The Acts is a continuation of Luke's Account. No longer does the Son of Mankind Himself make known the evangel, but by the Spirit of God through His apostles. He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they are not aware what they are doing." Thus the unbelieving nation once more hears the evangel of the kingdom, enforced by His resurrection from the dead. Israel had rejected Jehovah under the law. They rejected their Messiah when He came in mercy. Acts is a record of their rejection of the spirit of grace which lingers over them until blindness overtakes them for the eon. It begins with the descent of the spirit. It traces the rejection of the spirit. It ends with the spirit's repudiation of Israel. In the beginning, Peter unlocks the door of the kingdom for the Jews; at the close, Paul, in Rome, shuts the door of the kingdom and locks up Israel in obstinacy.
This treatise is transitional. From the first extreme where the nations seem to have no place at all, it leads us on until we arrive at the opposite, where the Jew loses his priority.
It is a record of Israel's response to the renewed proclamation of pardon, and chronicles their apostasy and their gradual rejection. But it also records God's answer to their defection, so that He, instead of being balked in His purpose to bless the other nations, makes their apostasy the basis of a much greater and grander grace than the nations could have experienced if Israel had not apostatized. There is no definite statement of this, for the subject of the book forbids it, yet all the symptoms of the present grace will be found, and each symptom follows a crisis in the apostasy of the chosen nation. In reading Acts let us remember that God is concerned with the kingdom to Israel, yet all the while He is making room for that distinct display of grace which we enjoy and which is fully expounded in Paul's epistles, most of which were written during this interregnum.
This account is a series of acts and counteracts. Jerusalem's stoning of Stephen is followed by the introduction of Saul of Tarsus. The persecution in Judea and Samaria is followed by his call on the Damascus road. The murder of James is succeeded by the severance of Saul. When the Jerusalem believers try to kill Paul, he is sent to Rome, where the nation of Israel is set aside and the salvation of God is sent to all the nations.
Peter appears prominently in the first parts of Acts to 12:24, but Paul replaces him in the latter portion. All that Peter did was more than matched by Paul. Every miracle the chief of the Circumcision apostles wrought was eclipsed by a similar sign, greater in glory and grace.
No truth characteristic of the present actually appears on the pages of Acts. Yet the distinctive doctrines we enjoy did not fall from heaven like a meteor; they gradually rose to view like the sun. In Acts we see their early refracted light before they appear above the horizon. Justification of a kind is preached at Pisidian Antioch, conciliation becomes clear as
the evangel reaches the nations through Jewish opposition, and the way is opened for the celestial secret of Paul's prison epistles by the public repudiation of Israel in Rome. The ministries of Paul, as recorded in Acts, bring us up to, but never into, present truth. That is found alone in his epistles.
This transitional era, from our Lord's crucifixion to the full establishment of the present secret economy, was marked by a series of changes in dispensation and administration. It is of prime importance that we understand the trend and character of these dispensational divisions, so that we may intelligently follow the inauguration of the economy or administration which is in force today.
These changes may be viewed from two entirely different standpoints. In the book of Acts they mark the steps which led to the rejection of the kingdom by Israel and of Israel by God.
In Paul's epistles the same crises are seen as they prepare for the introduction of the present administration. The trend of truth is continually away from the earthly and physical to the celestial and spiritual.
The accompanying outline [omitted] suggests the steps in Israel's defection and the gradual reception of the nations into blessing. One line is associated with the ministries of the twelve, the other with the apostle Paul. The two lines overlap. Paul is introduced immediately after the murder of Stephen by Jerusalem and each successive lapse of Israel is followed by adding another step in the course which culminated in the revelation of the present secret economy when he became a prisoner in Rome.
Paul's ministries keep pace with each phase of Israel's apostasy. Their unrighteousness is offset by faith righteousness as proclaimed at Pisidian Antioch. When their folly and poverty are manifest, he proclaims God's wisdom and wealth in Corinth, the commercial capital of the day. When their priestly functions fail, he goes to Ephesus, the religious center of the gentile world, and reveals the conciliation. Finally, when the promise of political supremacy is taken from them, Paul is in Rome, the world's political capital, and there he proclaims a new economy based on their political repudiation.
