he continued to give prayer priority after his conversion (cf. 16:25; 20:36; 22:17). Luke recorded that Jesus was also a man of prayer (Luke 3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:41). The Lord sovereignly prepared both Ananias and Saul with revelations of Himself so that when He brought them together they would have no doubt about His personal dealings with them (cf. Peter and Cornelius in 10:1-23).

"The point of all the visions and the miracle is to make clear that God is in control of and directing all these events so that Saul will undertake certain tasks God has in mind."[566]

9:13-14      "Ananias" wanted to make sure that he had "heard" the Lord correctly, since Saul had become infamous for harming believers in Jesus. He had heard of Saul's reason for visiting Damascus and his new "authority … to arrest" and to extradite, which he had received from "the chief priests." Ananias referred to the believers in Jerusalem as "saints" (set apart ones), which is the equivalent of those who "call on" the Lord's "name." This is the first time that Luke used the name "saints" for Christians in Acts (cf. vv. 32, 41; 26:10).

"The Lord's work is revealed through events that overthrow human expectations. Humans calculate the future on the basis of their normal experience. These calculations leave them unprepared for the appearance of the Overruler, who negates human plans and works the unexpected. This is a problem not only for the rejectors of Jesus but also for the church, which, as our narrative indicates, is led by the Lord into situations beyond its fathoming. The narrator's sharp sense of God (and the exalted Messiah) as one who surprises appears again in this episode, and the reaction of Ananias (and in 9:26 the Jerusalem disciples) shows that the church, too, has difficulty keeping up with such a God."[567]

9:15-16      God revealed to Ananias His purpose for Saul in order to bolster Ananias' courage. The inquisitor (Saul) was to become Jesus' "chosen instrument" (Paul), and the proud Pharisee would become His apostle to "Gentiles and kings." The "poster boy" of Judaism became a persecuted Christian. "To bear my name" means to bear witness of Jesus. In the Greek text of verse 16, "I" is emphatic. Jesus Himself would "show" Saul "how much he must suffer in behalf of" Jesus' "name." Saul was now a friend of Ananias and no longer his enemy, so Ananias did not need to fear going to Saul.

"In highlighting these features of being a 'chosen instrument,' sent to 'the Gentiles,' and to 'suffer for my name,' Luke has, in effect, given a theological précis [summary] of all he will portray historically in chapters 13—28—a précis that also summarizes the self-consciousness of Paul himself as reflected in his own letters."[568]

9:17           "Ananias" communicated his Christian love for his new Christian brother with a touch ("laying his hands on him") and a loving word of greeting ("Brother Saul"). He then explained his double purpose for coming to Saul: It was to restore his sight as well as to enable Saul to experience the filling of "the Holy Spirit." Ananias' purpose was not to commission Saul. Saul's commission came directly from the Lord, though Ananias announced it (22:14-16).

"The choice of Ananias for this task made it clear that Saul of Tarsus was not dependent upon the Twelve, and also that an apostle was not required for bestowing the Spirit (as might have been concluded from the case in Samaria)."[569]

The Holy Spirit "filled" Saul as he responded to God's Word appropriately. We may infer that Saul's conversion happened on the Damascus road and that he received the baptism of the Spirit at the same time.[570] Notice again the importance of being "filled with [under the control of] the Holy Spirit." This is the first time that Luke wrote about the Spirit coming on someone outside of the land of Israel.

9:18-19a    God then restored Saul's sight. The impression given in the text is that the first thing that he did was to identify with Christ and His disciples by being "baptized" in water (cf. 8:12, 38). He did this even before breaking his fast of three days (cf. v. 9). Then he ate and received strength physically.

Saul later wrote that immediately following his conversion he did not consult with others about the Scriptures but went into Arabia—and later returned to Damascus (Gal. 1:15-17). "Arabia" describes the kingdom of the Nabateans that stretched south and east from Damascus beyond Petra. Damascus was in the northwest sector of Arabia. After Saul's conversion and baptism, he needed some time and space for quiet reflection and communion with God. He had to rethink the Scriptures, receive new understanding from the Lord, and revise his Pharisaic theology. So, like Moses, Elijah, and Jesus before him, he retired into the wilderness. These were Saul's "Arabian nights."[571]


2.     Saul's initial conflicts 9:19b-30

The changes that took place in Saul were important because of his subsequent activity. Luke wrote this pericope in order to note those changes so his readers would understand why Saul acted as he did afterward. Luke stressed the genuineness of Saul's conversion by showing next the radical change that it made in him.

Saul's preaching in Damascus 9:19b-22

9:19b-20    How verses 19b-20 fit into the chronology of events in Saul's life is not perfectly clear. They could fit in any number of ways. We should probably understand "immediately" (v. 20) in a general sense. As soon as Saul became a Christian he began to proclaim that "Jesus" was "the Son of God" when he attended synagogue worship, which he did regularly (cf. 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8). This proclamation was the result and evidence of his being filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 17) as well as the result of his conversion.

This is the only mention in Acts of someone proclaiming "Jesus" as "the Son of God" (but cf. 13:33). This fact reflects the clear understanding of Jesus that Saul had, even shortly after his conversion. As used in the Old Testament, the title "Son of God" referred to Israel (Exod. 4:22; Hos. 11:1), Israel's anointed king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:26), and Messiah (Ps. 2:7). Saul recognized that Jesus was the Son of God predicted in the Old Testament. He used this title of Jesus frequently in his epistles (Rom. 1:3-4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor. 1:9; 15:28; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 1:16; 2:20; 4:4, 6; 1 Thess. 1:10).

9:21-22      Saul's unexpected and surprising conduct understandably "amazed" the "Jews who lived in Damascus." Instead of "destroying" the Christians, he was proving that "Jesus is the Christ," the Son of God. This is what people then needed and now need to believe in order to obtain salvation (cf. 1 John 5:1). Saul had made a 180-degree change in his thinking and in his conduct. He had truly repented. Saul's understanding and commitment kept growing as he continually sought to convince the Damascus Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. Perhaps Saul's time in Arabia occurred between verses 21 and 22 or between verses 22 and 23.

Saul's escape from Damascus 9:23-25

Luke included this incident in order to prove the genuineness of Saul's conversion. He who had been persecuting to the death believers in Jesus had now become the target of deadly persecution because of his changed understanding of Jesus and its consequences.

9:23-24a    It is hard to determine how "many days had elapsed," but evidently Saul remained in Damascus several months. F. F. Bruce dated his return to Jerusalem about A.D. 35 and his conversion in 33.[572] This would mean that Saul was converted just a few months after Jesus' ascension to heaven.[573] I think it is more probable that Saul became a Christian a little later, perhaps in A.D. 34, and returned to Jerusalem in A.D. 37. Regardless of the dates, we know that he finally left Damascus for Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18).

"No one persecutes a man who is ineffective and who obviously does not matter. George Bernard Shaw once said that the biggest compliment you can pay an author is to burn his books. Someone has said, 'A wolf will never attack a painted sheep [a picture of a sheep].' Counterfeit Christianity is always safe. Real Christianity is always in peril. To suffer persecution is to be paid the greatest of compliments because it is the certain proof that men think we really matter."[574]

9:24b-25    It would have been natural for Saul's enemies to be watching "the gates" of Damascus "day and night," since he would have had to pass out of one of them to leave the city under normal circumstances. The word "disciples" everywhere but here in Acts refers to followers of Jesus. Here it describes followers of Saul, perhaps to indicate that his preaching had resulted in some people coming to faith in Christ. Or "his disciples" my have just been sympathetic fellow believers who decided to assist him. Perhaps it was one of these disciples who owned the house on "the wall" from which Saul escaped from the city.

Paul described his escape from Damascus in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, and it is there that we learn that someone lowered him in a basket from a house that was built on the city wall ("through a window in the wall"). The fact that Paul did not minimize this undignified exit in his writings says a lot for his humility and the transformation that God had produced in this once self-righteous Pharisee. The local Jews arranged this attempt on his life and their Nabatean governor supported them.

"Saul's plans for persecuting Christians in Damascus took a strange turn; he had entered the city blind and left in a basket! Ironically he became the object of persecution."[575]

Also, ironically, those Christians whom Paul had come to Damascus to kill actually saved his life.

Saul's reception in Jerusalem 9:26-30

Luke concluded each of his narratives of the Samaritans' conversion (8:4-25), Saul's conversion (9:1-31), and Cornelius' conversion (10:1—11:18) with references to the mother church in Jerusalem. He evidently wanted to stress the fact that all these significant advances were part of one great plan that God orchestrated and were not just independent occurrences (cf. Matt. 16:18; Acts 1:8).

9:26           Perhaps the fact that Saul had not sought out the apostles and other Christians in Jerusalem for three years following his conversion made the believers there suspicious of him (cf. Gal. 1:18). They had not met him personally, and since they were being persecuted, they may have wondered if Saul had only pretended to become a Christian in order to persecute them. Saul had been well known as a persecutor of Christians, especially in "Jerusalem," before his conversion (cf. vv. 1-2).

9:27           "Barnabas" willingly reached out to the new convert in Jerusalem, like Ananias had done in Damascus. His behavior here is consistent with what we read of him elsewhere in Acts (cf. 4:36-37; 11:22-30; 13:1—14:28; 15:2-4, 12, 22). Barnabas proved to be a true "Son of Encouragement" (4:36) for Saul.

"First, the Church owed Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Then the Church owed Paul to the forgiving spirit of Ananias. And now we see that the Church owed Paul to the large-hearted charity of Barnabas. … The world is largely divided into people who think the best of others and people who think the worst of others; and it is one of the curious facts of life that ordinarily we see our own reflection in others, and we make them what we believe them to be."[576]

"The apostles" whom Saul met were Peter and James, the Lord's half-brother (Gal. 1:17-19). Paul wrote later that he stayed with Peter for 15 days (Gal. 1:15), but he may have been in Jerusalem somewhat longer at this time. James was an apostle in the general sense of that term. He was not one of the Twelve.[577]

Barnabas pointed out three indications that Saul's conversion was genuine for the benefit of the Christian skeptics: Saul had "seen the Lord," the Lord ("He') "had talked to him," and "he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus at Damascus." Imagine how difficult it must have been for those Christians who had relatives whom Saul had persecuted to sit down with him in church meetings and share the Lord's Supper.

9:28-29      While Saul was in Jerusalem he resumed Stephen's work of debating "the Hellenistic Jews." He was himself a Hellenist, as Stephen apparently was, having been born and reared in Tarsus. Paul described himself as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5; cf. 2 Cor. 11:22) by which he meant that his training in Jerusalem and his sympathies were more in line with the Hebrews than with the Hellenists. At first he enjoyed freedom in the city, but soon the unbelieving Jews tried "to put him to death."

9:30           Evidently Saul continued evangelizing in Jerusalem until it became obvious to the other believers that he must leave immediately or suffer death, as Stephen had. They probably envisioned a recurrence of the persecution of the disciples that followed Stephen's martyrdom. Saul's concerned Christian brethren traveled with him "to Caesarea." We do not know how long he stayed there, but Luke's account gives the impression that it was not long. Saul then departed, apparently by ship, "to Tarsus" in Cilicia, which was his hometown (21:39; Gal. 1:21).[578]  He may have gone there to tell his family and others about Jesus. Saul traveled about 690 miles in these trips: from Jerusalem to Damascus, back to Jerusalem, then to Caesarea, and home to Tarsus, excluding his trip into Arabia, which cannot be calculated (cf. Gal. 1:17-19).[579]

In 22:17-21 Saul later testified that during this first visit to Jerusalem as a believer he had received a vision of Jesus telling him to leave Jerusalem because God wanted to use him to evangelize the Gentiles. Thus his departure from Jerusalem was willing rather than forced.

Saul remained in the province of Cilicia until Barnabas tracked him down and brought him to Syrian Antioch (11:19-26). This happened some six years later. We have no record of Saul's activities during this period (probably A.D. 37-43), except that many of his experiences that he described in 2 Corinthians 11:24 through 27, and 12:1 through 9, seem to fit into these silent years. If they do, we know that Saul was active in ministry gaining experience that fitted him for what we read that he did later in Acts on his missionary journeys.

There are some interesting similarities between the beginning of Saul's ministry and the beginning of Jesus' ministry (cf. 9:20-35 and Luke 4:16-30): Both men began their ministries by entering a synagogue and delivering a salvation message. The audiences in both cases reacted with shock and astonishment. In Jesus' case, the audience asked if He was not the son of Joseph, and in Saul's case, the audience asked if he was not the violent persecutor of Christians. Then both men escaped a violent response to their messages.[580]

3.     The church at peace 9:31

Notice that the word "church" is in the singular here. This is probably a reference to the Christians throughout the land of Israel—in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria—not just in one local congregation but in the whole body of Christ. Saul's departure from Israel brought greater "peace" to the churches in these regions. He was an extremely controversial figure among the Jews because of his conversion. Another reason for the lessening of persecution of Christians at this time was the Roman Emperor's antagonism against the Jews.[581] Peaceful conditions are conducive to effective evangelism and church growth (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-4). The church continued to experience four things during this period of "peace": inward strengthening ("it was being built up"), a proper attitude and relationship to God, in contrast to Judaism ("it continued in the fear of the Lord"), "the comfort" (encouragement, Gr. paraklesis) provided by "the Holy Spirit," and numerical growth ("it kept increasing").

Besides this verse, there are few references to "Galilee" in Acts (cf. 10:37; 13:31). This has led some commentators to speculate that Galilee had been evangelized during Jesus' ministry and was by this time fully Christian. The evidence from church history, however, indicates that there were few Christians in Galilee at this time and in later years.[582]

This verse is Luke's third major progress report on the state of the church (cf. 2:47; 6:7; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). It closes this section dealing with the church's expansion in Judea and Samaria (6:8—9:31). The Lord had first added about 3,000 new believers to the core group of disciples (2:41). Then He added more who became Christians day by day (2:47). Shortly after that He added multitudes of new believers (5:14). Then we read that the number of disciples increased greatly (6:7). Now we read that the church kept increasing.

"When the Spirit of God has His way in the hearts and lives of believers, then unsaved people are going to be reached and won for Christ."[583]


Luke next recorded the church's expansion beyond the land of Israel to the uttermost parts of the earth (1:8). The Ethiopian eunuch took the gospel to Africa, but he became a Christian in Judea. Now we begin to read of people becoming Christians in places farther from Jerusalem and Judea.

A.     The extension of the church to Syrian Antioch 9:32—12:24

As Jerusalem had been the Jewish center for the evangelization of Jews, Antioch of Syria became the Hellenistic center for Gentile evangelization in Asia Minor and what we now call Europe. The gospel spread increasingly to Gentiles, which Luke emphasized in this section of Acts. He recorded three episodes: Peter's ministry in the maritime plain of Canaan (9:32-43), the conversion of Cornelius and his friends in Caesarea (10:1—11:18), and the founding of the Antioch church (11:19-30). Luke then looked back to Jerusalem again to update us on what was happening there (12:1-23). He concluded this section with another summary statement of the church's growth (12:24).

1.     Peter's ministry in Lydda and Joppa 9:32-43

Luke now returned to Peter's continuing ministry in Judea. Luke apparently recorded the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Tabitha in order to show that the gospel was being preached effectively in a region of Canaan that both Jews and Gentiles occupied. Peter, the apostle to the Jews, was responsible for its advancing farther into Gentile territory. Luke thereby helped his readers to see the equality of Gentiles and Jews in the church as it continued to expand (cf. Eph. 2:11—3:12).

The healing of Aeneas at Lydda 9:32-35

Peter continued his itinerant ministry around the land of Israel (cf. 8:25).

9:32           "Lydda" (modern Lod, the site of Israel's international airport) lay on the Mediterranean coastal plain about 10 miles from the sea. It was about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It stood at the junction of the roads from Joppa to Jerusalem and the highway from Egypt to Syria.[584] There were already "saints" (believers in Jesus) there (cf. vv. 13, 41).

9:33           Peter healed another lame man in Lydda (cf. 3:6-8; Luke 5:17-26).[585] "Aeneas" is a Greek name. He was probably a Hellenistic Jew. We do not know if he was a Christian. The fact that Luke called him "a man," but referred to Tabitha as "a disciple" (v. 36), may imply that he was not a believer. Aeneas "had been bedridden for eight years, because he was paralyzed."

9:34           Peter announced that the healing was Jesus Christ's work (cf. 1:1; 3:6). Jesus had told a paralytic in Capernaum to take up his stretcher and go home (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:11; Luke 5:24). He later told another paralytic who lay at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem to pick up his pallet and walk (John 5:8). The Greek clause stroson seauto ("make your own bed") literally means "spread for yourself" and can refer to making a bed or preparing a table. The power of Jesus was still at work through Peter. The formerly paralyzed man arose "immediately." Later Paul healed Publius' father, who was also sick in bed (28:8).

"I think every one of the different diseases mentioned in Scripture was intended by God to illustrate in some way the effects of sin."[586]

9:35           "Sharon" was the name of the section of maritime plain that stretched from Joppa to Mt. Carmel. Lydda was near its southeastern edge, and Caesarea was at its center on the Mediterranean coast. As with the healing of the lame beggar in the temple, and Jesus' healings of the paralytics at Capernaum and Jerusalem, the healing of Aeneas resulted in many people hearing the gospel and believing in Jesus ("all who lived at Lydda and Sharon … turned to the Lord").

One of the reasons that Luke included this healing in his book seems to have been because the results of this healing affected all the people living in this area of Israel. One of these people was the Gentile Cornelius, who will figure significantly in the next chapter.

The raising of Tabitha at Joppa 9:36-43

9:36           The site of "Joppa" (modern Yafo, a suburb of Tel Aviv) was on the Mediterranean coast 10 miles west and a little north of Lydda. It was the ancient seaport for Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 2:16; Jon. 1:3). "Tabitha" (lit. Gazelle) was a Jewish Christian, and she was a "disciple" (Gr. mathetria). This is the only place in the New Testament where the feminine form of the Greek word translated "disciple" appears. Tabitha was her Aramaic name, whereas "Dorcas" was her Greek name. She had a marvelous reputation for helping people in her community—because she had a servant's heart.

9:37-38      When she "died," the believers sent word to Peter in nearby Joppa asking him to come. Apparently they expected him to raise her back to life, just as Jesus had done, since they "washed her body," and "laid it in an upstairs room."

9:39           Luke told this story with much interesting detail. Peter accompanied the "two men" who had come to Lydda for him back to Joppa (cf. 10:7, 23). "The widows" were evidently wearing the clothing that Tabitha had made for them. The middle voice of the Greek verb translated "showing" suggests this. She had made these clothes for the poor widows. This was evidently her ministry.