According to the prophets of old, all blessing for the nations is through and with the nation of Israel. So it will be in the kingdom. The distinctive truths of the present secret economy are based on the opposite of this. They follow Israel's failure and apostasy. So far as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the accounts of our Lord, and in the Circumcision epistles, there is no basis for blessing at all now, for Israel is the only channel that they know. The book of Acts fills the chasm between the kingdom economy and the present and traces the many steps which lead up to the blessing of the nations during this period, while Israel is thrust aside. It prepares the devout student of previous revelation for the astounding declaration with which it closes, that the salvation of God is to be sent directly to the nations, apart from Israel's mediacy, and that the nations will hear it.
Throughout the Acts the nations are treated as subjects of the kingdom and subordinate to the Jewish nation. This is the case even in Paul's early epistles. The nations were debtors to Israel (Ro.15:27). But Israel's blessing waits until the fullness of the nations has come in (Ro.11), and when the apostle reveals the great secret that those under Paul's ministry are to be joint enjoyers of a celestial allotment, and a joint body and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph.3:6), the entire kingdom economy vanishes and a new, secret economy takes its place. The great confusion among the saints today will vanish to a large extent if they will recognize the transitional, kingdom character of Acts, and draw their doctrine from Paul's epistles, especially those written at its close, before which the present secret administration was not revealed, and its doctrines were undeveloped, while God lingered over His ancient and beloved people Israel.
1 Acts is a continuation of the account of our Lord's ministry as recorded by Luke, who presents Him as Son of Mankind. As Theophilus is mentioned elsewhere only in Luke's account, it seems that the latter is the writer of Acts (Lu.1:3). Though carried on through His apostles, it is the same ministry which the Lord began. It is largely confined to the one aspect treated in Luke's narrative–Christ as Man-but covers all the characters in which He is presented, He is the King of Israel, as in Matthew, the Servant as in Mark, and the Son of God as in John. The distinct commissions in each previous account are often combined in this continuation of the history of the kingdom proclamation.
3 The interval between His resurrection and ascension was used by our Lord to present indisputable proofs of His resurrection and to instruct His disciples concerning the kingdom of God. This was the preparation He deemed necessary for the ministry recorded in this book. These two subjects dominate it to the very end.
6 He had been telling them about the kingdom of Israel, but did not tell them when it would be restored to them. He does not correct their ideas as to the character of the kingdom, but keeps them in suspense as to the time. That would depend on the reception accorded their testimony, hence could not be foretold without unfavorably affecting its proclamation. Indeed, we are kept in suspense throughout the book, till the very close, when the kingdom is rejected by the Jews in Rome, and even then we are referred to Isaiah's question, "Till when?" God alone knows when, though in these days there are many signs that the longed-for time is near.
8 The ministry of the twelve apostles was devoted to three spheres–Jerusalem, Samaria, and the rest of the earth. They did not go to all nations (Lu.24:47). Paul was called outside the land and commissioned for the regions beyond. The first seven chapters deal with their ministry in Jerusalem, the eighth and ninth with Samaria and the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth with the proselytes and Jews in the land. The balance of the book leads us outside the sphere of the ministry of the Twelve.
9 The resurrection and ascension of Christ are the two dominating factors in the kingdom testimony in this book. The kingdom had been proclaimed by the King in meekness and humiliation. Now it was about to be proclaimed in power by His apostles while He is glorified in heaven. They rejected Him when He spoke on earth. Will they refuse when He speaks from heaven? They scorned Him before His death. Will they hear One Who had risen from the dead!
11 The manner of His descent upon Olivet is to be precisely that which Zechariah had foretold (Zech.14:3-4):
And Jehovah shall go forth and fight against those nations,
As the day He fought in the day of the attack.
And His feet stand in that day upon the mount of Olives
Which faces Jerusalem from the east.
He will come with the clouds of heaven (Dan.7:13; Un.1:7) with power and great glory (Mt.24:30) as the Son of Mankind to a handful of faithful Israelites, just as He left. But for the church, the body of Christ, He comes, not to Olivet, but to the air, not to judge and make war, but to save us and take to Himself in glory all the members of His body, long before He returns to the mount of Olives,
12 The apostles seem to have had permanent quarters in Jerusalem. The list is probably arranged according to rank, for Peter and John, the "pillars", come first, followed by James. Simon the Zealot, so named from a class in the nation which arose at the time of the Maccabees, who were excessively zealous for the Mosaic law, is called a Cananite, the Hebrew equivalent of zealot, in Matthew (10:4) and Mark (3:18). Judas James was surnamed Thaddeus (Mt,10:3) and Lebbeus,
16 The buying of a freehold was typical of Judas' loss of his allotment and going to his "own" place. Almost all land in Israel was held in common and allotted each year. But there were a few parcels of ground, such as the garden of Gethsemane, the titles of which were held by individuals. Judas bought one of these. This shows that he had no faith in the coming kingdom, when lands would be re-distributed. Contrast the course of the believing disciples (4:34).
20 It seems that Judas did not pay for the freehold, but returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests. They had a consultation, and used the money to complete the purchase. The freehold was called the Field of the Potter and was used for the burial of strangers (Mt.27:7). But Judas not only lost his land and his life but also his place among the apostles.
21 These qualifications shut out the apostle Paul. He could never be one of the twelve, for he had not known the Lord at all during His earthly ministry. That the kingdom to Israel is in view is apparent from the very necessity of twelve apostles. Why would not the eleven be enough? Paul was associated with an indefinite number of apostles, but there must always be exactly twelve kingdom apostles, one for each of the tribes of Israel (Mt.19:28).
26 The casting of lots was quite the opposite of a "lottery" in Israel. It was a constant recourse in order to know the mind of the Lord (Prov.16:33).
The lot is cast forth in a bosom,
And from Jehovah is all its judgment.
Matthias was duly and lawfully chosen and will have his place in the kingdom ruling over a tribe of Israel. That his name is not again mentioned does not disprove this, for several of the lesser apostles are never heard of afterward.
1 Pentecost is simply the Greek word "Fiftieth", because it was fifty days after the Passover. There were three festivals in Israel each year (Ex.23:14). The first was the feast of unleavened bread, after the Passover; the second, the feast of harvest, or first fruits (which is here called Pentecost because it was held seven weeks after the Passover), and the feast of ingathering. As the latter is a type of the time when all Israel shall be saved, so Pentecost is a picture of the salvation of a first fruit of the nation. This is what occurred, both on the day of Pentecost and during the entire period covered by this book (Jas.1:18),
2 This is not the reception of the spirit by the apostles, for they had already received it (Jn.20:22). This is the "coming on" of power which the Lord had promised a few days before (1:8). The baptism of the spirit was given for cleansing (not power), and the filling for utterance.
5 To this day it has been the hope of the pious among the dispersion to return to Jerusalem. Many aged Jews have spent their last days there. So, on the day of Pentecost, there were many in the city who had been born abroad, but who had returned to dwell near the temple; They were typical of that return to the land of their fathers which will precede the setting up of the kingdom. Then salvation and deliverance will be in mount Zion and in Jerusalem (Joel 2:32). To be in that remnant is the highest privilege open to the pious repatriate of the dispersion.
5 These men came literally from every nation under heaven. Then, as now, the Jew had penetrated to every part of the known world. The list of countries mentioned includes practically every language or dialect spoken at the time. They are grouped accordingly into Eastern Aramaic, Central Grecian, Western Roman and Southern Egyptian dialects.
12 The object of this manifestation, as found in Joel, was to make them know that God was in the midst of Israel. (Joel 2:27). Afterward the signs which usher in the day of the Lord were due. In other words, Pentecost was the prelude to the era of judgement which precedes the setting up of the kingdom. This shows that it was not intended to be the commencement of the present economy of grace which was later introduced through Paul's ministries. In that future judgment period the signs foretold by Peter will take place. The salvation offered at Pentecost was principally concerned with these judgment scenes through which they hoped to be saved for a place in the kingdom when Christ would return to the Mount of Olives.
14 Peter declaims. He does not address them in common words, but uses choice and rare expressions in making this oration. Perhaps this was done partly to meet and refute the charge of drunkenness. His immediate appeal is to their own Scriptures, which he brought home to them with power.
16 This is what. Such is Peter's interpretation of Pentecost. It was a
fulfillment of ancient prophecy. God was in their midst as foretold in Joel (2:27). This, however, was introductory to the terrible celestial convulsions and earthly upheavals which prepare for the dreadful day of the Lord. It promised a time of trial and affliction unparalleled by any that earth has suffered hitherto. It introduced God in the character of an Avenger of His people, Who is about to gather the nations to battle and Who will destroy them in His fury. Had the nation of Israel repented, and the Pentecostal economy continued without interruption, there would never have been a parenthetic period like the present of which none of the prophets ever spoke, which was a secret hid in God (Eph.3:9) and which presents God as a Supplicant, petitioning for conciliation, and preserving peace at all costs (2Co.5:20), Who showers His richest blessings on the nations and gives them a celestial allotment immeasurably beyond the highest thought of Pentecost.