"She had the gift of sewing. Do you mean to tell me that sewing is a gift of the Holy Spirit? Yes, it was for this woman. May I suggest seeking a gift that is practical?"[587]

9:40-41      Peter's procedure here was almost identical to Jesus' when He raised Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:41; Luke 8:51-56). Peter's praying shows that he was relying on Jesus for his power, just as his previous announcement, "Jesus Christ heals you," had showed that attitude when he healed Aeneas (v. 34). There is only one letter difference in what Peter said (Tabitha qumi) and what Jesus had said (Talitha qumi, lit. "Little girl, I say to you, get up"). This miracle is yet another evidence of Jesus' working powerfully through His witnesses in word and deed (1:1-2; cf. John 14:12). Tannehill pointed out many similarities between this story and the stories of Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus raising dead people.[588] Jesus had given the Twelve the power to raise the dead (Matt. 10:8).

9:42           Many people "all over Joppa" became believers because of the news of this miracle. The phrase "believed in the Lord" is similar to "turned to the Lord" (v. 35; cf. 11:21; 15:19). It is another way of saying that they became Christians, and both phrases emphasize that the Person they believed in was the Lord Jesus. Notice that "turned" is equated with "believed," and that Luke mentioned no other condition for salvation.

9:43           This verse provides a geographical and thematic transition to the account of Peter's visit to Cornelius (10:1—11:18). Evidently Peter "stayed in Joppa" for quite some time ("many days") in order to confirm these new converts and to help the church in that town. His willingness to stay with "a tanner" shows that Peter was more broad-minded in his fellowship than many other Jews. Many Jews thought that tanners practiced an unclean trade because they worked with the skins of dead animals. So they would have nothing to do with them. However Peter was about to receive a challenge to his convictions, similar to the one that Saul had received on the Damascus road.

Note how God used the invitation of the people of Joppa to bring Peter there. God often uses what initially appear to be incidental occurrences to open up great ministries. Luke illustrated this divine method repeatedly in Acts.

"It was important to demonstrate that Peter was in the full stream of his usefulness, and the agent of miracles curiously like those performed by his Master (Mt. ix. 23-26; Mk. v. 38-43; Jn. v. 6-9), when the call came to him to baptize a Gentile."[589]

2.     The conversion of Cornelius 10:1—11:18

Many people consider healing a lame person a great miracle, and raising a dead person back to life an even greater one. But the spiritual salvation of a lost sinner is greater than both of them. The Lord performed the first two miracles through Peter (9:32-35, 36-43), and now He performed the third through him (ch. 10).

"In a sense this scene is the book's turning point, as from here the gospel will fan out in all directions to people across a vast array of geographical regions, something Paul's three missionary journeys will underscore."[590]

The episode concerning Cornelius is obviously very important, since there are three lengthy references to it in Acts (chs. 10, 11, and 15). It deals with an important issue concerning the mission that the Lord gave His disciples. That issue is how the Christians should carry out that mission in view of the obstacle of Gentile "uncleanness." Gentiles were ritually unclean and communicated ritual uncleanness to Jews, according to the Mosaic Law, mainly because they did not observe Jewish dietary distinctions (Lev. 11). This obstacle kept Jews and Gentiles separate in society.

Luke stressed four things in this conversion story particularly: First, the Christians initially resisted the ideas of evangelizing Gentiles, and of accepting them into the church apart from any relationship to Judaism (10:14, 28; 11:2-3, 8). Second, God Himself led the way in Gentile evangelism and acceptance, and He showed His approval  of Gentiles (10:3, 11-16, 19-20, 22b, 30-33, 44-46; 11:5-10, 13, 15-17). Third, it was Peter, the leader of the Jerusalem apostles, whom God used to open the door of the church to Gentiles, rather than Paul (10:23, 34-43, 47-48; 11:15-17). Fourth, the Jerusalem church accepted the conversion of Gentiles, apart from their associating with Judaism, because God had validated this in Cornelius' case (11:18).[591]

"Although Paul is the primary agent in the mission to the Gentiles, Luke wishes to make it plain, not only that Peter was in full sympathy with his position, but that, as head of the Church, Peter was the first to give its official blessing to the admission of Gentiles as full and equal members of the New Israel [i.e., the church] by his action in the case of a Roman centurion and his friends …"[592]

Cornelius' vision 10:1-8

10:1           "Caesarea" stood on the Mediterranean coast about 30 miles north of Joppa. Formerly its name was Strato's Tower.[593] Strato was a former king of Sidon (370-358 B.C.).[594] Herod the Great had built this town into a major seaport and renamed it in honor of Augustus Caesar, who was his patron and the adopted heir of Julius Caesar.[595] "Sabaste" is the Greek equivalent of the Latin "Augustus." Herod the Great had modernized the city, made it the provincial capital of Judea and built its magnificent harbor. The Roman governor (prefect) of Judea, Pontius Pilate, lived there. It was at that time the major Roman seaport for the land of Israel and its most important center of Roman government and military activity.[596]

"Cornelius" was a common Roman name.[597] A "centurion" was a non-commissioned officers of the Roman army who commanded 100 soldiers and had about the same level of authority as a captain in the United States army. A "cohort" contained 600 soldiers, and Cornelius' "Italian cohort" had connections with Italy.[598] Every reference to centurions in the New Testament is positive (Matt. 8:5-10; 27:54; Mark 15:44-45; Acts 22:25-26; 23:17-18; 27:6, 43). These men were "the backbone of the Roman army."[599] Cornelius was similar to the centurion of Luke 7:1-10 (see especially Luke 7:5).

"The legion was the regiment [cf. an American division] of the Roman army, and it consisted nominally of 6000 men. Each legion was divided into ten cohorts [Amer. battalions], and again each cohort contained six centuries or 'hundreds' of men [Amer. companies]. The officer in command of a cohort was called a tribune or in the Greek chiliarch: Such was Claudius Lysias of xxi 31 and xxiii 26. A century was under a centurion or kekatontarch."[600]

Cornelius represents a new type of person to whom the gospel had not gone before, as recorded in Acts. The Ethiopian eunuch was evidently a Gentile, but the Jews viewed his occupation favorably. There was nothing about his occupation that would have repulsed the Jews. However Cornelius, in addition to being a Gentile, was a member of Israel's occupying army. The Jews would have avoided him because of his occupation, even though he possessed an admirable character and was friendly to the Jews.

It is interesting to note that the first Gentile whom Jesus dealt with during His ministry was a Roman centurion and that he, too, believed in Jesus. In response to that man's faith Jesus announced that many would come from among the Gentiles to join Jews in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11).

10:2           Cornelius lived a moral life because he "feared God," as did all the other members of "his household." His generosity ("charitable contributions") to the "people" (Gr. to lao, i.e., to the Jews), and his continual prayers (Gr. deomai, lit. "begging"), were further evidences of his respect for Israel's God. His relations with God and people were admirable (cf. Matt. 22:37-39). Cornelius had not become a full Jewish proselyte (11:3), but he did pray to the Jews' "God."

The Jews called full Gentile proselytes who had undergone circumcision "proselytes of righteousness." They referred to Gentiles who adhered to Judaism to a lesser extent, without submitting to circumcision, "proselytes of the gate." Luke called these latter people "God-fearers." Cornelius may have been one of the latter proselytes or God-fearers, and the Ethiopian eunuch may have been another one (cf. 8:27). This type of Gentile constituted fertile soil for the gospel seed (cf. 8:26-40). It was mainly such God-fearing Gentiles who responded to Paul's ministry positively.

Scholars debate the existence of the God-fearers as a distinct group.[601] But the scriptural evidence points to their existence (cf. Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26, 43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7), and this has been the opinion of the majority of scholars over the years.

Some students of Acts have contended that Cornelius was a believer (i.e., an Old Testament saint) before he sent for Peter.[602] Some scholars argue that Cornelius was righteous before he heard Peter's gospel message, so it is unnecessary for people to hear the gospel in order to be saved.[603] It seems to many others, and to me, that in view of what we read in this chapter and the next, Cornelius was not truly saved until verse 44 (cf. 11:14).

10:3-4        "The ninth hour" (3:00 p.m.) was the Jewish hour of prayer (cf. 3:1).[604] So Cornelius may have been praying when he saw his vision. For a second time in Acts God would prepare two people to get together by giving each of them a vision (Cornelius and Peter; cf. Saul and Ananias). Cornelius saw "an angel," not Jesus (vv. 7, 22, 30; 11: 13; cf. 1:20). "Lord" here is a respectful address such as "Sir," but the centurion undoubtedly felt great awe when he saw this supernatural person (cf. v. 30). Cornelius was not calling the angel his Savior or his Sovereign when he addressed him as "lord." God had noted Cornelius' piety (his "prayers," proseuchai, and his "charitable gifts," cf. v. 2) and was now going to give him more revelation.

"Luke is suggesting that the prayers and the alms of this Gentile were accepted by God in lieu of the sacrifices which he was not allowed to enter the Temple to offer himself. In other words, God had acted to break down barriers between Jew and Gentile by treating the prayers and alms of a Gentile as equivalent to the sacrifice of a Jew."[605]

Modern missionaries have told stories of similar seekers after God. After the missionaries had penetrated some remote tribe and had preached the gospel, the natives explained how they had previously worshipped the same God the missionaries preached, and they had prayed for more light. Romans 3:11 means that no one seeks God unless God draws him or her to Himself, which is what God did with Cornelius.

10:5-6        God told Cornelius to dispatch some men to Joppa to send for "Simon, who is also called Peter," who was staying there with another "Simon," the "tanner" (cf. 9:43). Tanners used quite a bit of water in practicing their trade, and this may be the reason that this Simon lived "by the [Mediterranean] Sea."

10:7-8        Cornelius "immediately" (v. 33) sent "two of his servants," probably to assist Peter, plus a spiritually "devout" military aide ("soldier") to ask Peter to come to him. These servants appear to have been God-fearing individuals and members of Cornelius' household (cf. v. 2) who were in sympathy with their master's purpose. Earlier a centurion had similarly sent his friends to entreat Jesus to heal his sick servant (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).

Peter's vision 10:9-16

"Though Peter was not by training or inclination an overly scrupulous Jew, and though as a Christian his inherited prejudices were gradually wearing thin, he was not prepared to go so far as to minister directly to Gentiles. A special revelation was necessary for that, and Luke now tells how God took the initiative in overcoming Peter's reluctance."[606]

The original Greek, Roman, and Jewish readers of Acts all put much stock in dreams, visions, and oracles. They believed that they came from the gods, or from the one true God in the case of Jews. So it is not surprising that Luke put much emphasis on these events in his conversion stories of Saul and Cornelius. This would have put the divine sanction for Christianity beyond dispute in the original readers' minds.[607]

10:9-10      Most Jews prayed twice a day, but pious Jews also prayed at noon ("the sixth hour"), which was a third time of prayer (Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10). However, Peter may have been praying more because of the recent success of the gospel in Joppa (cf. 9:42) than because praying at noon was his habit. The aorist tense of the Greek verb proseuchomai ("to pray") suggests that Peter may have been praying about something definite rather than just because it was the time to pray. This Greek word also sometimes refers to worship. He probably went up on the flat "housetop" for privacy and the fresh sea air. Luke's reference to Peter's hunger, which God evidently gave him, explains partially why God couched his vision in terms of food. Food was what was on Peter's mind. Peter was in a "trance" (Gr. ekstasis, half-conscious state, v. 10) and saw a "vision" (horama, vv. 17, 19; 11:5).

"… on weekdays Jews ate a light meal in mid-morning and a more substantial meal in the later afternoon."[608]

10:11-13    The sheet-like container, similar perhaps to an awning on the roof or a ship's sail, was full of all kinds of "animals": clean and unclean (cf. 11:6). The issue of unclean food was the basic one that separated observant Jews like Peter from Gentiles.

"Milk drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not been present to watch it, bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was wholly interdicted [prohibited]—the mere touch of a heathen polluted a whole cask; nay, even to put one's nose to heathen wine was strictly prohibited!"[609]

"… the point is that the Lord's command frees Peter from any scruples about going to a Gentile home and eating whatever might be set before him. It would be a short step from recognizing that Gentile food was clean to realizing that Gentiles themselves were 'clean' also."[610]

The Mosaic laws distinguishing between clean and unclean animals are in Leviticus 11. But as with many other Mosaic laws, the Jews had over time added more restrictions.

10:14         Peter protested against the Lord Jesus' command to "Get up … kill and eat!" strongly but politely ("By no means, Lord," Gr. Medamos, kurie), as Ezekiel had done when he received similar instructions from God (Ezek. 4:14). Peter may have remembered and recognized the "voice" as that of Jesus.[611] He had either not understood or not remembered Jesus' teaching in which He had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:14-19, cf. Rom. 14:14).

Peter's "By no means, Lord" is, of course, an inconsistent statement. Nevertheless Peter's response was very consistent with his impulsive personality and former conduct. He had said no to the Lord before (cf. Matt. 16:22; John 13:8). His reaction to this instruction reminds us of Peter's similar extreme reactions on other earlier occasions (e.g., John 13:8-9; 21:7). Saul's response to the voice from heaven on the Damascus Road, however, had not been negative (9:5-8).

"The cliché, 'If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all' is simply that—a cliché and not a biblical or theological truth. He can be Lord of aspects of my life while I withhold other areas of my life from His control. Peter illustrated that as clearly as anyone that day on the rooftop when the Lord asked him to kill and eat unclean animals. He said, 'By no means, Lord' (Acts 10:14). At that point was Christ Lord of all of Peter? Certainly not. Then must we conclude that He was not Lord at all in relation to Peter's life? I think not."[612]

Watch out for the teaching that Christians should observe the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law. This is a modern form of legalism. Some of what God forbade for Israel had nothing to do with guaranteeing good health (e.g., wearing mixed fiber clothing, not yoking an ox with a donkey, etc.).

Why did Peter object to eating unclean food since he had previously violated Jewish taboos about contact with dead bodies (cf. 9:43)? Evidently eating unclean food was much more serious in Peter's mind than contact with dead bodies.

10:15-16    Peter's Jewish cultural prejudices were overriding the Word of God in his thinking. For this reason God repeated the vision two more times, so that Peter would be sure he understood God's command correctly and so that he would realize how important the Lord's command was.

"The threefold repetition might also remind Peter of an interview on a familiar beach [cf. John 21:15-17]."[613]

"The message pervading the whole [of Peter's vision] … is that the disciples are to receive the Gentiles, not before cleansing, but after God has cleansed them as He will do later through the cleansing Gospel which Peter will share with them the next day."[614]

"The particular application had to do with nullifying Jewish dietary laws for Christians in accord with Jesus' remarks on the subject in Mark 7:17-23. But Peter was soon to learn that the range of the vision's message extended much more widely, touching directly on Jewish-Gentile relations as he had known them and on those relations in ways he could never have anticipated."[615]

I wonder if Peter remembered Jonah as he thought about the mission that God had given him of preaching to the Gentiles. God had also called that prophet to carry a message of salvation to the Gentiles, in Nineveh, but Jonah had fled from that very city, Joppa, in order to escape his calling. Now Peter found himself in the same position.

"Because Jonah disobeyed God, the Lord sent a storm that caused the Gentile sailors to fear. Because Peter obeyed the Lord, God sent the 'wind of the Spirit' to the Gentiles and they experienced great joy and peace."[616]

The invitation from Cornelius' messengers 10:17-23a

10:17-18    Peter did not understand what "the vision" that he had seen meant. While he pondered the subject, being "greatly perplexed in mind," Cornelius' messengers called out below, inquiring about Simon Peter's presence in the house.

"To stand and call is a very common and very respectful mode; and thus it was in Bible times, and to it there are many very interesting allusions [cf. Deut. 24:10; Acts 10:17-18; 12:13, 16]."[617]

10:19-20    Somehow the Holy "Spirit" convinced Peter that God wanted him to accompany the messengers to Cornelius' house.

"… it is both exegetically and experientially difficult, if not impossible, to draw any sharp lines between 'an angel of God [vv. 3, 22],' the Holy Spirit [v. 19], and the ascended Christ [vv. 4, 14]."[618]

We could also add "God" in the quotation above (v. 28; cf. 8:26, 29, 39; 16:6-7; Rom. 8:9-11; 2 Cor. 3:17-18).

"A God-fearer had no objection to the society of Jews, but even a moderately orthodox Jew would not willingly enter the dwelling of a Gentile, God-fearer though he were."[619]

Peter was to feel free to "accompany" Cornelius' messengers "without misgivings," since the centurion was not unclean. Quite possibly "while Peter was reflecting" (v. 19), he remembered Jesus' teaching in which He terminated the clean/unclean distinction (cf. v. 29; Mark 7:19).

10:21-22    Peter probably descended from the roof by using a stairway on the outside of the house, as was customary, and met the messengers outside the door where they had been standing. They described Cornelius as a "man well spoken of by the entire nation [Gr. ethnos] of the Jews," as well as "a righteous and God-fearing man" (cf. v. 2). They obviously wanted their description of their master to encourage Peter to accompany them back to Caesarea.

10:23a        After learning their intent, Peter "invited" the messengers inside and acted as their host. This was very unusual, since Jews normally did not provide hospitality for Gentiles. Peter had apparently already begun to understand the meaning of the vision that he had seen, and he immediately began to apply it in his relationship to these Gentiles.

"There may also be some intended irony here, since Peter had earlier protested his scrupulousness about food, all the while staying in the house of a man whose trade made him unclean!"[620]

Peter's visit to Cornelius 10:23b-33

10:23b-24  Peter wisely took six other Jewish Christians with him (11:12). A total of seven believers witnessed what took place in Cornelius' house. The trip from Caesarea to Joppa took part of two days (v. 30). Cornelius was so sure that Peter would come that, even before the apostle arrived, he gathered a group of "his relatives and close friends" to listen to him. Cornelius had an exemplary concern for the spiritual welfare of others even before he became a Christian (cf. v. 27). The text gives no reason to assume that Cornelius knew that Peter was the foremost apostle among the early Christians (cf. v. 5), though he may have known that.

10:25-26    Peter "entered" Cornelius' house, which was taboo for many Jews (cf. 9:43; 10:14). Cornelius met Peter just like, on another occasion, the Apostle John responded to God's angelic messenger: He "fell at his feet and worshipped him." Nevertheless Peter, like the angel, refused this veneration (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

"… Simon Peter would never have let you get down to kiss his big toe [as pilgrims to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome do to the statue of Peter there]. He just wouldn't permit it."[621]

Later, Paul and Barnabas received a similar reception from the citizens of Lystra, and they likewise refused worship (14:11-15).

10:27-29    It was taboo for Jews to associate with Gentiles or to visit them in their homes.[622] Gentiles did not observe the strict rules that Jews followed in eating, preparing, and even handling food, nor did they tithe or practice circumcision. Any physical contact with Gentiles laid a Jew open to becoming ceremonially unclean because of the Gentiles' failure to observe these Mosaic laws.

"It may be safely asserted, that the grand distinction, which divided all mankind into Jews and Gentiles, was not only religious, but also social."[623]

"There is nothing more binding on the average person than social custom."[624]

Food was the crux of the issue that separated the Jews from Gentiles. However, Peter had gotten the message of the sheet full of food: Food does not make a person unholy or unclean. Consequently he had come to Cornelius without further objection. Peter's explanation in these verses stressed the fact that God had convinced him to go against traditional Jewish custom, which was well-known among the Gentiles.