18 Peter, not Joel, speaks of prophesying. It is an inspired break between that part of Joel's prophecy which was fulfilled at Pentecost and that which is yet future.
22 In the evangel of the kingdom the appeal is to the life of our Lord during His earthly ministry. Paul never knew Him in this character. He did not meet Him until after His ascension, and the present economy, based on Paul's experience and revelations, does not recognize Christ after the flesh. Peter's appeal, in proclaiming the kingdom, is no model for us now. Our relationship to Christ begins with His death, burial, resurrection and ascension.
23 The Jews knew that Christ should suffer. Their sacred scrolls were explicit. This was the counsel which determined His death beforehand.
24 The resurrection is the central and essential theme of every evangel. As Peter is proclaiming the kingdom, he proves His resurrection by referring his hearers to king David and his throne. David is the one with whom the throne covenant had been made (2Sam.23:5). It is as David's Heir that Christ will sit on the throne, ruling the nation of Israel, during the thousand years.
27 Death is a return. The spirit returns to God Who gave it (Ecc.12:7). The soul returns to the unseen. The body returns to the soil (Ecc.12:7, Confer Gen.3:19). In the case of our Lord, He commended His spirit to the Father (Lu.23:46). Here he speaks of His soul in the unseen. But His body did not return to the soil. In this His death differs from others. There was no dissolution or decomposition which accompanies the death of other men. His resurrection was unique also. Others who are vivified, will not rise with the same body which was put into the tomb, but God will give each one a body according to His pleasure (lCo.15:38). But He arose with the identical frame which bore our sins, pure, spotless and unsullied even by the hand of death.
30 God's covenants are of two kinds, conditional and unconditional. All those conditioned on human effort, such as the covenant at Sinai, end in failure. All dependent entirely on God, as the covenant with Abraham concerning the land, and with David, concerning the throne, are sure of fulfillment. Moreover, God interposes with an oath, so that there is nothing more sure than that One shall sit on David's throne ruling the sons of Israel.
34 The whole passage shows that Peter is proclaiming a literal king and a literal kingdom for Israel. The descent of the spirit had nothing to do with the formation of the body of Christ, but was a well known sign which indicated the approach of the judgment era which precedes Messiah's advent. In accordance with the burden of his message Peter chooses to bring before them king David and the covenant God made with him, because, if they accept his words, it is this covenant which would be fulfilled. They had crucified Him as the King of Israel. His resurrection proves Him to be the One Whom David foretold. All that remains to be done, should Israel, as a nation, repent, would be the judging of His enemies. This will occur in the judgment era. Here is no hint of, or preparation for, the present interval of undiluted grace, in which God is raising up His enemies, like Saul of Tarsus, to sit with Christ on His celestial throne.
38 Repentance and baptism lead to a probationary pardon, which may be withdrawn. This pardon is extended by Christ as the King. Its operation is illustrated by the parable of the ten thousand talent debtor (see Mt.18:27-34) whose debt was remitted, but who refused to remit the smaller sum which his fellow slave owed to him. Hence the remission of his debt was canceled. So it is with Israel in this chronicle. Many of those who, in the beginning, received the pardon of their sins, refused to share their pardon with the other nations, objecting to proselytes like Cornelius, raising a riot on the supposition that an alien has entered the sanctuary, seeking to kill Paul even though he brought alms to Jerusalem. They finally fall away (Heb.6:6, 10:27) where there is no longer any room for repentance, but a fearful prospect of judgment. This pardon, however, is in sharp contrast to our justification, or acquittal, which comes from the Judge on the sole grounds of grace and faith, and from which there can be no fall, as it places us beyond the sphere of judgment. Conciliation (Ro.5:11) is immeasurably beyond any pardon, as it places us in the unclouded favor of God's grace.
39 The promise was to Israel both in the land and in the dispersion (Dan.9:7). Those "afar" were Jews in the lands where God had driven them, and not Gentiles or the church.
40 The salvation was from the judgments about to visit that crooked generation.
42 The "breaking of bread" is an idiomatic Hebrew expression like our "taking tea" or the Arab's "eating salt", and denoted an ordinary meal. The bread, or flat cakes; which they used, were broken into convenient bits by each person and used as a spoon to convey the liquid portions of the meal to the mouth.
45 Each Israelite had an allotment according to the law, which could not be permanently disposed of, but came back to him at the jubilee. Those who had bought such allotments would lose them when the kingdom would be set up, for then there will be the great jubilee, when each allotment will be returned to its true tenant. These believers did not sell their own allotments, but those which they had acquired, which they would forfeit in the jubilee. This showed their faith in the coming of the kingdom.
1 It is evident that, at this time, there was no thought among the disciples of severing from the customs and worship of the nation. The sanctuary was their principal place of resort until persecution drove them from it.
2 Can we not see, in the man lame from his birth, a close likeness to the people of Israel? They had a beautiful way of approach to God, but it availed them little, for they were unable to walk through it, into the divine presence. The healing of the lame man was a sign (4:16). As a miracle it was full of significance. To those who read its message it proclaimed the advent of One Who could heal Israel's impotence and bring them, like the lame man, into God's house and fill them with joy and praise. But above all, it was a sign of that day when the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the narcissus, for then shall the lame man leap as a fallow deer (Isa.35:6). The powers of the eon to come are present in Israel! No wonder the devout and reverent worshipers in the sanctuary are filled with awe and amazement! To them it was no mere prodigy, no unmeaning exhibition of supernatural power, but the key to that kingdom which was the goal of all their hopes and aspirations. It meant the end of the Gentile yoke, the sovereignty of Israel over the nations, the coming of Messiah and a thousand blessings for a thousand years.
5 How like are we to the lame man! We look to God for a bare alms, and He pours upon us the true riches and adds the joy of His presence. It was worth while to be lame for forty years to become the object of God's mercy and a signal instance of His power for the blessing of His people. So we, too, will one day bless the impotence and the trials which afford Him a field for the display of His favor. This is the "beautiful gate" which leads us into the sanctuary where the Divine Presence assures us of joy unending and unalloyed. Let us ask, expecting to receive.
5 God gives more and better than we seek, or hope to obtain.
13 The word "Boy" is here used because it, like its Greek equivalent, may be used both of a child and a servant. The common version renders it servant, child and son. Each of these, however, better represents another Greek word, and all fail to give the dual meaning which this word seems to have. It is usually restricted to a boy or girl between seven and fourteen years of age. It is used of our Lord when He was twelve years old and remained behind when they went home from the festival (Lu.2:43).
14 The complete restoration of Peter to divine favor is nowhere more clearly seen than when he charges them, "You disown the holy and just One!" None of them were as guilty as he himself had been, yet he does not allow his personal failure to hinder his faithful proclamation of the evangel. In order to get them to repent, or change their minds regarding the Messiah, it was necessary to press home their awful guilt. Yet the most important point is the witness he bears to the resurrection of Christ. This it is which proves His Messiahship. The healing of the lame man is but one more proof that He is alive and able to do all that the prophets foretold of Him.
17 Under the law, sins of ignorance were distinguished from willful disobedience. This was the ground of the Saviour's prayer. "Father, forgive them, for they are not aware what they are doing" (Lu.23:34). This is the real clue to the so-called "unpardonable sin." The sin against the Son of Mankind was forgiven, for it was done in ignorance. But the sin against the testimony borne by the holy Spirit in the book of Acts was unpardonable because it was done deliberately and willfully, after the resurrection of Christ.
21 The times of restoration include the terrific judgments of the Unveiling, when, by means of seals, trumpets and bowls, the earth is restored to the sovereignty of Christ as Son of Mankind. It has no reference to individual destiny, but to redemption of the enslaved and the disinherited by their Kinsman Redeemer (Lev.25).
23 Christ is the Prophet like Moses sent to lead Jehovah's people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, into the kingdom. The whole period of the book of Acts is typified by Israel's wilderness journey. Because the people did not hearken to Moses they were strewn along in the wilderness and never entered the holy land. Likewise, because the nation did not hearken to One Who was more than Moses, they did not enter the kingdom.
The threat of extermination is an inspired alteration. In Deut.18:19 the Hebrew is, literally, "I will inquire," or, as we say "I will require it of him." The LXX renders this "I will take vengeance on him."