"If the food laws of the Jews no longer were valid, there was no real reason to avoid social contact with gentiles, for those distinctions lay at the heart of Jewish clannishness."[625]

"He [Peter] violates the first rule of homiletics [preaching] when he begins his message with an apology. What he says is not a friendly thing to say. In fact, it is an insult. … How would you feel, especially if you are a lady who is a housekeeper, if some visitor came into your home and his first words were, 'I am coming into your home, which I consider dirty'?"[626]

Nevertheless Peter quickly and humbly explained that he had been wrong about how he formerly felt about Gentiles (v. 29).

"… the Christian preacher or teacher must call no man common or unclean."[627]

10:30-33    Cornelius then related the vision that he had seen to Peter. The angel in Cornelius' vision (v. 2) had looked like "a man" dressed "in shining clothing" (v. 30). The vision that God had given him was a response to the centurion's "prayer" and "charitable gifts."

"… there are certain things that do count before God. These are things which can in no way merit salvation, but they are things which God notes. … Wherever there is a man who seeks after God as Cornelius did, that man is going to hear the gospel of the grace of God. God will see that he gets it."[628]

Cornelius had responded to God admirably by sending for Peter "immediately" (cf. Peter's "By no means, Lord," v. 14). Cornelius then invited Peter to tell him and his guests what God wanted him to say to them. What a prepared and receptive audience this was!

Luke stressed the significance of Cornelius' experience by repeating certain details (cf. 11:4-10). This is another example of his doublet style, which increases emphasis. Other examples are the repetition of Jesus' miracles by His followers, and the repetition of the same types of miracles that Peter performed by Paul.[629]

Peter's message to Cornelius 10:34-43

Peter's sermon on this occasion is the first sermon in Acts that was addressed to a Gentile audience (cf. 14:15-17; 17:22-31). It is quite similar to the ones that Peter preached in 2:14 through 40 and 3:11 through 26, except that this one has more information about Jesus' pre-crucifixion ministry. This emphasis was appropriate, since Peter was addressing Gentiles who, as a whole, would have known less about Jesus' ministry than the Jews did. Also this speech contains no quotations from the Old Testament, though there are many allusions to the Old Testament in it.

10:34         "Opening his mouth" is a phrase that typically introduces something very important (cf. 8:35; 18:14; Matt. 5:2; 13:35).

"… in Luke's eyes what Peter was about to say was indeed momentous in sweeping away centuries of racial prejudice."[630]

What Peter confessed that he now understood was something that God had revealed throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Amos 9:7; Mic. 6:8). But most Jews had not grasped it due to centuries of ill-founded pride. God had now clarified this revelation for Peter.

Since God is "not one to show partiality" (cf. Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19), certainly Christians should not do this either. Peter proceeded to prove that God deals with all people equally through His Son (cf. vv. 36, 38, 42, 43), not on the basis of their race (cf. John 10:16). Whenever we Christians practice racial discrimination, we need to reread Acts 10.

10:35         God requires faith in Jesus Christ for total acceptance (v. 43; cf. 11:17). However, anyone who "fears" God and "does what is right" in harmony with His will, as Cornelius did, meets with His initial acceptance.

10:36         All of this verse is a kind of caption for what Peter proceeded to announce to Cornelius and his guests. Its three main emphases are: first, that the message to follow was a presentation of revelation that God had sent to the Jews. Second, it was a message resulting in "peace" that comes "through Jesus Christ." Third, "Jesus Christ … is Lord of all," both Jews and Gentiles. "Lord of all" was a pagan title for deity, which the Christians adopted as an appropriate title for Jesus Christ.[631] "He is Lord of all" expressed Peter's new insight. It is probably the main statement in the verse.

"Since Jesus is Lord over all, Peter could proclaim to Cornelius and other Gentiles that the gospel is available to all. This is one of the most central points in Luke-Acts."[632]

"What is the nature of Jesus' lordship [v. 36]? Because of His lordship, He had a ministry of power as He healed all who were oppressed by the devil (v. 38). As Lord, He was the object of a testimony that declared Him to be the Judge of the living and the dead (v. 42). He is the one of whom all the prophets testified that forgiveness of sins is found in His name (v. 43). Again [as in 2:21, 32-39; 5:14; and 9:42] lordship described the authority that Jesus has as the Bearer of salvation—an authority that involves work in the past (exorcising demons), present (granting forgiveness of sins), and future (serving as Judge)."[633]

That "lord" does not always mean "master" should be clear from this chapter. In verse 4 it is simply a respectful address and means "sir." In verse 14, it means "God." And in this verse it means "sovereign." The context helps us to interpret the meaning in each case. But in each case the idea of respect is present.

10:37         Peter proceeded to outline Jesus of Nazareth's career for his listeners, assuming some knowledge that was common but adding more details than Luke recorded in Peter's previous speeches. This is the most comprehensive review of Jesus' career found in any speech in Acts. These details would have been appropriate since Peter's hearers here were Gentiles. Peter's sketch followed the same general outline as Mark's Gospel, which, according to early Christian tradition, Peter influenced.

Luke undoubtedly summarized Peter's message, as he did most if not all of the other addresses in Luke-Acts, and he stressed points that were important to his readers. These points included the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1 (in v. 38, cf. Luke 4:14-30), the importance of apostolic witness (in vv. 39-41, cf. Acts 1:8), and Jesus' post-resurrection eating and drinking with His disciples (v. 41, cf. Luke 24:41-43). "The thing" to which Peter referred was the earthly ministry of Jesus.

10:38         Jesus' anointing by God "with the Holy Spirit" took place at His baptism by John the Baptist (cf. Luke 3:21-22), when He became God's officially Anointed One (i.e., the Messiah). The "all" whom Jesus healed were the many that He healed "who were oppressed by the devil." This is hyperbole (an exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally), since Jesus did not heal every oppressed person that He met.[634] This is another verse that advocates of the "prosperity gospel" cite, attempting to prove their case.[635] Jesus' good deeds and supernatural miracles testified to God's presence "with Him" (cf. Gen. 39:2).

10:39         The apostles regularly mentioned in their preaching that they were "witnesses" of Jesus' ministry (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:30-31). This had tremendous persuasive appeal to their hearers. Peter grouped Jesus' acts into those that He performed "in the country of the Jews," and the ones that He performed "in Jerusalem," their capital city. Those who "put Him to death" were the Jews (3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52) and the Gentiles (4:27). Here Peter referred generally to all those involved in the Crucifixion. "Hanging him on a cross" emphasizes the horrible way that the enemies of Jesus killed Him.

"It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul's day. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16); even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism …"[636]

"The cross of Christ reveals the love of God at its best and the sin of man at its worst."[637]

10:40-41    In contrast to man's treatment of Jesus, "God raised Him" from the grave after three days (cf. 17:31). Jesus also appeared to selected individuals whom God chose to be "witnesses" of His resurrection. Among these was Peter himself, who even "ate and drank with" the risen Lord, proof that He really was alive.

"The resurrection appearances were not made to the people at large. The reason appears to have been that those who saw Jesus were constituted to act as witnesses to the many people who could not see him, and this obligation was not laid on people who were unfit for it but only on those who had been prepared by lengthy association with Jesus and by sharing his work of mission."[638]

10:42-43    Peter referred to the Great Commission, which Jesus gave His disciples after His resurrection (v. 41), in verse 42.

"This entire experience is an illustration of the commission of Matthew 28:19-20. Peter went where God sent him and made disciples ('teach') of the Gentiles. Then he baptized them and taught them the Word."[639]

Jesus Christ will one day judge all people ("the living and the dead") as forgiven or not forgiven (cf. Acts 17:31). To be forgiven one must believe "in Him" (cf. 5:14; 9:42; 11:17). Peter said this is what "the [Old Testament] prophets" taught (e.g., Isa. 53:11; Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25-26; et al.). The Messiah (Christ) would be the "Judge" of all people, and Jesus of Nazareth is that Messiah (cf. John 5:27). The Lord of all (v. 36) is also the Judge of all ("the living and the dead," v. 42).

Note how Peter stressed the universal benefit of Jesus' ministry in this message to Gentiles. It was for Gentiles as well as for Jews. Not only is Jesus "Lord of all" (v. 36), but He went about "healing all" (v. 38). Furthermore, He is the "Judge" of all (v. 42) to whom all "the prophets" bore witness (v. 43a). And God forgives "everyone who believes in Him" (v. 43b).

"This simple outline [vv. 34-43] … is perhaps the clearest NT example of the kerygma, the earliest form in which the apostolic proclamation of the gospel was apparently couched."[640]

The giving of the Holy Spirit to Gentiles 10:44-48

10:44         Peter did not need to call for his hearers to repent on this occasion (cf. 2:38; 3:19). As soon as he gave them enough information to trust in Jesus Christ, they did so. Immediately "the Holy Spirit fell upon" them, filling them (v. 47; 11:15; cf. 2:4) and baptizing them (11:16; cf. 1:5).

God gave His Spirit to individuals from both groups, Jews and Gentiles, solely because of their faith in Jesus Christ (11:17). The Gentiles did not have to do anything but believe on Jesus to receive the Spirit. They did not need to become Jewish proselytes, experience baptism in water, undergo circumcision, turn from their sins, or even say that they were willing to turn from their sins.[641]

Note that Spirit baptism took place here without the laying on of an apostle's hands. The identification of Spirit baptism with the apostles was not necessary here, as it had been with the Samaritans (cf. 8:17-19), and as it was later with the disciples of John the Baptist (19:6). However, the important point was the connection between faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any external Jewish rite, and Spirit baptism.

"Through Peter's experience with Cornelius it is made plain that the norm for this age for both Jews and Gentiles, is for the Holy Spirit to be given without delay, human mediation, or other conditions than simple faith in Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile."[642]

10:45         The outward evidence that God had given His Spirit to these Gentile believers as a "gift," was that they spoke "with tongues" and praised God (v. 46a, cf. 11:15-16). This response "amazed" Peter's Jewish companions, because it proved that God was not making a distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus regarding His acceptance of them.

10:46a        Probably Peter and his Jewish companions heard these Gentiles praising God in Aramaic, which these Gentiles would not have known previously, since Aramaic was a language that the Jews spoke and understood. The Jews present would have understood Aramaic immediately, and they would have recognized that the ability to speak in an unstudied language was an evidence of Spirit baptism, as it was at Pentecost. This is further evidence that "tongues" were languages.

"Peter did not pray for them that they might receive the Spirit nor did he lay hands upon them. There is no indication that Cornelius himself prayed to gain this experience. In fact, he probably didn't know about the phenomenon of speaking in tongues (note his previous silence and that of Peter on this subject)."[643]

10:46b-48  There was no reason to withhold water baptism from these Gentile converts. They could undergo baptism in water as a testimony to their faith immediately. They had believed in Jesus Christ and had experienced Spirit baptism. Baptism with the Spirit was Jesus' sign of His acceptance of them, and baptism with water was their sign of their acceptance of Him. They had done everything they needed to do. They did not need to experience anything more such as circumcision, or admission into the Jewish community, or the adoption of traditional Jewish dietary laws, or anything else.

"I have heard people say sometimes that if you are baptized with the Holy Ghost you do not need to be baptized in water. It is not a question of what you need—it is a question of what God has commanded."[644]

The events that Luke recorded in 9:32—10:48 prepared Peter for the Lord's further expansion of His church to include Gentiles. Peter had unlocked the door of the church to Jews on Pentecost (Matt. 16:19; cf. Eph. 2:14). What happened in Cornelius' house was "the Pentecost of the Gentile world."[645] By pouring out His Spirit on these Gentiles, God showed that in His sight Jews and Gentiles were equal. The Jew had no essential advantage over the Gentile in entering the church. God observes no distinction in race when it comes to becoming a Christian (cf. Eph. 2:11—3:12).

The Ethiopian eunuch was probably a descendant of Ham, Saul was a descendant of Shem, and Cornelius was a descendant of Japheth (cf. Gen. 10).[646] Thus, with the record of their conversions in chapters 8 through 10, Luke told us that the church is equally accessible to all branches of the human family.

Why was the conversion of Cornelius, rather than the earlier conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the opening of the church's door to the Gentiles? The conversion of the Gentile eunuch was a case of individual, private salvation. The conversion of Cornelius, on the other hand, involved several Gentiles, and it was public. God had saved individual Gentiles by faith throughout history (e.g., Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, et al.). With the conversion of Cornelius, He now, for the first time, publicly brought Gentiles into the church, the new creation of God, by Spirit baptism. The eunuch had become a Christian and a member of the church, but that was not evident to anyone at the time of his conversion. Furthermore, the eunuch lived in Africa, where his influence for Christ would have been limited, whereas Cornelius lived in Israel, where his influence would have been more widespread.

With Cornelius's conversion, God made a public statement, as He had at Pentecost, that He was doing something new, namely, forming a new body of believers in Jesus. In chapter 2, He had shown that it would include Jews, and here in chapter 10, He now clarified that it would also include Gentiles. The sole prerequisite for entrance into this group (the church) was faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of ethnicity, which had separated Jews from Gentiles for centuries. The distinctive difference between becoming a Christian and becoming a Jew (religiously), was that God gave the Holy Spirit to every Christian. The sign of this, for the benefit of the Jews, was that He enabled those to whom He gave the Spirit to speak in foreign languages. In the rest of Acts, Luke proceeded to narrate the conversion of various kinds of Gentiles in various parts of the Mediterranean world.

The response of the Jerusalem church 11:1-18

Peter's actions in Caesarea drew criticism from conservative Jews. Luke wrote this pericope to enable his readers to understand and appreciate more fully God's acceptance of Gentiles into the church as Gentiles. An additional purpose was to present this acceptance as essential to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The leaders of the Jerusalem church recognized what God was doing in bringing Gentiles into the church, as they had done formerly with the Samaritan believers in Jesus (8:14-25). Luke documented this recognition in this pericope because it plays an important role in proving the distinction between Israel and the church and in explaining the worldwide mission of the church.

Criticism of Peter's conduct 11:1-3

News of what had happened in Cornelius' house spread quickly throughout Judea. "The brothers and sisters" (v. 1) and "the Jewish believers" (v. 2) refer to Jewish Christians, not unsaved Jews. Peter's response to their criticism of him makes this clear (see v. 15). They objected to his having had contact with "uncircumcised" Gentiles, particularly eating with them (v. 3). Apparently Peter "ate with" his host while he was with him for several days (10:48), though Luke did not mention that. The same taboo that had bothered Peter was bothering his Jewish brethren (cf. 10:28). They undoubtedly would have felt concern over the non-Christian Jews' reaction to themselves. Peter's actions in Caesarea could only bring more persecution on the Jewish Christians from the unsaved Jews (cf. 7:54—8:3).

"It is possible to hear a subtle echo of Jesus' critics in 11:3. Jesus was also accused of eating with or lodging with the wrong kind of people. … Now Peter must face the kind of criticism that Jesus faced, arising this time from the circle of Jesus' disciples."[647]

"It is plain that Peter was not regarded as any kind of pope or overlord."[648]

"It was one thing for the Ethiopian to be received into the Church of Christ by the Hellenist Philip, but it was another thing—and a marked advance—when the principle asserted by Philip was ratified by the Apostles of the circumcision in the case of Cornelius."[649]

Peter's defense of his conduct 11:4-17

Luke recorded Peter's retelling of these events to his critics in order to further impress the significance of this incident on his readers. Peter particularly stressed God's initiative (vv. v. 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17a) as well as his own inability to withstand God (v. 17b).

Cornelius and all his household were not saved from God's wrath until they heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ that Peter proclaimed to them (v. 14; cf. 10:43).

Peter was speaking of the day of Pentecost when he referred to "the beginning" of the church (v. 15, cf. 2:4). Clearly the baptism of "the Holy Spirit" is what he referred to (v. 16). Peter justified his actions in Caesarea by appealing to what God had done: He had given the Gentiles "the same gift" that He had given the Jews, namely, the Holy Spirit (v. 17a). Note that Peter identified "believing in the Lord Jesus Christ" as the only necessary prerequisite to receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit (v. 17a). Spirit baptism was not an experience subsequent to salvation for Cornelius and his household but something that happened simultaneously with their salvation.

"Peter's defense did not rest on what he himself did, but on what God did. God had made no distinction between Jew and Gentile, so how could Peter?"[650]

The verdict of Peter's critics 11:18

Peter's explanation was satisfactory to his critics. His Jewish brethren agreed that God was saving Gentiles simply by faith in Jesus Christ just as He was saving Jews, and that they should no longer regard Gentiles as unclean. They recognized and yielded to God's initiative in this event. As a result, the bonds between Jewish and Gentile Christians became stronger, and the bonds between unbelieving Jews and believing Jews became weaker.

"The word 'repentance' summarizes Cornelius' conversion in Acts. 'Repentance' can be a summary term for conversion stressing that a change of orientation has taken place when one believes. Faith stresses what the object of belief is. Faith is directed toward a Person, namely, Jesus. Repentance stresses what belief involves in that it is a change of mind or of orientation from oneself and his own works to a reliance on Jesus to save him. The repentant man of faith recognizes that, as the hymnwriter puts it, his 'hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness' and that he is to 'wholly lean on Jesus' name.' Metanoeo ('to repent') is used in Acts 2:38 and 3:19 to call Jewish audiences to come to Jesus, and it is used in the same way in Acts 17:30 and 26:20 to describe the call to or response of Gentiles. Metanoia ('repentance') is the summary term of the Great Commission in Luke 24:47. It is also used in salvation contexts in Acts 5:31 (to Jews); 11:18 (of Cornelius); 20:21 (of Jews and Gentiles who believe on the Lord Jesus); and 26:20 (in Paul's message to Jews and Gentiles)."[651]

It is clear, however, that not all of those who accepted Peter's explanation also understood the larger issue. Probably few of them did. The larger issue was that God had created a new entity, the church, and that He was dealing with humankind on a different basis than He had for centuries. Those whom God accepted by faith in Christ were now under a new covenant, not the old Mosaic Covenant, so they did not need to continue to observe the Mosaic Law. It was no longer necessary for Gentiles to come to God through Judaism, or to live within the constraints of Judaism. Opposition to this larger issue, specifically the implications of what happened in Cornelius' home, cropped up later (15:1; cf. Gal.). Even today, many Christians do not understand the implications of this change and their application in daily life.

"It is clear that Christianity was accepted [by Peter's critics] as a reformed Judaism, not as Judaism's successor."[652]

Whereas the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem did come to agree with Peter, the non-Christian Jews did not. They still regarded Gentiles as outside the boundary of God's favor. The Christian Jews' new attitude toward Gentiles, on the one hand, had opened them up to the Gentiles. However, it also resulted in non-Christian Jews excluding Christian Jews increasingly from the life of Judaism.