26 "The term "Boy" is used here with all reverence, for want of a better. The difficulties encountered in its translation are apparent from the variety of renderings in the common version, all of which are better fitted to some other Greek word. they use child, son, servant, young man, maid, etc. It is used of the boys under two years of age in Bethlehem (Mt2:16). It is used of Jesus when He was twelve years old (Lu.2:43). It is quoted from Isaiah when he spoke of Him (Mt.12:18). It is applied to Him four times in this book (3:13, 4:27-30). It is a word like our "boy" or "girl" which may be applied either to a child or a young servant.
1 The apostles offended both the priests and the Sadducees by their action. It was the privilege of the priests to teach the people. They should have been the chief support of the apostles in heralding the proclamation of the kingdom. But they are jealous because these common men command a hearing and usurp their authority in matters of doctrine. The Sadducees are especially offended, inasmuch as they denied the doctrine of the resurrection, which was the principal point in the proclamation of the apostles. Apart from the resurrection Messiah was dead and all hope of His kingdom was crucified with Him. But, given the power of His resurrection, all the promises of the kingdom are confirmed. The officer of the sanctuary was in command of the Levitical guard which had the military oversight of the sacred precincts, where the Gentiles could not enter.
5 This was the supreme spiritual judiciary in Israel. It comprised the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests, the scribes, and elders, said to have been in all seventy-one. The names of the chief priest and his immediate associates are mentioned for their official weight. Christ admitted their authority (Mt.23:2).
8 The evangel of the kingdom is now for the first time since the death of Christ, proclaimed to Israel as a nation, as represented by her chiefs and elders and scribes. Hitherto it has gone to individuals in the nation with considerable success. Now everything hinges on the attitude of the official heads of the people. They had rejected Messiah Himself and were responsible for His crucifixion. The chief priests and elders knew that He had foretold His resurrection (Mt.27:63). They had the evidence of the guard detail whom they had bribed to tell a false story (Mt.28:13). To this the apostles now add their testimony and confirm it by healing the lame man. When Peter speaks they are quite unable to answer him. Surely now they are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah! If He can save the lame man He can save the nation. Here was Israel's opportunity. They stood on the verge of the kingdom. If they accepted Him, He would soon rid them of their enemies and come to set up the sovereignty promised by the prophets. Should they refuse the testimony of the holy Spirit as they had rejected Him it would involve the whole nation in an eonian sin, and the kingdom could not come.
The disciples' question concerning the restoration of the kingdom at this time, is here answered for us for the first time. Again and again, during the course of its proclamation, the Jews reject the King and the kingdom. Here, however, we have the first refusal. This is the supreme crisis in the book of Acts. Had they accepted the apostles' testimony, the nation would have followed their lead, and the success of the apostles' proclamation would have been assured. Now that they reject the testimony to His resurrection, it is clear that Israel's rightful sovereignty will not be restored to them at this time.
13 Peter and John were not ignorant men by any means, though they lacked the culture and affectation which marked the learned class of that day. They had been in the school of Christ.
19 The attitude of the Sanhedrin had the immediate effect of abrogating their authority. They should have ruled for God, now they are arrayed against God. They should have been a terror to evil-doers: now they menace those who are carrying out His will. Peter, as an apostle of the Messiah, was one of the real rulers in Israel, and will one day sit upon a throne in the kingdom (Mt.19:27). Hence he has the right to oppose the Sanhedrin and to carry out the commission which he has from his Master. This is no example for us to follow in this economy. We are to be subject to the superior authorities (Ro.13:1) .
22 The healing of the lame man is called a sign, hence has some typical significance, especially in regard to his age. May this not suggest the forty years which followed, during which Israel was not able to walk before God?
23 The threats of the Sanhedrin produced a powerful effect on the believers. They were accustomed to obey their religious rulers implicitly. In fact, they gave their own chiefs and elders a place which the Roman power never could obtain. They must have some divine direction for continuing in a course prohibited by the highest Jewish authority. This is found the second part of the first Psalm (usually caIled the second Psalm). Here their own chiefs are associated with the nations in hostility to Messiah. The Psalm should be read to the end. The threats of the Sanhedrin are as nothing compared to Jehovah's threats against them. The judges of the land are exhorted to be instructed and serve the Lord, lest they perish when His anger is burning but a little (Ps.2:10-12). The fact that their chiefs are no longer under Jehovah's protection but the objects of His indignation emboldens them to go forth with the proclamation in spite of their opposition. Moreover, the Lord's hand had been with the apostles, for many had believed, and it was evident that the Sanhedrin itself was afraid to exercise its full power, or Peter and John would not have been released.