"Even though Peter does not convert the first Gentile [in Acts, i.e., the Ethiopian eunuch], the Cornelius episode is a breakthrough for the Gentile mission. The conversion of the Ethiopian was a private and isolated event that had no effect [according to Acts]. The conversion of Cornelius has consequences in the following narrative, as the reference back to it in Acts 15 makes clear. It is a breakthrough not simply because Peter and the Jerusalem church now accept Gentiles for baptism but also because they recognize the right of Jewish Christians to freely associate with Gentiles in the course of their mission."[653]

3.     The initiatives of the Antioch church 11:19-30

The scene now shifts to Antioch of Syria. Antioch was a very significant town because from it the church launched its major missionary offensives to the uttermost parts of the earth.[654] Luke recorded events in the early history of this church because of its significant initiatives. The disciples in Antioch reached out to Gentiles with spiritual aid, and they reached out to their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem with material aid.

"With the ratification by the Jerusalem mother church of Peter's action in admitting the first group of Gentiles into the Church as his preface, Luke now launches into the main theme of the book of Acts—the expansion of the Church into the whole Gentile world. Again he emphasizes the part played by anonymous believers in spreading Christianity."[655]

The spiritual initiative of the Antioch church 11:19-26

11:19         Luke's reference back to "the persecution" that resulted from the  martyrdom of "Stephen" (7:60) is significant. It suggests that he was now beginning to record another mission of the Christians that ran parallel, logically and chronologically, to the one that he had just described in 8:4—11:18.[656]

Luke had already pointed out that as a result of Stephen's execution the gospel had spread throughout Judea and Samaria (8:4). Now we learn that it was that event that also led to its being taken to the uttermost parts of the earth. Whereas Philip went to Samaria, other Christian refugees went to the country of "Phoenicia" north of Caesarea, the island of "Cyprus" (cf. 4:36; 21:16), and the city of "Antioch." Those disciples, who were Jews, were evangelizing other Jews exclusively ("alone").

"Persecution" was good for the church. It frequently caused the church to grow rather than die. However, peaceful conditions are normally more conducive to effective evangelism than persecution is (1 Tim. 2:2-4).

11:20         "Some" Jews from "Cyprus," Barnabas' homeland not far from Antioch, "and Cyrene," in North Africa (cf. 2:10; 6:9; 13:1), visited "Antioch" (cf. 13:1). Antioch was at this time the third largest city in the Roman world after Rome and Alexandria.[657] These Jews may have traveled there on business. Antioch was about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea on the Orontes River, and it was 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was the capital of the Roman province of Syro-Cilicia, which was north of Phoenicia, and it was one of the most strategic population centers of its day. It contained between 500,000 and 800,000 inhabitants, about one-seventh of whom were Jews.[658] Many Gentile proselytes to Judaism lived there.[659] Antioch was also notorious as a haven for pleasure-seekers.[660]

"The Roman satirist, Juvenal, complained, 'The sewage of the Syrian Orontes has for long been discharged into the Tiber.' By this he meant that Antioch was so corrupt it was impacting Rome, more than 1,300 miles away."[661]

"It seems incredible but nonetheless it is true that it was in a city like that that Christianity took the great stride forward to becoming the religion of the world. We have only to think of that to discover there is no such thing as a hopeless situation."[662]

"In Christian history, apart from Jerusalem, no other city of the Roman Empire played as large a part in the early life and fortunes of the church as Antioch of Syria."[663]

Some of the Hellenistic Jews also began sharing the gospel with "Gentiles" in Antioch. This verse documents another significant advance in the mission of the church: For the first time Luke recorded Jews aggressively evangelizing non-Jews. The Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius, who were both Gentiles, had taken the initiative in reaching out to Jews and had obtained salvation. But now believing Jews were taking the initiative in reaching out to Gentiles with the gospel.

The Antiochian evangelists preached "the Lord Jesus." For Gentiles the title "Christ" (Messiah) would not have been as significant a title as "Lord" (sovereign, savior, and deity). Many pagan Gentiles in the Roman Empire called Caesar "Lord."

11:21         Luke stressed the Lord Jesus' blessing of the witness of these saved Jews. "The hand of the Lord" is an Old Testament anthropomorphism that pictures God's power (cf. Isa. 59:1; 66:14).[664] The early disciples put Jesus on a par with Yahweh. His deity was not a later idea read back into the early history of the church.[665] Response to this evangelistic work was very good. Perhaps these Gentiles were God-fearers similar to the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius.[666] Or perhaps they were pagans who were not Jewish proselytes but were open to "the good news" (v. 20) because of their dissatisfaction with paganism.[667] Probably both types of Gentiles responded.

"The combination of faith (pisteusas) and of turning (epestrepsen) is another common way to express salvation in Acts."[668]

11:22-24    As the apostles had done previously, when they had heard of the Samaritans' salvation, they once again investigated when news of the salvation of Gentiles reached Jerusalem (8:14-15). They chose a representative to visit the scene in order to evaluate what was happening. The Lord obviously controlled these men in their choice of an observer. "Barnabas" (cf. 4:36-37) was an excellent man for this mission since he, like some of the evangelists in Antioch, was from Cyprus. He was also a more broad-minded Hellenist. Furthermore, he was a positive, encouraging person (4:36), and "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith."

"Although he came of a Dispersion family, he was regarded with complete confidence in Jerusalem and acted as a pivot point or link between the Hebrew and Hellenistic elements in the church."[669]

Barnabas rejoiced when he observed "the grace of God" at work in Antioch, and, true to his name ("Son of Encouragement," 4:36), he encouraged the new converts "to remain true to the Lord." The alternative of not remaining true to the Lord is clearly an option for believers (cf. 13:43; 14:21-22). Perseverance in faith and good works is neither automatic nor guaranteed.[670] Even more people ("considerable numbers") became believers ("were added to the Lord") because of Barnabas' ministry to these Christians. According to tradition, Luke came from Antioch. The second-century Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke's Gospel referred to Luke as an Antiochian of Syria.[671] Also, Eusebius wrote in the fourth century: "… Luke, who was born at Antioch …"[672] So perhaps Luke was one of the converts.

Discipling in Acts was not done mainly one-on-one but in community. We see the same emphasis in Ephesians 4. One-on-one discipling is certainly all right, but it can become self-centered. Growth in a group is much more conducive to the discovery and development of spiritual gifts and therefore effective service.

Luke may have described Barnabas in such glowing terms partly because the situation in Antioch was such a serious crisis for the early church. Much depended on how Barnabas would react to what he saw in Antioch, and what he would report back to the mother church in Jerusalem. The evangelization of Gentiles was at stake.

11:25         As the church in Antioch continued to grow, Barnabas and perhaps others sensed the need for Saul's help. Consequently, at this time, Barnabas set out to track "Saul" down in "Tarsus," where Saul had gone (9:30). Saul was an ideal choice for this work since God had given him a special appointment to evangelize Gentiles (cf. 22:21). Moreover, he had considerable experience in ministry already, probably about nine years of it since his conversion.[673]

Some Bible scholars have speculated that Saul's family in Tarsus had disinherited him (cf. Phil. 3:8). Some also believe that he endured some of the afflictions that he described in 2 Corinthians 11:23 through 27 while he ministered in and around Tarsus. These included persecution by the Jews, probably for trying to evangelize Gentiles. Furthermore, some believe that Saul had the revelation, to which he referred in 2 Corinthians 12:1 through 4, while he was ministering near Tarsus. He was undoubtedly very active in missionary work around Tarsus during his residence there, even though we have no record of it.

11:26         Barnabas had earlier sponsored Saul in Jerusalem (9:27). Now Barnabas brought Saul from Tarsus "to Antioch," which was a distance of about 90 miles, where they ministered together "for an entire year," teaching and leading the church. This was probably in A.D. 43, ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the day of Pentecost.

Luke noted another advance for the church in that observers called the believers "Christians" (lit. "those belonging to Christ's party," i.e., "Christ followers") "first … in Antioch." In other words, people now distinguished the Christians as a group both from religious Jews and from pagan Gentiles (cf. 1 Cor. 10:32).[674] Howson argued that it was probably the Romans in Antioch who first gave the Christians their name.[675] There are only three occurrences of the name "Christian" in the New Testament, and in each case Christians did not use it of themselves (cf. 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). Similarly, biblical references indicate that the name "Jew" is one that people other than the Israelites used to describe them.

"Note the three elements in the name ["Christian"]. (i) It contains Jewish thought, as the equivalent of Messiah, the Anointed. (ii) It shows the Greek language in the substantive—'Christ.' (iii) It also includes the Latin language in the adjectival ending 'ians' (Latin, iani). This universality is a reminder of the language of the title on the Cross."[676]

For Gentiles, however, the title "Christ" became a personal name for Jesus.

"They [those who used this name for believers in Jesus] … voiced an insight that the Christians themselves only saw clearly later on: Christianity is no mere variant of Judaism."[677]

The material initiative of the Antioch church 11:27-30

11:27         "Prophets" were still active in the church, apparently until the completion of the New Testament canon. A prophet was a person to whom God had given the ability to speak for Him (forth-telling, cf. 1 Cor. 14:1-5), which in some cases included the ability to receive and announce new revelation (fore-telling). Prophesying also sometimes equaled praising God (1 Chron. 25:1).

"The Jews believed that with the last of the [Old Testament] writing prophets, the spirit of prophecy had ceased in Israel; but the coming Messianic Age would bring an outpouring of God's Spirit, and prophecy would again flourish. The early Christians, having experienced the inauguration of the Messianic Age [i.e., the age of fulfillment], not only proclaimed Jesus to be the Mosaic eschatological prophet (cf. 3:22; 7:37) but also saw prophecy as a living phenomenon within the church (cf. also 13:1; 15:32; 21:9-10) and ranked it among God's gifts to his people next to that of being an apostle (cf. 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11)."[678]

11:28         God later fulfilled the prophecy that "Agabus" gave, which Luke recorded here (cf. 21:10).[679] In the reign of Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54) there was a series of severe famines and poor harvests in various parts of the Roman Empire.[680] The Romans used the Greek word oikoumene ("world," lit. "inhabited world") as an exaggerated reference to describe the extent of the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1).

11:29         The Christians in Antioch demonstrated love for and unity with their brethren "in Judea" by sending them some relief money. Luke previously documented the love and generosity of the Jerusalem Christians for one another (2:42; 4:32-35). Now he revealed that the Antioch Christians surpassed even the Jerusalem Christians' sacrifice by sharing what they had with another congregation. The giving was voluntary and according to the ability that each Christian possessed (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).

11:30         The church leaders chose "Barnabas and Saul" to carry the gift to Jerusalem. There they gave it to "the elders" (Gr. presbyteroi). This is the first use of that Greek word in Acts. It can refer to older men chronologically (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1) or to officers in the church (Tit. 1:5). Probably the latter meaning is in view here, since official leaders would probably have been responsible to distribute the gift. Evidently the apostles had set up elders, even as they had set up the Seven, in order to facilitate the ministry in Jerusalem. Elders were common in Jewish synagogue worship where they served as overseers. As time passed, this organizational structure became normal in Christian churches as well.

The visit to which Luke referred here probably took place about A.D. 46, when Judea suffered from a severe famine.[681] This so-called "Famine Visit to Jerusalem" is probably the one that Paul referred to in Galatians 2:1-10.[682]

As the Jerusalem church had ministered to the church in Antioch by providing leadership and teaching, so the Antioch church was now able to minister to the Jerusalem church with financial aid (cf. Gal. 6:6). Luke probably included this reference to this "relief" in order to illustrate, among other things, the strength of the Gentile church outside Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.

"The summary of the establishment of the church in Antioch presents an important new development, both geographically and ethnically. The gospel reaches a major city of the empire and finds a ready response from people of Greek culture, including Gentiles. The narrator pulls together threads from the preceding narrative, especially chapters 2 and 8, and weaves them into a tapestry to describe the new phase of the mission."[683]

4.     The persecution of the Jerusalem church 12:1-24

The saints in Jerusalem not only suffered as a result of the famine, they also suffered because Jewish and Roman governmental opposition against them intensified as time passed. Luke recorded the events in this section in order to illustrate God's supernatural protection and blessing of the church, even though the Christians suffered increased persecution, and to show the unbelieving Jews' continued rejection of their Messiah. In other words, this section confirms Israel's rejection of her Messiah. This is why the church advanced more dramatically in Gentile territory, as the rest of Acts shows. Contrasts mark verses 1 through 23: James dies, God delivers Peter from death, and Herod dies.

The supernatural deliverance of Peter 12:1-19

"Peter's rescue from prison is an unusually vivid episode in Acts even when simply taken as a story about Peter. Because it is not connected with events in the chapters immediately before and after it, however, it may seem rather isolated and unimportant for Acts as a whole. Yet it becomes more than a vivid account of an isolated miracle when we probe below the surface, for this story is an echo of other stories in Luke-Acts and in Jewish Scripture. An event that is unique, and vividly presented as such, takes on the importance of the typical when it reminds us of other similar events. It recalls the power of God to rescue those chosen for God's mission, a power repeatedly demonstrated in the past."[684]

12:1-2        "About that time" probably refers back to the time of the famine visit of Barnabas and Saul mentioned in 11:30. If that took place in A.D. 46, and Herod Agrippa I died in A.D. 44—for which there is extrabiblical evidence—then the events that Luke related in chapter 12 must have antedated the famine visit, and probably all of 11:27 through 30, by about two years.

"… Luke seems to have wanted to close his portrayals of the Christian mission within the Jewish world (2:42—12:24) with two vignettes having to do with God's continued activity on behalf of the Jerusalem church."[685]

"Herod the king" was Herod Agrippa I, whom the Roman emperor Gaius appointed king over the land of Israel in A.D. 37. When Claudius succeeded Gaius as emperor, he added Judea and Samaria to Agrippa's territories so that Agrippa governed all that his grandfather, Herod the Great, had ruled.[686] Agrippa ruled Judea for three years, A.D. 41-44[687] (cf. v. 23), and he moved his headquarters to Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I had Jewish blood in his veins and consistently sought to maintain favor with and the support of the Jews over whom he ruled, which he did effectively.[688] Josephus referred to Agrippa positively as "a person that deserved the greatest admiration."[689] Herod Agrippa was the friend of Caligula, as Herod the Great had been the friend of Augustus.[690]

As the Christian Jews became increasingly offensive to their racial brethren (cf. 11:18), Herod took advantage of an opportunity to please his subjects by mistreating some of the believers and by executing (beheading)  the Apostle "James, the brother of [the Apostle] John" (cf. Matt. 20:23). Josephus wrote that Ananus (Ananias), the high priest, was responsible for James' death.[691] Evidently Ananias had some hand in it. This is the only apostle's death that the New Testament recorded. James was the second Christian martyr whom Luke identified (cf. 7:54-60).[692] Persecution of the Christians now expanded from religious to include political motivation.

It is noteworthy that the Christians evidently did not seek to perpetuate the position or authority of an apostle by selecting a replacement for James as they had for Judas (ch. 1). They probably believed that God would reestablish The Twelve in the resurrection.[693]

12:3           "The days of Unleavened Bread" was a seven-day celebration that began on the day after Passover each spring. This was one of the three yearly feasts in Jerusalem that the Mosaic Law required all Jewish males to attend. As on the day of Pentecost (ch. 2), the city would have been swarming with patriotic Jews when Herod made his grandstand political move of arresting "Peter." These Jews knew that Peter was the leader among the Christians and that he fraternized with Gentiles (ch. 10). This was the third arrest of Peter that Luke recorded (cf. 4:3; 5:18). Note that this persecution of the Christians did not arise from anything that they had done but simply because Herod wanted to gain popularity with "the Jews."

12:4           "Four squads of soldiers"—four soldiers made up each squad—guarded Peter in six-hour shifts so that he would not escape, as he had done previously (5:19-24). Evidently two of the soldiers on each shift chained themselves to Peter and the other two guarded his cell door (vv. 6, 10). "Passover" was the popular term for the continuous eight-day combined Passover and Unleavened Bread festival.

12:5           His captors probably imprisoned Peter in the Roman Fortress of Antonia. It stood against the north wall of the temple enclosure and on the western end of that wall.[694] A "prison" is are no match for "prayer," however, as everyone was to learn. The Christians prayed fervently ("intensely," constantly) about Peter's fate, believing that God could affect his release again.[695]

"The church used its only available weapon—prayer."[696]

12:6           "The very night" before Peter's trial and probable execution, he lay sound asleep in his cell. How could he sleep soundly when God had allowed James to die? Peter, of course, had a record of "sleeping" when he should have been praying (cf. Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:45). He had no problem with insomnia. Nevertheless on this occasion God may have wanted him to sleep. Perhaps he did not fear for his life because Jesus had implied that he would live to an old age (John 21:18). Normally the Romans chained a prisoner by his right hand to his guard's left hand, but each of Peter's hands was chained to a different guard on either side of him.[697] Herod wanted to make sure that Peter would not get away.

12:7           Again "an angel of the Lord" (Gr. angelos kyriou) visited Peter in prison (5:19; cf. 8:26; 12:23). A light also illuminated ("shone in") his cell (cf. 9:3). The angel "woke" Peter up and instructed him to "Get up quickly." And when he did, "his chains fell off his hands." Peter's guards slept through the whole event.

"Luke clearly regards Peter's escape as a miracle, a divine intervention by a supernatural visitant (cf. Lk. 2:9) …"[698]

Thomas Watson, the Puritan preacher, reportedly said, "The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel."[699]

12:8-9        "The angel" coached Peter, like a parent, to get dressed  and to "follow" him out of the prison. Peter was so groggy that "he did not know" that he was really being set free. He thought that he might be having another "vision" (10:10, cf. 9:10). Luke related this incident as though God was orchestrating Peter's release (cf. 5:18-20; 16:23-29). There is no reason to take the account as anything less than this.

12:10-11    Once outside the prison, and left alone by his angelic guide, Peter realized that his release was genuine. Luke recorded Peter's testimony to God's deliverance of him. God did here for Peter what He had done for the Israelites in leading them out of their Egyptian prison in the Exodus. God's enemies can never frustrate His plans (Matt. 16:18).

Why did God allow Herod to kill James but not Peter?

"The answer is that this is the sovereign will of God. He still moves like this in the contemporary church. I have been in the ministry for many years, and I have seen the Lord reach in and take certain wonderful members out of the church by death. And then there are others whom He has left. Why would He do that? If He had asked me, from my viewpoint as the pastor, I would say that He took the wrong one and He left the wrong one! But life and death are in the hands of a sovereign God. … This is His universe, not ours. It is God's church, not ours. The hand of a sovereign God moves in the church."[700]

12:12         Peter went directly to a home where he probably knew that Christians would be "praying" for him. This was "the house of Mary, the mother of John [Jewish name] … Mark [Greek name]." Barnabas sold his land and gave it to the church (4:37), but Mary kept her house. This shows that communal living was not required among the early Christians.