30 The timid opposition of the Sanhedrin is in contrast to the boldness of those who proclaimed the evangel. God manifested Himself by miraculous interventions, and the powers of the kingdom abounded.
32 The laws concerning property were so different in Israel from anything with which we are acquainted that it is difficult for us to understand this and similar passages. First of all, each Jew had his allotment, which could not be sold. Even if it was disposed of, it came back to him in the jubilee. This was his means of living. If the kingdom should come, the land would be re-distributed according to the prophets (Eze.47:13). The action of the Pentecostal believers is all based on this fact. Whatever they had beyond their allotment would go back to its rightful allottee when the kingdom is set up. In view of this they sold the lands and houses they had acquired besides their allotment, and shared their possessions, or personal property such as money, among themselves.
34 A freehold was a piece of property to which actual title could be acquired, as is the custom among western nations today. The name, which means separated, shows that a freehold was not land held in common, like an allotment, but held by a title unaffected by the jubilee. Gethsemane was such a freehold (Mt.26:36). Judas manifested his unbelief by purchasing a freehold with the price of his Lord, and the chief priest completed the purchase by paying the money. This was evidence that they did not believe in the coming kingdom, for they never would have bought the bloody field, only to find its title invalid when the land is reapportioned to the tribes in that day. The disciples, knowing that freeholds were not in line with the law and that they would be forfeited under the righteous rule of Messiah, put the means obtained from their sale into a common fund.
36 The allotment of the Levites could not be sold (Lev. 25:34). But this field was his personal property. Had the kingdom come, he would have had his share in their allotment (Eze.48:13-14).
3 Ananias and Sapphira sold a freehold which they had acquired, over and beyond their own allotment in the land. In this they did well. They brought a part to the apostles. This, too, was a commendable act. Their sin seems to have been, not in withholding a part, but in giving the impression that they had contributed all for the common good. Here we have a practical illustration of the righteous rule which will characterize the kingdom of God. The hidden motive is brought to light. An act appearing most praiseworthy on the surface is declared to be tainted with falsehood. No witnesses are needed. The Lord's apostle can detect evil though most skillfully concealed. Judgment is immediate and summary.
4 Ananias was under no compulsion to sell the freehold. Neither was he obliged to contribute the sum he obtained to the common fund. All this was voluntary. But such a course would have lowered him in the eyes of the disciples and he wished to be well thought of. But his avarice was too strong to allow him to part with the whole sum, so he, in effect, steals a part of the gift, and presents the rest as though it were the whole amount. This was hypocrisy in its most hateful form. In an administration of grace, such as we enjoy today, such sins are not followed by swift judgment. They wait until the tribunal of Christ (2Co.5:10). But in the administration of the kingdom, righteousness will reign and sin will be suppressed.
11 The result of the sudden and severe judgment of Ananias and Sapphira was great fear, both among the believers and others who hear of it. The resultant conduct was not the free unforced desire to please God which is inspired by His love and grace, which should actuate us in this economy, but restraint from evil through dread of judgment. It is based on power from without rather than an impulse from within. We are not in danger of any judgment, hence have no such motive to mold our behavior. Our lives should be the fruit of love.
13 The awful atmosphere of inflexible righteousness which repelled the unbelieving was an adumbration of the day when a King shall reign In righteousness and through the greatness of His power His enemies shall yield a feigned obedience to Him (Ps.18:44;
81:15, 66:3) The fear of the drawn sword in the King's hand will repress evil and rebellion.
14 The prayer of the disciples, after the threats of the Sanhedrin, seems to have been abundantly answered. Not only was the kingdom proclaimed with power but the word was confirmed by many signs and miracles. Multitudes joined the disciples and they met openly in the sanctuary.
17 As ever, the great point of their proclamation was the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Nothing could be more offensive to the Sadducees than this, for it upheld the Pharisees in the principal point of difference between them. Both, however, united in their common hostility to Christ. The increasing popularity and numbers of the disciples filled them with jealousy. They thought that they must show their authority before the new movement should get beyond their control.