"John, who was also called Mark," was the man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (13:5). "Mark," as he was usually identified in the New Testament, was also Barnabas' cousin (Col. 4:10) who traveled with Barnabas to Cyprus, when Paul chose Silas as his companion for his second missionary journey (15:37-39). Mark later accompanied Paul again (Col. 4:10; Phile. 24) as well as Peter (1 Pet. 5:13). According to early church tradition, Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name, served as Peter's interpreter in Rome, and founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt.[701]

12:13-16    This amusing incident is very true to life. Rhoda's (lit. Rosebud's) joy at finding Peter standing in front of "the gate," which admitted people from the street into a courtyard (10:18), overpowered her common sense. Instead of letting him in she "ran" inside the house and announced his arrival. The believers could not believe that God had answered their prayers so directly and dramatically, and they told Rhoda: "You are out of your mind!" Peter, meanwhile, stood outside knocking, still trying to get in. Finally they let him in, hardly able to believe that it really was Peter.

Evidently the Christians at first believed that it was Peter's guardian "angel," or an angel especially sent to guard him, who had appeared (v. 15; Dan. 10:21; Matt. 18:10).[702] Another explanation is that we should understand "angel" as a reference to a human messenger that Peter had sent.[703] A third possibility is that the Christians thought that Herod had executed Peter, and that the apostle's spirit had come to visit them.[704] This is a problem that we cannot solve for sure.

12:17         The "James" that Luke mentioned here was the half-brother of Jesus (cf. 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12: James 1:1). He became the foremost leader of the Jerusalem church after Peter's departure from Jerusalem. Peter proceeded to disappear from Jerusalem ("he left and went to another place"). Scripture does not tell us where he went next. Probably he left Judea (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5). Many other believers in Jerusalem were not present in Mary's house that night ("James and the other brothers"). Peter wanted to be sure that they learned of his release too.

Earlier Peter had returned from prison to the temple and had resumed preaching at the Lord's command (5:19-21). Now the unbelieving Jews were much more hostile to the Christians. Saul had previously left Jerusalem for his own safety (9:29-30), and this time Peter followed his example. Peter had become infamous among the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem for associating with Samaritans and Gentiles, as well as for being a leader of the Christians. Corinth and Rome are two places that Peter evidently visited (1 Cor. 1:12; 9:5; 1 Pet. 5:13), and various church fathers wrote that he ministered throughout the Jewish Diaspora.[705] Peter also may have gone to Antioch (Gal. 2:11-21), and we know that he was in Jerusalem again for the Jerusalem Council (15:7-11, 14), though perhaps only as a visitor.

12:18-19    Understandably there was "no small disturbance" (a litotes, cf. 14:28; 15:2; 17:4, 12; 19:23-24) when the authorities found Peter's cell empty.[706] "Herod" evidently concluded that "the guards" had either cooperated with Peter's escape or had been negligent. Roman guards who allowed their prisoners to escape suffered the intended punishment of their prisoners.[707] These guards were "led away to execution." Herod then left "Judea" (the old Jewish name for the area around Jerusalem) and returned "to Caesarea," which was now the nominal (in name only) capital of the Roman province of Judea. One wonders if Peter's escape played a role in Herod's decision to leave the center of Jewish life so that he could save face. Even a Roman authority could not prevent the church from growing.

"In the New Testament there is a distinction made between Caesarea and the province of Judaea (Acts xii, 19; xxi. 10). This affords one of the indirect evidences not only of the intimate acquaintance of the writer with strictly Rabbinical views, but also of the early date of the composition of the Book of Acts. For, at a later period Caesarea was declared to belong to Judaea …"[708]

"It may remain to us a perplexing question why James was slain and Peter delivered. There is no explanation. Nevertheless, the revelation of the facts is reassuring. That God delivered Peter proves His power to have delivered James. That He did not deliver James proves that the death of James was also within the compass of His will, and we know that in the great Unveiling all will be seen to have been right."[709]

The supernatural death of Herod Agrippa I 12:20-23

Herod viewed Peter as the enemy of the unbelieving Jews, which he was not. Really Herod was the enemy of the believing Christians. Having set the innocent Christian leader free, God now put the guilty Jewish Roman leader to death.

12:20         King Herod had become "very angry" with his subjects who lived in "Tyre and Sidon" on the Mediterranean coast north of Caesarea. Because these towns depended on Galilee—which was part of King Herod's "country"—for their food supply, they were eager to get on his good side again. One writer pointed out parallels between King Herod and the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:17 and 28:4.[710] "Blastus," Herod's "chamberlain" (household manager, Gr. koitonos), was one of the king's most trusted servants.

12:21-23    Josephus recorded this incident in more detail than Luke did. He added that Herod appeared in the outdoor theater at Caesarea. He stood before the officials from Tyre, Sidon, and his other provinces on a festival day dressed in a silver robe. When the sun shone brilliantly on his shiny robe, some flatterers in the theater began to call out words of praise, acclaiming him to be a god. Immediately severe stomach pains attacked him. Attendants had to carry him out of the theater, and five days later he died.[711]

Doctor Luke saw Herod's intestinal attack as a judgment from God and gave a more medical explanation of his death than Josephus did. One writer suggested that Herod suffered from appendicitis that led to peritonitis complicated by roundworms.[712] Another diagnosed him as having a cyst caused by a tapeworm.[713] More important than the effect was the cause, namely, Herod's pride (cf. Isa. 42:8; Dan. 4:30).

"The pride of man had ended in the wrath of God."[714]

"The angel of the Lord who had delivered Peter was now to smite Herod the persecutor. He had 'smitten' Peter, and we see that the same divine visitation may be for life or for death. Herod Agrippa is the NT antitype of Pharaoh and Sennacherib, the oppressor smitten by the angel of the Lord."[715]

McGee regarded Herod as "a miniature of Antichrist."[716]

The continuing growth of the church 12:24

In contrast to Herod, but like Peter, "the word of the Lord," the gospel, "continued to grow and to be multiplied" as a result of God's supernatural blessing. Therefore the church continued to flourish in Jewish territory as well as among the Gentiles. This verse is another of Luke's progress reports that concludes a section of his history (cf. 6:7; 9:31). Nothing seemed capable of stopping the expansion of the church. Corruption and contention in its ranks did not kill it (5:1-11; 6:1-7). Its religious enemies could not contain it (4:1; 8:1, 3; 11:19). Even Roman officials could not control it (vv. 1-23). In the next section, we see that it broke out into Asia Minor. Jesus' prediction that even the gates of Hades could not overpower it was proving true (Matt. 16:18; Acts 1:8). God's purposes will prevail!

B.     The extension of the church to Cyprus and Asia Minor 12:25—16:5

Luke recorded that Jesus came to bring deliverance to the Jews and to the whole world (Luke 4:14-30). In his Gospel, Luke told the story of Jesus' personal ministry, primarily to the Jews. In Acts the emphasis is mainly on Jesus' ministry, through His apostles, to the Gentile world. As the mission to the Gentiles unfolds in Acts, we can see that Luke took pains to show that the ministry to the Gentiles paralleled the ministry to the Jews. He did this by relating many things that the missionaries to the Gentiles did that were very similar to what the missionaries to the Jews did. This demonstrates that God was indeed behind both missions and that they are really two aspects of His worldwide plan to bring the gospel to all people and to build a worldwide church.

The present section of text (12:25—16:5) does more than just present the geographical expansion of the church into Asia Minor (modern western Turkey). Primarily it shows the legitimacy of God's dealing with Gentiles as Gentiles—rather than through Judaism—before and after their conversion. It becomes increasingly clear that the church and Judaism are two separate entities. God was not renewing the remnant in Israel by replenishing it with Gentiles who believed in Jesus. He was creating a new body: the church. This section culminates in the Jerusalem Council (ch. 15), in which the issue of the Gentiles' relationship to the church came to a head. The last verse (16:5) summarizes these events and issues.

1.     The divine appointment of Barnabas and Saul 12:25—13:3

Luke recorded these verses to set the stage for the account of Barnabas and Saul's first missionary journey that follows.

"The world ministry which thus began was destined to change the history of Europe and the world."[717]

12:25         After delivering the Antioch Christians' gift to the church in Jerusalem (11:27-30), "Barnabas and Saul" returned to Antioch, taking along with them "John … Mark" (12:12), who was Barnabas' cousin (Col. 4:10). The round trip between Antioch and "Jerusalem" would have been a distance of about 560 miles. This verse bridges what follows with the earlier account of the virile Antioch church (11:19-30). The reference to John Mark here also connects the preceding section about the Jerusalem church (12:1-24) with what follows. The effect is to give the reader the impression that what follows has a solid basis in both the predominantly Gentile Antioch church and the predominantly Jewish Jerusalem church, which it did.

13:1           There were five prominent "prophets and teachers" in the Antioch church at this time. The Greek construction suggests that "Barnabas," "Simeon," and "Lucius" were prophets (forth-tellers and perhaps foretellers), and "Manaen" and "Saul" were teachers (Scripture expositors). The Greek particle te occurs before "Barnabas" and before "Manaen" in this list, dividing the five men into two groups.

"A teacher's ministry would involve a less-spontaneous declaration and preaching than that of the prophets, including instruction and the passing on to others of the received apostolic teaching (… 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). This was how the church taught its doctrine before the use of the books that later became a part of the NT."[718]

"Barnabas" (cf. 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22-30) seems to have been the leader among the prophets and teachers. The priority of his name in this list, as well as other references to his character qualities, suggests this. "Simeon" is a Jewish name, but this man's nickname or family name, "Niger," is Roman and implies that he was dark skinned, possibly from Africa. The Latin word niger means "black." Some people think this Simeon was Simon of Cyrene (in North Africa), who carried Jesus' cross (Luke 23:26). There is not enough information to prove or to disprove this theory.

"Lucius" was a common Roman name. "Luke" was his Greek name. He was from North Africa (cf. 11:20). It seems unlikely that he was the same Luke who wrote this book. Since Luke did not even identify himself by name as a member of Paul's entourage, it is improbable that he would have recorded his own name here. Nevertheless some scholars believe that this Luke was the writer.[719]

"Manaen" seems to have been the foster-brother of "Herod the tetrarch."[720] Herod the tetrarch was Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist and tried Jesus (Mark 6:14-19; Luke 13:31-33; 23:7-12). "Saul" was evidently the newcomer (cf. 7:58—8:3; 9:1-30; 11:25-30). This list of leaders shows that the church in Antioch was cosmopolitan and that God had gifted it with several speakers who exhorted and taught the believers.

"There in that little band there is exemplified the unifying influence of Christianity. Men from many lands and many backgrounds had discovered the secret of 'togetherness' because they had discovered the secret of Christ."[721]

13:2           It was while these men were "serving that Lord" that God redirected them. Many have observed that it is easier to direct a ship that is in motion than one that is standing still. Similarly, God often uses His servants who are already serving Him, as they have opportunity, rather than those who are not serving Him but are just sitting by idly waiting for direction. Notice also that the ministry of these men, while to the church, was primarily to "the Lord" (cf. Col. 3:24). "Fasting" in this context undoubtedly involved going without food temporarily in order to give attention to spiritual matters of greater importance than eating.

"Pious Jews of the time fasted twice each week, and early Christians may have continued the custom."[722]

"The Holy Spirit" probably spoke through one or more of these prophets (cf. 8:29; 10:19; 13:4). How He did it was less important to Luke than that He did it (cf. v. 4). God leads His people though a variety of means that His disciples who are walking with Him can identify as His leading. If Luke had revealed just how the Spirit gave this missionary call, every missionary candidate that followed might expect exactly the same type of leading. One commentator speculated as follows:

"… this would seem to suggest that at a service of divine worship one of the prophets was moved by the Spirit to propose the mission of Paul and Barnabas."[723]

13:3           "They" probably refers to the entire congregation together with its leaders (cf. 14:27; 15:2). The other church leaders did several things for Barnabas and Saul: They "fasted" and "prayed," presumably for God's blessing on them (cf. 14:23; Neh. 1:4; Luke 2:37). They probably fasted while they prayed, demonstrating the priority that they placed on seeking God's blessing in prayer.[724] They also "laid their hands on them," evidently not to bestow a spiritual power but to identify with them and to encourage them (cf. 9:17). Then they released them from their duties in Antioch so that they could depart. This was a commissioning for a particular work, not ordination to lifetime service.[725]

"In commissioning Barnabas and Saul by the imposition of hands, the other office-bearers invest them with authority to act on behalf of the Christian community at Antioch, and symbolically identify the whole congregation with their enterprise."[726]

"This short paragraph [13:1-3] marks a major departure in Luke's story. Up to this point, contacts with Gentiles (one might almost say, missionary activity in general) have been almost fortuitous [happening by chance]. Philip was despatched [sic] along an unusual road not knowing that he would encounter an Ethiopian eunuch reading Scripture; Peter was surprised by the gift of the Holy Spirit to an uncircumcised and unbaptized Gentile; the missionaries to Antioch did not set out with the intention of evangelizing Gentiles. Here, however, though the initiative is still ascribed to the Holy Spirit (v. 2), an extensive evangelistic journey into territory in no sense properly Jewish (though there was a Jewish element in the population, as there was in most parts of the Empire) is deliberately planned, and two associates of the local church are commissioned to execute it."[727]

2.     The mission to Cyprus 13:4-12

Luke recorded the events of Paul's first missionary journey in order to document the extension of the church into new territory and to illustrate the principles and methods by which the church grew. He also did so in order to show God's supernatural blessing on the witness of Barnabas and Saul.

"… the account of Paul's ministry has two parts: his journeys (Acts 11—20) and his trials (Acts 21—28)."[728]

Peter had encountered Simon, who was a sorcerer, when the Jerusalem church initiated its first major outreach in Samaria (8:9-24). Similarly, Barnabas and Saul ran into Bar-Jesus, who was a false prophet and sorcerer, when the Antioch church conducted its first major outreach to Gentiles. Luke undoubtedly wanted his readers to note the parallel and to draw the conclusion that God was behind this second outreach to Gentiles, just as He had been behind the first one to Samaritans.

13:4           Luke carefully noted that the Person ultimately responsible for the venture that followed was "the Holy Spirit" (cf. 1:1-2). This mission was another of God's initiatives in building His church. Barnabas and Saul departed from Antioch's port, "Seleucia," which was located about 15 miles to the west of Antioch, near where the Orontes River flowed into the Mediterranean Sea. The island of "Cyprus" (Kittim, Gen. 10:4; et al.) was Barnabas' homeland (Acts 4:36).[729] On a clear day the mountains of Cyprus are visible from Seleucia.[730]

"Cyprus was an island of great importance from very early times, being situated on the shipping lanes between Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece. In 57 B.C. it was annexed by Rome from Egypt and in 55 B.C. incorporated into the province of Cilicia. In 27 B.C. it became a separate province governed on behalf of the emperor Augustus by an imperial legate. In 22 B.C. Augustus relinquished its control to the senate, and, like other senatorial provinces, it was administered by a proconsul."[731]

13:5           "Salamis" was the largest town in eastern Cyprus, and it stood about 60 miles from Seleucia. It was a coastal city, and there were enough Jews there to warrant more than one synagogue The word "synagogue" is Greek and means "gathering together." Salamis' population was mainly Greek, but many Jews lived there as well.[732] Barnabas and Saul habitually visited the Jewish synagogues when they preached the gospel. They undoubtedly did so because this was where the people who were God-fearers and anticipators of the Messiah assembled, both Jews and Gentiles.

"… the main object of the synagogue was the teaching of the people."[733]

This was not the first time the Christian gospel had come to Cyprus, but the Christians had only evangelized Jews there earlier (cf. 11:19). "John" Mark probably provided assistance to Barnabas and Saul in many ways "as their helper." Timothy served in a similar capacity when Paul and Silas left Lystra on Paul's second missionary journey (cf. 16:1-3).[734]

13:6-8        Barnabas and Saul traveled west across Cyprus coming eventually to "Paphos," which was the provincial capital of the island. Paphos was 90 miles west of Salamis, and it lay on the western coast of Cyprus. Evidently word reached "Sergius Paulus" of the missionaries' preaching. Since he was "a man of intelligence" (Gr. aner syneton, i.e., an understanding man who had keen mental discernment and good judgment, cf. v. 12), he ordered the missionaries to meet with him so that he could "hear" their message ("the word of God") personally.

"In the Greek world it was the custom for philosophers, rhetoricians, or religious propagandists, to travel about from city to city and give public orations. By this means they often secured permanent professorships. So when Sergius Paulus heard of Barnabas and Saul, he took them for similar professors, and having an interest in these matters he summoned them to give a declamation before his court."[735]

Sergius Paulus was a proconsul, which was the highest Roman government official on the island, and he was there by the appointment of Rome's senate.[736]

"The [archaeological] discoveries show that this was the correct designation of the title of the ruler of Cyprus in the time that Paul and Barnabas were there."[737]

In contrast to proconsuls, procurators (also called governors or prefects) were appointed by the emperor. Procurators mentioned in the New Testament were Pontius Pilate, Antonius Felix, and Porcius Festus.[738] Evidently "Bar-Jesus" (lit. "Son of a Savior") was "a Jewish false prophet," in the sense that he claimed to be a prophet of God but was not. He was only a "magician" who may have had some Satanic power (cf. 8:9).

"… Satan has his miracles, which, though they are deceitful tricks rather than true powers, are of such sort as to mislead the simple-minded and untutored [cf. II Thess. 2:9-10]. Magicians and enchanters have always been noted for miracles. Idolatry has been nourished by wonderful miracles, yet these are not sufficient to sanction for us the superstition either of magicians or of idolaters."[739]

The Mosaic Law forbade Jews from practicing magic (Deut. 18:10-11). "Elymas" (Wise) seems to have been a nickname. It describes a sorcerer, "magician," or fortune-teller (Gr. magos, cf. Matt. 2:1, 7, 16). He may have opposed the missionaries because they brought the true message of God. Moses and Aaron had similarly withstood magicians in Pharaoh's court (Exod. 7:11, 22; 8:7). Additionally, Elymas may have felt that if Sergius Paulus believed the gospel, his relationship to the proconsul would suffer.

"It was not usual for such a character to be attached to the household of a Roman dignitary."[740]

Roman officials were notoriously superstitious.[741]

13:9           Luke now introduced Saul's Greek name "Paul," by which he referred to him hereafter in Acts (cf. 14:12; 15:12, 25) and by which Paul always identified himself in his epistles (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15). This indicates an important change in the career of Paul. Compare the changing of Abram's name to Abraham, and Simon's to Peter. The reason for Luke's change at this point seems to be that it was here that Paul's ministry to the Gentiles really began (cf. 22:21). "Paul" means "Little," which was perhaps an allusion to his physical stature, and "Paul" obviously rhymes with his Jewish name "Saul" (lit. "Asked"). "Paul" therefore may have been a cognomen (nickname). Howson, however, believed that "Paul" was the apostle's Roman name.[742] Yet others believed that Paul's first and family Roman names appear nowhere in Scripture.[743]

"Both names, Saul and Paul, were probably given him by his parents, in accordance with Jewish custom, which still prevails, of giving a child two names, one religious and one secular."[744]

Note Luke's reference to Paul's being "filled with the Holy Spirit." We have seen that Spirit-filling marked the early believers (v. 9; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 9:17). Paul was about to announce a divine miracle that was designed to frustrate Satan's work in hindering the progress of the gospel (cf. 8:9-23; 16:16-18; 19:13-17). A true prophet of the Lord was getting ready to pronounce a curse on a false prophet (cf. 2 Chron. 18:9-27). This fresh "filling" (Gr. plestheis, a Greek aorist participle) empowered him for the task.

13:10         Instead of being full of wisdom, Paul accused Elymas of being "full of all deceit and fraud." Instead of being the son of a savior or the follower of Jesus, Bar-Jesus was a "son of the devil" and an "enemy of all righteousness." Instead of being the promoter of righteousness, this magician was making "the straight ways of the Lord" "crooked." This is the second of four incidents involving victory over demonic powers in Acts (cf. 8:9-23; 16:16-18; 19:13-17).

13:11         Paul's stern words recall Peter's word when he dealt with Ananias and Sapphira and with Simon the sorcerer (5:3-4, 9; 8:20-23). Perhaps Paul hoped that when God darkened Elymas' physical eyesight He might restore his spiritual eyesight, as had been his own experience (ch. 9).

13:12         This show of superior power convinced Sergius Paulus of the truth of Paul's gospel, and he "believed" it. Notice again that belief is all that was necessary for his salvation (cf. 14:1; 17:34; 19:18). It was Paul's "teaching of [concerning] the Lord" that Sergius Paulus believed. There is some extrabiblical evidence that Sergius Paulus' daughter and other descendants also became Christians.[745]

"This blinding of the false prophet opened the eyes of Sergius Paulus."[746]

The blinding of Elymas shows that Paul possessed the power of binding that God had also given to Peter (cf. Matt. 16:19). God validated Paul's message by granting a miracle. This was especially helpful in evangelism before the completion of the New Testament canon. Here a Roman Gentile (Sergius Paulus) responded to the gospel, whereas a Jew (Elymas) did not.

This incident is significant in the unfolding of Luke's purpose because at Paphos Paul assumed the leadership among this group of missionaries (cf. v. 13). The mission of the church also became more Gentile oriented. Jewish response continued to be rejection and therefore spiritual blindness, symbolized by Elymas' physical blindness (cf. 28:26-27). Furthermore, this was the first appearance of Christianity before Roman aristocracy and high authority, which was a new benchmark for the advance of the Christian mission. Paul's conflict with Elymas is also reminiscent of others in the Old Testament in which prophets with rival messages made presentations to kings and people (cf. 1 Kings 22; Jer. 28—29).

"The conversion of Sergius Paulus was, in fact, a turning point in Paul's whole ministry and inaugurated a new policy in the mission to Gentiles—viz., the legitimacy of a direct approach to and full acceptance of Gentiles apart from any distinctive Jewish stance. This is what Luke clearly sets forth as the great innovative development of this first missionary journey (14:27; 15:3). Earlier Cornelius had been converted apart from any prior commitment to Judaism, and the Jerusalem church had accepted his conversion to Christ. But the Jerusalem church never took Cornelius's conversion as a precedent for the Christian mission and apparently preferred not to dwell on its ramifications. However, Paul, whose mandate was to Gentiles, saw in the conversion of Sergius Paulus further aspects of what a mission to Gentiles involved and was prepared to take this conversion as a precedent fraught with far-reaching implications for his ministry. It is significant that from this point on Luke always calls the apostle by his Greek name Paul and, except for 14:14; 15:12; and 15:25 (situations where Barnabas was more prominent), always emphasizes his leadership by listing him first when naming the missioners. For after this, it was Paul's insight that set the tone for the church's outreach to the Gentile world."[747]

3.     The mission to Asia Minor 13:13—14:21a

Having evangelized Barnabas' homeland, the missionaries next moved into southern Asia Minor (modern western Turkey).

"The contact with Sergius Paulus is the key to the subsequent itinerary of the first missionary journey. From Cyprus Paul and Barnabas struck east [sic north] to the newly founded colony of Pisidian Antioch, miles away from any Cypriot's normal route. Modern scholars have invoked Paul's wish to reach the uplands of Asia and recover from a passing sickness. … We know, however, that the family of the Sergii Pauli had a prominent connection with Pisidian Antioch … the Sergii Pauli's local influence was linked with their ownership of a great estate nearby in central Anatolia [the western peninsula of Asia, bounded by the Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean seas, that forms the greater pert of Turkey]: it is an old and apt guess that these connections go back to the time of Paul's governor. They explain very neatly why Paul and Barnabas left the governor's presence and headed straight for distant Pisidian Antioch. He directed them to the area where his family had land, power and influence. The author of Acts saw only the impulse of the Holy Spirit, but Christianity entered Roman Asia on advice from the highest society."[748]

Arrival in Pamphylia 13:13

"Pamphylia" was a Roman province that lay west of the kingdom of Antiochus, which was west of Cilicia, Paul's home province. "Perga" (modern Perge) stood 12 miles inland from the major seaport of Attalia (modern Antalya, cf. 14:25-26), but it had an inland harbor on the Cestrus River.

In Perga, "John" Mark "left" Paul and Barnabas "and returned to Jerusalem." Paul did not approve of his decision (15:38), but Luke did not record Mark's reasons for leaving. The commentators have suggested several reasons including homesickness (cf. 12:12), fear of illness (cf. Gal. 4:13), and fear of danger in the Taurus Mountains north of Perga (cf. 15:38-39). Archaeological discoveries have confirmed that this was dangerous territory.[749] Paul purposed to cross these mountains in order to get to Antioch of Pisidia. Others have cited the changes that were taking place in the mission's leadership from Barnabas, John Mark's cousin, to Paul as a reason for his departure. Another plausible explanation is disagreement over the validity of a direct approach to and full acceptance of Gentiles.[750] John Mark, of course, had strong ties to the Jerusalem church and could well have resisted this approach, as so many other Jews did. Yet another view is that John Mark considered the decision to go north a departure from the original plan.[751] Or perhaps he was led by the Spirit to depart in order to accomplish some other purpose for God.

Ministry in Antioch of Pisidia 13:14-52

Paul and Barnabas proceeded north, inland from the coast, about 100 miles to "Pisidian Antioch" (Antioch of Pisidia). The road took them from sea level to 3,600 feet elevation through bandit-infested country.[752] They eventually reached a lake-filled plateau. Paul later wrote to the Galatians that he had preached the gospel to them at first because of a weakness of the flesh (Gal. 4:13). This seems to indicate that Paul was not in good health when he ministered in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Many commentators have followed the theory of William Ramsay, who argued that Paul suffered from malaria, which he contracted on the lowlands of Perga.[753]

Antioch of Pisidia was a Roman colony, as were Lystra, Troas, Philippi, and Corinth. Roman colonies stood at strategic places in the empire along frequently traveled roads. As such, Antioch would have been a good place to plant a church. The Via Sabaste, the Roman road that ran from Ephesus to the Euphrates River, passed through this Antioch.

"Antioch was the most important city of southern Galatia and included within its population a rich amalgam of Greek, Roman, Oriental, and Phrygian traditions. Acts tells us that it also had a sizeable Jewish population."[754]

"In bringing the gospel to Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were planting Christianity in the communication nerve center and heart of Asia Minor."[755]

People referred to this town as "Pisidian Antioch" because it was close to the geographical region of Pisidia, though its site was in the geographical region of Phrygia. They called it "Antioch of Pisidia" in order to distinguish it from another Antioch that was also located in Phrygia.[756]

"It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator about 281 B.C. as one of the sixteen cities he named in honor of either his father or his son, both of whom bore the name Antiochus."[757]

This town was in the Roman province of Galatia and was the chief military and political center in the southern part of the Galatian province.[758] Luke recorded that the missionaries had contact with seven different types of people here: synagogue officials, ordinary Jews, proselytes, God-fearers, devout women of high standing, Gentiles, and leading men of the city. They reached all levels of society.

The visit to the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia 13:14-15

Paul and Barnabas attended the Sabbath service in a local "synagogue."

"In the Hellenistic and Roman periods Asia Minor had a substantial Jewish population. … The massive influx of a Jewish population into Asia Minor took place at the end of the third century BC, when Antiochus III settled two thousand Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Babylonia in Lydia and Phrygia, in order to maintain the security of his hold over this region."[759]

Normally the synagogue service began with the Shema ("Hear, O Israel, …", Deut. 6:4) and the Shemoneh Esreh (a liturgy of benedictions, blessings, and prayers). Then the leaders would read two passages from the Old Testament aloud, one from the Mosaic "Law," and a related passage from "the Prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible. Then some competent person whom the synagogue rulers designated would give an address. The service would conclude with a benediction. On this occasion the synagogue leaders, who were local Jewish laymen, invited Paul and Barnabas to give an address if they had some "word of exhortation" (encouraging word) to share.

Paul initiated his typical pattern of ministry in Antioch of Pisidia. In every town with a sizable Jewish population that he visited, except Athens, according to Luke, the apostle first preached in the synagogue to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who gathered there. When the Jews refused to listen further, he then went to Gentiles directly with the gospel. Evidently Paul went to the synagogues first because his audience there had a theological background that made it easier for them to understand and believe the gospel and because they respected the one true God.

"There was, of course, a practical matter involved. If they had begun evangelizing among gentiles first, the synagogue would have been closed to them."[760]

Paul's synagogue sermon in Antioch of Pisidia 13:16-41

Luke recorded three of Paul's evangelistic messages to unbelievers: here in Pisidian Antioch, in Lystra (14:15-17), and in Athens (17:22-31). This is the longest of the three, though Luke quite certainly condensed all of them. This one takes most people less than a minute to read.

"He [Paul] may have written out notes of this sermon afterwards for Luke. The keynotes of Paul's theology as found in his Epistles appear in this sermon."[761]

This sermon is very similar to Peter's sermon in 2:14-40 and Stephen's in 7:2-53.[762] It contains three parts marked off by three occurrences of direct address: preparation for the coming of Messiah (vv. 16-25), the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection of Messiah (vv. 26-37), and the application and appeal (vv. 38-41).[763]

"The variety in these missionary sermons and the speeches of Christians on trial before Jewish and Roman bodies is no doubt meant to illustrate the different ways in which the gospel was presented to different groups of people, Jews and Greeks, cultured and uncultured, and it is hard to resist the impression that the sermons are presented as models for Luke's readers to use in their own evangelism."[764]

Luke probably recorded this address to enable his readers to see how Paul preached to people who knew the Hebrew Scriptures.[765]

"Speeches in Acts are differentiated less with reference to the speakers than with reference to the audience."[766]

"Since this speech is carefully crafted to be persuasive to a Diaspora Jewish audience, it not only has the form of deliberative rhetoric but it reflects the patterns of early Jewish argumentation."[767]

13:16         "Paul stood up" and motioned "with his hand," both actions being typical of people who gave exhortations in synagogues. He addressed his Jewish hearers as "Men of Israel," and he called the Gentile God-fearers who were present "you who fear God."

13:17-22    Paul first reviewed God's preparation for Israel's redemption from the choice of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ("God … chose our fathers") through "David" (cf. 7:2-50; Matt. 1:2-17). He highlighted five important points that the Jews often stressed in their confessions: (1) God was the God of the Israelites ("The God of this people Israel"; v. 17). (2) God chose the patriarchs ("our fathers"; v. 17). (3) God created the Israelite nation ("made the people great"), redeemed His people out of Egypt, and patiently led them through "the wilderness" (vv. 17-18). (4) He then gave them Canaan ("distributed their [the Canaanites'] land") as an inheritance (v. 19). The "about 450 years" mentioned (v. 19) probably refers to Israel's 400 years in Egypt plus the 40 years in the wilderness plus the 10 years of conquest and settlement in the Promised Land (1845—1395 B.C.; cf. 7:6).[768] (5) Finally, God gave the Israelites faithful King "David" after a succession of lesser leaders (vv. 20-22). It was particularly David's heart for God, that resulted in his carrying out God's "will," that Paul stressed (v. 22). These qualities marked David's successor, Jesus Christ, too.

13:23         Paul then announced that the promised Messiah ("a Savior") had come and that He was "Jesus." The "promise" in view seems to be the one in Isaiah 11:1-16, which speaks of Messiah coming from David's descendants.

13:24-25    Most of the Jews of the dispersion knew about "John" the Baptist's ministry. Often the early Christian preachers began the message of Jesus with John the Baptist, who announced and prepared for "His coming" (cf. Mark 1:2-8). John clarified that he himself was not the Messiah, but was simply His forerunner (Luke 3:15-18).

"It may be that followers of John the Baptist, believing him to have been the Messiah, and constituting a sect which had spread outwards from Palestine, presented more of a problem to Christian missionaries about this time than the NT evidence would suggest; a hint of this is given in 19:3-5. If such were the case, it would account for Paul's strong emphasis here on John's role as merely the herald of the Messiah."[769]

13:26         Before proceeding to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, Paul paused to address his hearers by groups again (cf. v. 16) and to personalize the gospel message to them. He noted that the gospel ("the message of this salvation") is for both Jews ("sons of Abraham's family") and Gentiles ("those among you who fear God").

13:27-31    He then proceeded to narrate the rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-5). He pointed out that all these events were fulfillments of Old Testament predictions ("the declarations of the prophets which are read every Sabbath"), which most of the Jews living "in Jerusalem, and their rulers" did not recognize at the time (vv. 27, 29). He also noted Jesus' innocence of the charges brought against Him, and the fact that "they asked Pilate that He be executed" (v. 28). After an indirect reference to Jesus' crucifixion, Paul mentioned Jesus' burial (v. 29). Paul stressed Jesus' resurrection particularly as God's vindication of Him (v. 30), and he highlighted the apostles' personal witness of His resurrection (v. 31; cf. 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39-41). God had vindicated and prepared Jesus to reign by raising "Him from the dead." This is the fifth time in Acts that the apostles claimed to be personal "witnesses" of Jesus Christ's resurrection (cf. 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39-41; 13:30-31). Paul's point was that David's promised heir, the Messiah, had come and that He was "Jesus" (cf. v. 33).

13:32-37    Paul supported the fulfillment of this "promise made to the fathers" by quoting three Old Testament Messianic passages: Psalm 2:7 (v. 33), Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34), and Psalm 16:10 (v. 35; cf. 2:27). These Old Testament texts all found fulfillment in the "raising" up of "Jesus." However, Paul used "raised up" in two different senses in this speech: In verses 33 and 37, he spoke of God raising up Jesus as the promised Messiah. Psalm 2:7 refers to God similarly raising up David as Israel's king. Second, Paul spoke in verses 30 and 34 of God raising up Jesus from the dead.

"The 'virgin tomb' (John 19:41) was like a 'womb' that gave birth to Jesus Christ in resurrection glory."[770]

Jesus was always the "Son" of God ontologically (with regard to His essential being), but God declared Him to be His "Son" when He raised Him from the dead and made Him the Davidic ruler (Ps. 2:7). Similarly, God had declared Solomon His son when He gave David the Davidic Covenant (cf. 2 Sam. 7:10-14).

Some interpreters believe that Paul meant that Jesus is now ruling over David's kingdom.[771] Though there are connections with Jesus' enthronement as the Davidic King in these Old Testament passages, it seems clear from Paul's emphasis on God raising up Jesus, in verses 30-37, that he was using these passages to show that Jesus' resurrection proved that He is the Davidic King, not that He has begun to reign as the Davidic King. Here Paul said nothing explicitly about Jesus' reigning as Israel's King, but he said much about Jesus' being Israel's King.

"Paul did not say Jesus is now ruling over the kingdom of David, but only that the Son of David is now in a position to rule forever when He returns."[772]

Since Jesus rose "from the dead," God can give people the blessings that He promised would come through David (v. 34; Isa. 55:3; cf. 2:25-32). The blessings ("mercies") mentioned in this Old Testament passage are those of the New Covenant. The facts that Jesus was raised from the dead and did not undergo "decay" prove that He is the Holy One of whom David spoke in Psalm 16:10 (v. 35).

Paul's argument was that God had first raised up David, and had promised a Savior from his posterity. God then fulfilled that promise by raising up Jesus as the Messiah, whom He identified as His Son by raising Him from the dead.[773]

13:38-39    Paul ended his historical review with an exhortation and appeal to his readers (cf. v. 15). He now addressed his two types of hearers collectively as "brothers" (v. 38, Gr. andres adelphoi). When it comes to responding to the gospel, all people, Jews and Gentiles, are on the same level. "Through" Jesus, Paul asserted, "everyone who believes" (the only condition) has "forgiveness of sins" (cf. 2:38; 10:43) and "is freed from all things [i.e., justified]."

"The translation of dikaiothenai ["forgiveness of sins"] and dikaioutai ["freed from all things"] in Acts 13::38-39 is difficult. … In the interest of consistency both verbs are rendered 'justified' in this [NET2] translation."[774]

Justification is God's judicial declaration of righteousness, cf. Deut. 25:1. Justification could not come through the Mosaic "Law," he reminded his hearers. This is the only reference in Acts to justification by faith in Jesus.[775]

"The apostle so connects forgiveness of sins with righteousness that he shows them to be exactly the same."[776]

"What we have in the application of Paul's message (despite its cumbersome expression in its précis form) are his distinctive themes of 'forgiveness of sins,' 'justification,' and 'faith,' which resound in this first address ascribed to him in Acts just as they do throughout his extant letters."[777]

Paul later developed the truth of justification, and forgiveness apart from the Mosaic Law, in his epistle to the Galatians. He probably wrote Galatians to the same people that he spoke to here shortly after he completed this first missionary journey. Later he set forth these themes more fully in his epistle to the Romans. These verses summarize the arguments of Galatians and Romans in one sentence.

13:40-41    Paul concluded his message by applying Habakkuk's warning to all who reject the good news about Jesus Christ. God's working in their day, by providing the Messiah, was something that they could not afford to disbelieve and scoff at, or they would "perish."

"Habakkuk 1:5, which Paul quoted here, refers to an invasion of Judah by a Gentile nation that would be used as God's disciplinary instrument to punish Judah for her disobedience. Paul evidently saw his generation in Israel under a similar disciplinary judgment. Paul's message, like Peter's [on the day of Pentecost] was delivered to a generation in Israel under the judgment Christ had predicted [in Luke 21:24, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70]."[778]

In a larger sense, of course, unbelieving "scoffers" perish eternally for rejecting the gospel.

"Parallel with the positive theme of the preparation for the coming of the Christ through Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David and John the Baptist, he [Paul] has interwoven an admonitory reminder of those who have failed to recognize the divine plan and purpose—the Canaanites, Saul, the Jerusalem Jews and Pilate. Now he presents the Dispersion Jews with a similar challenge to accept or refuse the Gospel message."[779]

The consequences of Paul's message 13:42-52

13:42-43    Paul's message created great interest in the hearts of many people who listened to him. Paul possessed great powers of persuasion (cf. 18:4; 19:8, 26; 26:28; 28:23; 2 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 1:10), but the Holy Spirit was at work too. Paul and Barnabas continued clarifying the gospel for their inquirers during the following week. Here "the grace of God" (v. 23) refers to the sphere of life into which one enters by believing in Jesus Christ.

13:44-45    One reason for the unsaved Jews' antagonism was the large crowd ("nearly all the city") that Paul's message attracted. "Jealousy," rather than the Holy Spirit, "filled" and controlled these unbelieving Jews and again led to persecution (cf. 5:17).

"Knowing (as we unfortunately do) how pious Christian pew-holders can manifest quite un-Christian indignation when they arrive at church on a Sunday morning to find their places occupied by rank outsiders who have come to hear a popular visiting preacher, we can readily appreciate the annoyance of the Jewish community at finding their synagogue practically taken over by a Gentile congregation on this occasion."[780]

"The majority of the Jews, including undoubtedly the leaders of the Jewish community, were apparently unwilling to countenance [tolerate] a salvation as open to Gentiles as it was to Jews."[781]

Another reason for the Jews' hostile reaction was that, like other Jews elsewhere, most of the Jews in Pisidian Antioch did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They "were blaspheming" by saying that He was not the Messiah.

13:46         Like the apostles in Jerusalem had done, Paul and Barnabas responded to the opposition "boldly" (cf. 4:29). "It was necessary" for the gospel to go to the Jews before the Gentiles not only because Jewish acceptance of Jesus is a prerequisite to the arrival of Messiah's earthly kingdom (cf. 3:26). It was also necessary because Jesus was the Messiah whom God had promised to deliver the Jews. The gospel was good news to the Jews in a greater sense than it was to the Gentiles. Paul almost always preached the gospel to the Jews "first" in the towns that he visited (cf. 13:50-51; 14:2-6; 17:5, 13-15; 18:6; 19:8-9; 28:23-28; Rom. 1:16). The Jews' rejection of the gospel led him to offer it next "to the Gentiles."

"Now for the first time Dispersion Jews follow the example of their Jerusalem counterparts in rejecting Christ, and for the first time Paul publicly announces his intention of turning his back on them and concentrating on the purely Gentile mission."[782]

By rejecting Jesus, these Jews were in actuality, though not consciously, judging themselves unworthy of salvation. In irony, Paul said that those who repudiated the gospel were really judging themselves to be "unworthy of eternal life" (i.e., salvation and its benefits).[783] Usually most of the Jews who heard Paul's preaching rejected it, and only a few of them believed, but usually many Gentiles accepted the gospel.

13:47         Paul quoted the Isaiah commission because he was addressing Jews. Isaiah explained their duty. He and Barnabas were only carrying out God's will. The servant of the Lord is the person addressed in Isaiah 49:6. Jesus Christ, the perfect Servant of the Lord, was the ultimate "light to the Gentiles" who would "bring salvation to the end of the earth" (cf. Luke 2:28-32). As Israel and Christ had been lights to the Gentiles (Gen. 46:3; Luke 2:29-32), so now were Paul and Barnabas (cf. Matt. 5:14-16). Not only had the Jews received a commission to reach out to the Gentiles with blessing (Exod. 19:5-6; Isa. 49:6), but so had Jesus' disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).

13:48-49    Luke again stressed that the results of the preaching of the gospel were due to God's work (1:1-2). The Christian evangelists were only harvesting the wheat that God had already prepared. Verse 48 is a strong statement of predestination: "all who had been appointed to eternal life believed" the gospel (cf. Eph. 1:4, 11).

"Once again the human responsibility of believing is shown to coincide exactly with what God in his sovereignty had planned."[784]

Good news spreads fast, and the good news of the gospel spread through that "whole region."

"This spreading of the word, along with the apostles' own outreach to the cities named in chapters 13 and 14, probably led to the agitation of the so-called Judaizers that resulted in the problem Paul dealt with in Galatians."[785]

13:50         The Jews secured Paul's and Barnabas' expulsion from their district. They did this through influential local residents who brought "persecution" on the missionaries. Some of these people were "devout ["worshipping"] women of prominence" and "the leading men of the city," people whom the unbelieving Jews turned against Paul and Barnabas (cf. 10:2).

"… synagogue worship attracted many Gentile women as adherents of Judaism; in Asia Minor wealthy matrons exercised much more influence than was the case in most other parts of the Empire."[786]

13:51         Shaking "the dust" off one's "feet" was a graphic way that Jews illustrated separation from unbelievers (cf. Matt. 10:14; Luke 9:5; 10:11). "Iconium" (modern Konia) stood about 90 miles to the southeast of Antioch, and it was also in Phrygian Galatia. Paul and Barnabas undoubtedly traveled the southeast branch of the Via Sabaste to arrive there.

"As the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the church, so the banishment of the confessors has helped to scatter that seed."[787]

13:52         The identity of "the disciples" in this verse is not clear. They could be Paul and Barnabas or the new converts in Antioch. I tend to think that the word "disciples" refers to both groups. Fullness of "joy" and fullness of "the Holy Spirit" marked these disciples.

It is interesting that two references to joy (vv. 48, 52) bracket the one reference to persecution in this passage (v. 50), which suggests that the missionaries' joy overrode the discomforts of persecution (cf. 16:24-25).

Ministry in Iconium 14:1-7

"The fourteenth chapter tells experiences of Christian missionary work entirely different from those related elsewhere in Acts. All the other adventures of the Apostles are in Jerusalem and in the larger cities."[788]

14:1-2        "Iconium" was a Greek city-state in the geographic region of Phrygia. It was the easternmost city in that region. Ramsay calculated that Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium in late October or in November and spent the whole winter there.[789]

"… it would appear that the people of Iconium regarded themselves as Phrygian even after Iconium had been united with Lycaonia in one district of Roman administration … Strictly speaking, Lystra and Derbe were cities of Lycaonia-Galatica, while Iconium reckoned itself as a city of Phrygia-Galatica, all three being comprised within the Roman province of Galatia."[790]

"… while Rome chose Antioch of Pisidia and Lystra as bastions of its authority in the area, Iconium remained largely Greek in temper and somewhat resistant to Roman influence, though Hadrian later made it a Roman colony."[791]

The name "IIconium" comes from eikon, the Greek word for "image." According to Greek mythology, Prometheus and Athena recreated humanity there, after a devastating flood, by making images of people from mud and breathing life into them.[792]

Iconium was "… a garden spot, situated in the midst of orchards and farms, but surrounded by deserts. … Iconium, too, owed its bustling business activity to its location on the main trade route connecting Ephesus with Syria and the Mesopotamian world, as well as its orchard industries and farm produce."[793]

In Iconium Paul and Barnabas followed the same method of evangelizing that they had used in Antioch (13:14). They visited "the synagogue" first. They also experienced the same results: many conversions among both "Jews" and Gentiles ("Greeks"), but also rejection by some of the Jews (cf. 13:43). These "unbelieving Jews" stirred up unbelieving "Gentiles," and these Gentiles joined them in opposing the missionaries (13:50).

14:3           Because God was saving many people, the missionaries stayed on in Iconium "a long time," regardless of opposition that evidently increased gradually. They testified "boldly" (cf. 13:46) and relied on "the Lord" Jesus for their success. The phrase "the word of His grace" describes the gospel message and stresses the prominence of God's grace in it (cf. 20:24-32). Paul and Barnabas did many miracles ("signs and wonders") there, too, thus confirming their message (cf. 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6, 13; 15:12; Gal. 3:5, 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4).

"… the couplet 'miraculous signs and wonders' places the ministry of Paul and Barnabas directly in line with that of Jesus (cf. 2:22) and the early church (cf. 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36) in fulfillment of prophecy (cf. 2:19)—as it does also in 15:12. Later when writing [to] his Galatian converts (assuming a 'South Galatian' origin for the letter), Paul appeals to these mighty works performed by the Spirit as evidence that the gospel as he preached it and they received it was fully approved by God (cf. Gal 3:4-5)."[794]

14:4           "The apostles" were Paul and Barnabas. Luke used the word "apostle" in the technical sense to describe the Twelve apostles plus Paul in Acts. But he also used it less frequently in the non-technical sense to describe any believer sent out into the world with the salvation message (e.g., v. 14; cf. Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). There were only 13 men with the office of apostleship, but there were many others who, with more or less gift, did the work of an apostle. Similarly, there were some with the prophetic office, but many more with prophetic ministries.[795]

14:5-7                 "The schematic description of the mission in Iconium follows the pattern of the mission in Jerusalem more closely than the pattern of the mission in Antioch of Pisidia."[796]

"Paul never went off into a corner, gathered a handful, and then thought his task done. Even in Athens he had the philosophers of the city around him. So he thoroughly evangelized Iconium."[797]

"The Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers" took the initiative in persecuting the evangelists. The attempt to "stone" them appears to have been an act of mob violence rather than a formal Jewish attempt at execution (cf. 7:58-59).

"It would have required a regular Hebrew court to sanction it [a legal stoning], and it would never have been tolerated in a Roman colony."[798]

"Paul and Barnabas had no idea of remaining to be stoned (lynched) by this mob. It is a wise preacher who always knows when to stand his ground and when to leave for the glory of God. Paul and Barnabas were following the directions of the Lord Jesus given to the twelve on their special tour of Galilee (Matt. 10:23)."[799]

As the result of persecution Paul and Barnabas moved south into the geographical region of "Lycaonia," which was also in the Roman province of Galatia. The word "Lycaonia" means "Land of the Wolf." This became the next area of their ministry. They left one political area to start afresh in another. This may have taken place in June.[800]

"Luke's accuracy was once severely challenged on this point because abundant records exist showing that Iconium was also a Lycaonian city, and thus no border would have been crossed between Iconium and Lystra. It was careful study of this matter which changed the British scholar William Ramsay into a strong defender of Luke's accuracy when he discovered that Iconium was Lycaonian earlier and again later, but that Luke's statement 'was accurate at the period when Paul visited Lycaonia; that it was accurate at no other time except between 37 and 72 A.D.'"[801]

Luke did not mention synagogue evangelism here. Perhaps there were so few Jews that there was no synagogue in Lystra (as was the case in Philippi). Another possibility is that Luke simply did not mention it because it was an insignificant detail in this part of his story.

Ministry in Lystra 14:8-20a

14:8           Like Antioch of Pisidia, "Lystra" (modern Zoldera) was a Roman colony.[802] It was the most eastern of the fortified cities of Galatia.[803] Lystra was about 20 miles south of Iconium. As mentioned previously twenty miles was a normal day's travel in the Roman Empire at this time.

"The further on Paul and Barnabas went the further they got from civilisation [sic]."[804]

Luke stressed the hopeless case of the lame man (cf. 3:1-10; 9:33-35).

"Luke undoubtedly wanted his readers to recognize the parallel between the healing of this crippled man and the healing of another one by Peter (cf. 3:1-8) …"[805]

"In opposition to those who would challenge Paul's claim to apostolic authority based on his direct commission from the risen Christ, Luke is concerned to show that his hero shares with the chief Apostle [Peter] the healing power vested in his disciples by the Lord himself (Jn 14:12) and exemplified in Jesus' own ministry (Lk. 7:22)."[806]

"… it must be remembered that ancient historians looked for and believed in the existence of repeated cycles or patterns in history, such that one could learn from what has gone before and to a certain degree know what to expect from the future.[807] This sort of thinking was characteristic of various of the Hellenistic historians, especially Polybius …"[808]

14:9-10      As is true of other similar references to a healed person's "faith," this man's confidence was in God. He believed God could heal him, not that God would necessarily do so. Confidence that God would heal him, in other words, is not what made him whole. It was confidence that God, through His servant, could heal him that constituted his faith (e.g., Matt. 9:28-29; Mark 9:22-24). His faith was a factor in his receiving healing (cf. Mark 6:5-6). Actually, the Greek word translated "made well" is sozo, which means "saved." So while the man may have had faith to be saved spiritually, the context suggests that he probably believed that he could be saved physically.

"… Paul and Barnabas had the gifts of an apostle, the sign gifts. They came into these places without any New Testament with the message of the gospel. What were their credentials? How could they prove their message was from God? The sign gifts were their credentials—they needed them. Today we have the entire Bible, and what people need today is to study this Bible and to learn what it has to say."[809]

14:11-12    Why did Luke refer to the fact that the natives spoke in the local "Lycaonian language"? He probably did so in order to explain why their plans to honor Paul and Barnabas got as far as they did before the missionaries objected (v. 14). People who lived in Asia Minor spoke three languages at least: Latin (the official administrative language), Greek (the commonly spoken language of the empire), and the local native language, which in this case was "Lycaonian."[810]

Archaeology has turned up evidence of a legend in Lystra that Zeus and Hermes once visited an elderly couple who lived there: a man named Philemon and his wife Baucis.[811] This supposedly took place before Paul and Barnabas' visit. Apparently the locals concluded that these "gods" had returned. "Zeus" was the chief god in the Greek pantheon, and "Hermes" was his herald. The residents of Lystra identified Barnabas with Zeus (whom the Romans called Jupiter). Perhaps he looked dignified and authoritative. They called Paul Hermes (the Roman Mercury) because he was "the chief speaker." According to Greek legend, Hermes invented speech and was an eloquent speaker. The English word "hermeneutics," the science of interpretation, comes from this Greek word.[812]

If Satan cannot derail Christian witness with persecution, he will try praise. Too much persecution has destroyed many preachers, and too much praise has ruined many others. One of the problems with miracles is that they often draw more attention to the miracle worker than to God.

14:13         Customarily the pagan Gentiles decorated animals destined for "sacrifice" to the Greek gods, like these "oxen," with woolen "garlands," and then they led them to the place of sacrifice.

14:14         Tearing one's robe was a common way that Jews expressed grief and, in this case, horror because of blasphemy (cf. Mark 14:63). Usually they "tore" the robe for about four or five inches from the neckline.[813]

14:15-18    By recording the substance of what Paul and Barnabas said here, Luke preserved a sample of their preaching to pagan audiences (cf. 13:16-41; 17:22-31).

"With a pagan audience it was necessary to begin a stage further back with the proclamation of the one true God."[814]

In earlier times ("In past generations"), God had manifested the knowledge of Himself to Gentiles mainly through creation and members of the nation of Israel (cf. Rom. 1). Now He was giving them more special revelation through members of the church. This was the first time that Luke recorded the "preaching" of "the gospel" to a group that was predominantly, if not exclusively, Gentile. Thus this incident became another benchmark of worldwide gospel extension.

Timothy was apparently a native of Lystra (cf. 16:1-2; 20:4; 2 Tim. 1:5). He evidently had a Jewish mother and grandmother (cf. 16:3; 2 Tim. 1:5). This may indicate that there were some Jews who lived there.

"Paul's speech here, apart from his address to the Athenian philosophers (17:22ff.), is the only example in Acts of his technique in dealing with a purely pagan audience; it is a striking example of his ability to reinterpret the Gospel in terms intelligible to his hearers. It differs widely from his approach to Jews and adherents of Judaism, as illustrated by his sermon in the synagogue at Antioch (13:16ff.), where some knowledge of the scriptures could be assumed on the part of his listeners. Here, as at Athens, he proceeds on the basis of natural revelation—the providential order of the universe—which ought to lead men's thoughts from the cult of idols to the worship of a living God, Creator of all that exists; he expounds this line of argument more fully in Rom. 1:19ff.; 2:14f., and he writes of its successful outcome at Thessalonica in I Th. 1:9."[815]

14:19-20    We do not know how long it took the hostile "Jews … from Antioch and Iconium" to turn the tide of popular sentiment against Paul and Barnabas. They convinced the fickle residents of Lystra that the missionaries were deceivers rather than gods and that they deserved to die (cf. 28:4-6; Matt. 12:24). A few days earlier, the people of Lystra had treated the apostles better than angels. Now they treated them worse than animals.

"Disillusioned fanatics are easily led off into contradictory actions."[816]

Some scholars believe that Paul died from this stoning and then experienced resurrection.[817] However, the text only says that onlookers supposed ("thinking") that Paul "was dead" (cf. 2 Cor. 11:25). It is possible that young Timothy was standing in the group of disciples who surrounded the apparently lifeless body of Paul. Ironside believed that this is when Paul was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4).[818] There is no way to prove or to disprove this theory. Luke's description of Paul's speedy recovery (v. 20) stresses God's powerful hand in restoring His servant (cf. 1:1-2). Paul courageously returned to Lystra ("entered the city"), but he "left" town "the next day" (v. 20b).

"It was John Wesley's advice, 'Always look a mob in the face.' Paul never did a braver thing than to go straight back into the city which had tried to murder him."[819]

Paul and Barnabas next moved about 60 miles farther to the southeast, to "Derbe" (meaning "Juniper," modern Kerti Hüyük), on the eastern border of the Galatian province.[820]

Ministry at Derbe 14:21a

Many more people became believers and disciples in Derbe (cf. 20:4). Luke did not record what the apostles experienced there, but this was the home of Gaius, one of Paul's later companions (20:4). Perhaps Gaius became a convert at this time.

The larger towns of "Antioch" and "Iconium" seem to have produced more influential churches, but the smaller ones of "Lystra" and "Derbe" contributed more young men who became leaders (i.e., Timothy and Gaius).

This is "a pattern not altogether different from today, where the larger churches often capture the headlines and the smaller congregations provide much of the personnel."[821]

4.     Paul and Barnabas' return to Antioch of Syria 14:21b-28

14:21b-22  The missionaries confined their labors to the Galatian province on this trip. They did not move farther east into the kingdom of Antiochus, or the province of Cilicia, which Paul may have evangelized previously during his time in Tarsus. Tarsus stood some 160 miles east of Derbe. Instead they retraced their steps to encourage, instruct, and organize the new converts in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia (cf. 18:23).[822] Apparently they did more discipleship than evangelism on this return trip to the very cities where the apostles' lives had been in danger.

Paul and Barnabas warned the new converts that they, too, should expect persecution ("many tribulations"; cf. Gal. 4:13; 6:17; 2 Tim. 3:11). The "kingdom of God" evidently refers to the rule of God generally, including His rule now (in the church) and later (in the earthly kingdom; cf. 1:3; 8:12). Entrance into Christ's earthly kingdom was still in the future for these disciples. Though Christians will not go through the Tribulation, we believers will experience tribulations before we enter the Millennium (2 Tim. 3:12).

14:23         The "elders" (plural) "in every church" (singular) that the apostles "appointed" must have been the more mature Christians in each congregation. Note that each of these churches had more than one leader (cf. 20:17; Phil. 1:1). There may have been more than one local church in each of these towns eventually, but at this early stage of pioneer evangelism there was probably only one church in each town.

"… it would be unwise to read into this basic administrative necessity later and more developed ideas of church order."[823]

Perhaps some of the elders from the synagogues in these communities who had become Christians became elders in the churches. Elder qualifications may have developed and become more specific, and somewhat stricter, between the time when these elders assumed office and when Paul specified their qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).

The text does not explain exactly how the appointment of these elders took place. "They" probably refers to Paul and Barnabas, since they are the subjects in view in the context. However, the Greek word used here (cheirotonesantes, "appointed") sometimes meant to elect by a vote of raised hands.[824] Consequently some interpreters believe that the Christians in these churches selected the elders (cf. 6:3).[825] Another possibility is that Paul and Barnabas made the selections and the people in the churches indicated their support of those chosen. The apostles had earlier appointed elders in the Jerusalem church (11:30). I doubt that they made the choice by casting lots since there is no other instance of casting lots recorded in the New Testament after 1:26, which took place before the Holy Spirit came to indwell all believers and provided better guidance than casting lots.

"Paul showed that it was his conviction that from the very beginning Christianity must be lived in a fellowship."[826]

This verse shows that churches can exist without elders, but every church should have elders as it matures.[827]

Note again the importance that Paul and Barnabas placed on prayer. They went without eating in order to pray (cf. 13:3). They also "entrusted" their new converts "to the Lord" Jesus, the Head of the church, "in whom they had believed." These missionaries did not overestimate their own importance and become paternalistic, as church planters sometimes are tempted to do.

14:24-26    "Pisidia" was the southernmost geographic region in the Roman province of Galatia. "Pamphylia" was the province south of Galatia and east of the kingdom of Antiochus. "Perga," like Derbe, was one of the sites that the missionaries visited that Luke chose not to comment on extensively (cf. 13:13-14). Perhaps Paul and Barnabas planted a church there too. The apostles then went down to "Attalia," which was a seaport 10 miles south of Perga, from where they set sail for Syrian "Antioch."

"Ports in antiquity were often satellite towns of larger and more important cities situated some distance inland for protection from pirates. So Luke's mention of Attalia here probably has no more significance than his mention of Seleucia (13:4), the port of Syrian Antioch, and merely identifies the place of embarkation for the voyage back to Syria."[828]

The chronological references in Acts and the Pauline epistles make it difficult to tell just how long it took Paul and Barnabas to complete the first missionary journey. Commentators estimate that it took them from the better part of one year to almost two years. They traveled a minimum of 500 miles by sea plus 700 by land. Beitzel estimated that Paul covered a total of about 1,400 miles on this journey.[829]

14:27-28    Luke was careful to record again the priority of God's initiative in this evangelistic mission (cf. 1:1-2). Paul and Barnabas had accomplished a wonderful work (v. 26), but they were careful to give God the credit for it. He was the One ultimately responsible for their success.

"Paul and Barnabas never thought that it was their strength or their power which had achieved anything. They spoke of what God had done with them. … We will begin to have the right idea of Christian service when we work, not for our own honour or prestige, but only from the conviction that we are tools in the hand of God."[830]

The fact that God had granted salvation "to the Gentiles" on an equal basis with Jews, simply by "faith" in Christ, would have been of special interest to Luke's early readers. This new phenomenon had taken place before: on the Gaza Road, in Caesarea, and in Syrian Antioch. However now large numbers of Gentile converts were entering the church through the "door of faith" without first becoming Jewish proselytes. Paul also used the figure of a door, in 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12, and Colossians 4:3. This opening of "a door of faith to the Gentiles" was the controversial issue that the Jerusalem Council, that Luke recorded in the next chapter, had to deal with.

It was probably during the time that Paul was in Syrian Antioch, after returning from the first missionary journey and before attending the conference in Jerusalem (ch. 15), that he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. He evidently wrote that letter to instruct the believers in the new churches that he and Barnabas had just planted. This would have been in the late A.D. 40s, probably A.D. 49. Galatians appears to have been the first of Paul's inspired epistles.[831]

"What about Luke's omission of Paul as letter writer? … Acts is about beginnings and missionary endeavors. Paul's letters, so far as we know, were written to congregations [and individuals] that were already established. This falls outside the purview of what Luke seeks to describe. Such an omission was only natural since Luke chose not to record the further developments of church life within the congregations Paul founded."[832]

There are many ways in which Paul's ministry and Peter's ministry corresponded. Here are a few of the correlations that Luke recorded, apparently in order to accredit Paul's ministry, which was mainly to the Gentiles and therefore highly controversial among the Jews. Peter's ministry was primarily to the Jews.

"1.     Both Peter and Paul engaged in three significant tours journeys [sic] recorded in the Book of Acts. Peter: 8:14ff; 9:32—11:2; 15:1-14 (see Gal. 2:11); Paul: 13:2—14:28; 15:36—18:22; 18:23—21:17.

2.      Early in their ministry both healed a lame person. Peter: 3:2ff; Paul: 14:8ff.

3.      Both saw extraordinary healings take place apart from physical contact with the afflicted individual. Peter's shadow in 5:15; those who brought handkerchiefs and aprons to Paul in 19:11. [The text does not say Peter's shadow was God's instrument in healing people.]

4.      Both were God's instruments to bring judgment on those who hindered the growth and purity of the infant church. Peter condemned Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11); Paul smote Elymas with blindness (13:6-11).

5.      Each had at least one long discourse [re]produced in full [?] which gives a summary of his preaching. Peter at Pentecost (2:14-40); Paul at Antioch (13:16-42).

6.      Both made the resurrection a primary emphasis in their proclamation. Peter: 2:24-36; 3:15, 26; 5:30; 10:40, 41; Paul: 13:30-37; 17:3, 18, 31; 24:15, 21; 25:19; 26:8, 23.

7.      Both exorcised demons. Peter: 5:16; Paul: 16:18.

8.      Both communicated the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Peter: 8:17; Paul: 19:6.

9.      Both had triumphant encounters with sorcerers. Peter: 8:18ff; Paul: 13:6ff.

10.    Both raised the dead. Peter: 9:36ff; Paul: 20:9ff.

11.    Both received visions to direct them into critical witnessing efforts. Peter: 10:9ff; Paul: 16:6ff.

12.    Both experienced miraculous deliverances from prison. Peter: 12:7ff; Paul: 16:25ff."[833]

Baxter also compared the ministries of Peter and Paul:[834]





First sermon ch. 2

First sermon ch. 13

Lame man healed ch. 3

Lame man healed ch. 14

Simon the sorcerer ch. 8

Elymas the sorcerer (ch. 13)

Influence of shadow ch. 5

Influence of handkerchief ch. 19

Laying on of hands ch. 8

Laying on of hands ch. 19

Peter worshipped ch. 10

Paul worshipped ch. 14

Tabitha raised ch. 9

Eutychus raised ch. 20

Peter imprisoned ch. 12

Paul imprisoned ch. 28


5.     The Jerusalem Council 15:1-35

The increasing number of Gentiles who were becoming Christians raised a problem within the church: What was the relationship of the church to Judaism? Some Christians, especially the more conservative Jewish believers, argued that Christianity was a party within Judaism, the party of true believers. They assumed that Gentile Christians, therefore, needed to become Jewish proselytes, which involved being circumcised and obeying the Mosaic Law.

"In truth, there was no law to prevent the spread of Judaism [within the Roman Empire at this time]. Excepting the brief period when Tiberius (19 A.D.) banished the Jews from Rome and sent 4,000 of their number to fight the banditti in Sardinia, the Jews enjoyed not only perfect liberty, but exceptional privileges."[835]

Other Christians, the more broad-minded Jewish believers and the Gentile converts, saw no need for these restrictions. They viewed the church not as a party within Judaism, but as a distinct group—separate from Judaism—that incorporated both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. This difference of viewpoint led to the meeting that Luke recorded in this chapter. He described it at length in order to explain the issues involved and to clarify their importance. Therefore not a few students of Acts believe that chapter 15 is the most crucial chapter in the entire book.[836] It is both structurally and theologically central to Acts.[837]

"Throughout this commentary [i.e., Witherington's commentary] we have noted the signs that Luke was following ancient historiographical [history writing] conventions in the way he presents his material, in particular his penchant for dealing with matters from an ethnographic and region-by-region perspective. With these concerns the extended treatment in Acts 15 comes as no surprise. Here the matter must be resolved as to what constitutes the people of God, and how the major ethnic division in the church (Jew/Gentile) shall be dealt with so that both groups may be included in God's people on equal footing, fellowship may continue, and the church remain one. Luke is eager to demonstrate that ethnic divisions could be and were overcome, despite the objection of very conservative Pharisaic Christians."[838]

Paul's and Barnabas' return to Jerusalem 15:1-5

15:1           The "men" who "came down from Judea" came down to Antioch (cf. 14:26-28). They appear to have been Jewish Christians who believed that a person could not become a Christian without first becoming a Jew, which included circumcision. By the way, only males were circumcised. Females were viewed as adopting the beliefs of their husbands, or their fathers if they were unmarried.

Perhaps these men from Judea based their theology on texts such as Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 12:48 and 49. Their claim was essentially a denial of the sufficiency of faith in Christ for salvation. They evidently claimed that James, the Lord's half-brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, endorsed their position (cf. 15:24; Gal. 2:12). Peter, who was in Antioch at this time, compromised with these men by ceasing to eat with the Gentile Christians there. Barnabas also inclined to do so. Paul, however, saw the inconsistency and danger in this practice and rebuked Peter (Gal. 2:11, 13-14).[839]

This situation posed the fourth crisis in the history of the early church. The first was selfishness (Ananias and Sapphira, ch. 5), and the second was murmuring (over the treatment of the Hellenistic widows, ch. 6). The third was simony (Simon Magus, ch. 8). Now doctrinal controversy raised its ugly head (the "Galatian heresy," ch. 15). This was the most serious problem thus far, both in terms of the issue itself and its potential consequences. It involved the conditions for becoming a Christian and, therefore, the gospel message.

15:2           This situation led to hot disagreement ("heated argument and debate") among the Christians in Antioch. It ended with a decision to move the discussion "to Jerusalem" and to place the whole matter before "the apostles and elders" there for a verdict. This general procedure was common in the Greco-Roman world.[840] Men from Antioch accompanied "Paul and Barnabas," as witnesses undoubtedly, to protect Paul and Barnabas from accusations of distorting the facts.

15:3           On the way to Jerusalem the missionaries recounted to the Christians in "Phoenicia and Samaria" what God had done in Cyprus and Asia Minor. These believers rejoiced because they saw a continuation of what had happened to them.

"This undoubtedly means that Gentiles were converted on a direct basis apart from any necessary commitment to Judaism, because the presence of proselytes and 'God-fearing' Gentiles in the church was hardly newsworthy in A.D. 49."[841]

15:4           When Paul's party "arrived in Jerusalem," the whole church and its leaders there received them and listened to their story. Note again that Luke stressed the Lord's initiative in spreading the gospel ("all that God had done"; cf. 14:27).

15:5           "Some" in that meeting, who were converted "Pharisees" who had a high view of the Mosaic Law, repeated the same objection that Paul and Barnabas had encountered in Antioch. These were not necessarily ex-Pharisees, since a Pharisee could become a Christian without relinquishing his distinctive beliefs concerning Scripture and theology.[842]

"… it is possible that nationalist pressure [against Rome] was increasing in Judea, and that [Jewish] Christians were having to tread carefully to avoid being thought of as disloyal to their Jewish heritage."[843]

Unsaved Jews also believed that keeping the Mosaic Law was essential for acceptance by God (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14-16).

The Old Testament taught that Gentiles would share in the promises made to Israel (Gen. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Isa. 49:6; 55:5-7; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 8:22). The Old Testament prophets also spoke of Gentile salvation as happening in the last days (Isa. 2:2; 11:10; 25:8-9; Zech. 8:23) through the witness of a restored Israel (Isa. 2:3; 60:2-3; Zech. 8:23).

"It [the revelation stated above] was the underlying presupposition for Jewish proselytizing (cf. M[ishnah] Pirke Aboth 1:12; Matt 23:15) and was implicit in the sermons of Peter at Pentecost (2:39) and in the house of Cornelius (10:35). But the correlative conviction of Judaism was that Israel was God's appointed agent for the administration of these blessings—that only through the nation and its institutions could Gentiles have a part in God's redemption and share in his favor."[844]

Peter's testimony 15:6-11

15:6           Evidently a large group of people observed the meeting that the church convened in order to debate the issue (vv. 12, 22). Most commentators have taken the whole passage as describing public proceedings, but a few understood this verse as referring to a private meeting that took place during the public forum.[845]

15:7-9        First, spokesmen for each side presented arguments pro and con ("much debate"). Then "Peter stood up" and reminded those assembled that several years earlier ("in the early days") God had chosen him as the person from whom "Gentiles" (i.e., Cornelius and his friends) should "hear … the gospel." On that occasion God gave Gentiles His "Spirit" as soon as they believed in Jesus Christ ("just as He did to us" Jews). They did nothing but believe and they received the Holy Spirit, the sign of their acceptance by God. This was the same thing that had taken place earlier, among the Jews, on the day of Pentecost.

15:10         Requiring that Gentiles become Jews before God would save them would "test" God in that it would question the rightness of His action in giving the Spirit to Cornelius. When a Gentile became a Jewish proselyte the Jew in charge of the ceremony said that the Gentile now "took up the yoke of the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Matt. 23:4; Gal. 5:1).[846] Peter said this "yoke," the Mosaic Covenant, was an obligation that was both unbearable and unnecessary (cf. Matt. 11:29-30).

15:11         By referring to the Jews being "saved" in the same manner as the Gentiles, instead of vice versa, Peter repudiated any thought of Jewish superiority. Clearly he had recovered from his temporary lapse at Syrian Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). Salvation is by "grace" (v. 11), through "faith" (v. 9), plus nothing.

Barnabas' and Paul's testimony 15:12

The old order of these two names recurs here. "Barnabas," as a respected member of this church (4:36-37; 11:22), took the lead in relating the experiences that he and "Paul" had undergone in ministering to Gentiles. Barnabas emphasized the "signs and wonders" that "God" had performed because these would have persuaded the Jews that God had been at work in their ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).

"It was a report not of their successes but of how God had acted, and its implication was that by his acts God had revealed his will."[847]

James' testimony 15:13-21

15:13-14    "James" was Jesus' half-brother, the writer of the Epistle of James, and the leading figure in the Jerusalem church (12:17; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12).[848] "Simeon" was Peter's older Jewish name. James' use of it would have emphasized Peter's Jewishness as well as implying affection for him. Peter had related the salvation experience of Cornelius, and James' reference to "first" was to that experience near the beginning of the church.

"… he showed how he felt about the question at issue by speaking of believing Gentiles as a 'people' (laos) whom God had taken 'for himself' (to onomati autou; lit., 'for his name')—thus (1) applying to Gentile Christians a designation formerly used of Israel alone and (2) agreeing with Peter that in the conversion of Cornelius God himself had taken the initiative for a direct Gentile ministry."[849]

15:15         James reminded his hearers that the Old Testament "Prophets" supported the salvation of Gentiles apart from Judaism. By "the Prophets," James probably meant the Book of the 12 Minor Prophets, of which Amos, whom he proceeded to quote, was a part. Neither Amos nor any other prophet said that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to enjoy the blessings of salvation (cf. Rom. 11:12). Note that James did not say the salvation of Gentiles at that time was the fulfillment of these prophecies. He said the prophets' predictions of future Gentile salvation harmonized with the present salvation of Gentiles apart from Judaism (cf. 2:16).[850]

15:16-17    James then quoted Amos 9:11-12 as a representative prophecy. James would have quoted a version of the Old Testament text that would have been acceptable to his audience, which included strict Jews. His quotation from Amos differs from the Hebrew text in meaning, and from the Septuagint in form, but it is identical to the text of 4QFlorilegium (1:12), which is an Essene rendering.[851]


"The passage in Amos refers primarily to the restoration of the Davidic empire, but also the Messiah's Kingdom ([']the throne of David his father,' Luke 1:32)."[852]

Amos predicted the (second) advent of Messiah "after these things" (i.e., the Tribulation, cf. Amos 9:8-10). Messiah would set up His kingdom on the earth and restore the nation Israel (during the Millennium) under which the Gentiles would seek the Lord. We should understand the "and" in verse 17 in the sense of "even" (the epexegetical use of this conjunction).

"A close examination of this passage [vv. 14-17] reveals that there is a progression of thought leading to James' conclusion. First, God visits the Gentiles, taking from them a people for His name. In other words, God has promised to bless the Gentiles as well as Israel, but each in his own order. The Gentile blessing is first. Second, Christ will return—after the outcalling of the people for His name. Third, as a result of the coming of the Lord, the tabernacle of David will be built again; that is, the kingdom will be established exactly as promised in the Davidic Covenant. Amos clearly declared that this rebuilding will be done 'as it used to be' (Amos 9:11); that is, the blessings will be earthly and national and will have nothing to do with the church. Fourth, the residue of men will seek the Lord; that is, all the Gentiles will be brought to a knowledge of the Lord after the kingdom is established. This same truth is taught in passages like Isaiah 2:2; 11:10; 40:5; and 66:23."[853]

There have been three main interpretations of James' use of Amos' prophecy (Amos 9:11-12).[854] Some interpreters believe that James meant that the inclusion of Gentiles in the church fulfilled God's promise through Amos.[855] These (generally amillennial) interpreters see the church as fulfilling God's promises to Israel. This view seems to go beyond what Amos said, since his prophecy concerns the "tabernacle of David," which literally interpreted would involve Israel, not the church.

Second, some interpreters believe James meant that God would include Gentiles when He fulfilled this promise to Israel in the future.[856] However, there was no question among the Jews that God would bless the Gentiles through Israel in the future. The issue was whether He would do this apart from Judaism, and this interpretation contributes nothing to the solution of that problem. This view does not seem to go far enough.

A third view is that James meant that the present inclusion of Gentiles in the church is consistent with God's promise to Israel through Amos (cf. Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:9).[857] In other words, the present salvation of Gentiles, apart from Judaism, does not contradict anything Amos said about future Gentile blessing. This seems to be the best interpretation.

"In other words, James says, God is working out His own plan: Israel, His covenant people have been set aside nationally because of their rejection of the Messiah [cf. Rom. 10]. God is now taking out a people, Jew and Gentile, to constitute the Church of God. When He completes this work, the Lord is coming back the second time. That will be the time of blessing for the whole world [i.e., the millennial reign of Christ]."[858]

15:18         James probably added this quotation from Isaiah 45:21 in order to add authority to the Amos prophecy.

"The thought that the church was the divinely intended replacement for the temple is probably to be seen in 15:16-18."[859]

"James's major contribution to the decision of the council was to shift the discussion of the conversion of Gentiles from a proselyte model to an eschatological one. … James is saying, God's people will consist of two concentric groups. At their core will be restored Israel (i.e., David's rebuilt tent); gathered around them will be a group of Gentiles (i.e., 'the remnant of men') who will share in the messianic blessings but will persist as Gentiles without necessarily becoming Jewish proselytes."[860]

The typical non-dispensational understanding of this text (vv. 15-18), is that James was saying that the messianic kingdom had come, and that Amos' prediction was completely fulfilled. Progressive dispensationalists believe he meant that the first stage of the messianic kingdom had come, and that Amos' prediction was partially fulfilled.[861] They also believe that Jesus will return and reign on the earth. Most normative dispensationalists view the messianic kingdom as entirely future. They believe Amos was predicting the inclusion of Gentiles in God's plan, and that James was saying that the present situation was in harmony with God's purpose. Thus the Amos prediction has yet to be fulfilled.

Deciding between these options depends, first, on whether or not one believes that the church replaces Israel in God's plan. If it does, one will side with non-dispensationalists here. If one believes