18 As before (4:3), the apostles are confined during the night, that they may appear before the Sanhedrin in the morning. Then they were held until the Sanhedrin sends for them. Now, however, the Lord condescends to give the rebellious rulers a token of His power as well as their impotence. He will give a public exhibition of the futility of opposing Him. No evidence shall be lacking to convince them that God is behind Peter's proclamation.
20 Had the apostles left the city and escaped for their lives, as Peter did on a subsequent occasion, the testimony would have collapsed and the Sanhedrin would have suppressed the further proclamation of the evangel. Their fearless course in resuming their work just where they had left off, was even more impressive than the miraculous deliverance from prison. It gave them a place in the eyes of the people and before the Sanhedrin which demanded respect if not fear. The kingdom which they proclaimed had not only power to set captives free, but to uphold them in their freedom.
21 Once again all of Israel's rulers are gathered together and given an opportunity to hear the evangel. The fate of the nation depends on their action, for they are the responsible heads of the people. Their rejection involves all the rest.
25 The popular favor enjoyed by the apostles reached its culmination at this time. The increasing number of the disciples, the many benefits conferred on the sick, which would enlist friends, as well as the well-known fact that the apostles had been imprisoned without warrant and then delivered without human aid, by the messenger of God–all this would act very powerfully with the impressionable populace and give the apostles a prestige they had never before enjoyed. This, too, accounts for the mild attitude of the chief priest and the bold assurance of the apostles when called to account for their disobedience to the commands of the Sanhedrin. It is significant that the rulers ask no questions, and are silent before the disciples and the multitude as to the manner of their release. They did not wish to elicit further testimony to the supernatural deliverances, both of the Lord from the grave and His servants from the prison.
26 It is evident that, had the apostles wished to do so, they could have started an insurrection even against the Sanhedrin, and this was what the officer of the sanctuary and the chief priest feared.
29 Peter begins by reminding the Sanhedrin that they were going contrary to God and that, in such circumstances, he had no alternative but to ignore their commands. This is exactly what he had told them before (4:19). They cannot but infer that any further charge they may lay on the apostles could not be heeded. Peter does not stop to consider any answer to this ultimatum but goes right on and charges them with the murder of their Messiah, Whom God exalts to His right hand. He offers them a pardon. Instead of standing before them to be judged he brings them into judgment before God. The whole situation is reversed. The judges are pronounced guilty by the prisoner.
33 Having killed the Master, they do not hesitate to assassinate His servants.
34 This is probably the same Gamaliel who was the instructor of Saul of Tarsus (22:3), one of the most celebrated teachers of the law in his day. His grandfather was the famous Hillel, and his grandson, of the same name, also obtained great eminence in Judaism.
36 The fact that this Theudas is not mentioned in profane literature is no reason for doubting the truthfulness and accuracy of the narrative. Josephus, in his Antiquities, hints at many disturbances of this character at about the time indicated; He does, indeed, tell of another Theudas, about fifty years later, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, whose career corresponds closely to the one mentioned by Gamaliel, but it was plainly impossible for Gamaliel to speak of an insurrection which had not yet occurred. Such a statement would not have gone unchallenged during the early centuries of our era, if it had no foundation in fact.
37 Judas, the Galilean, is often mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities 18, 1, 1; Wars of the Jews 2, 8, 1). He charges him with starting a new sect of Jewish philosophy from which sprang many misfortunes and wars. This sect agreed in the main with the Pharisees, but they had an inviolable attachment to liberty, and said that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They did not hesitate to die any kind of death, nor did they heed the death of their relatives and friends, nor could any fear make them call any man lord. In the book on the Wars of the Jews, Josephus characterizes him thus: "a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed on his countrymen to revolt, and said that they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans, and would, after God, submit to mortal men as their lords. This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own and was not at all like the rest of their leaders." His followers were dispersed: but the love of liberty was spread among the people and later led to many other uprisings.
38 Gamaliel's cowardly evasion suited the Sanhedrin because they were afraid of the people. Though God used this speech for the apostles' salvation, his specious reasoning is not to be trusted. So Job's friends falsely argued. "Truth is mighty and will prevail"–yes, ultimately, but not necessarily here and now. Gamaliel left out faith, an omission which invalidates his conclusions and makes it impossible to accept as witnesses for God such as "the last apostles, as deathdoomed, for we became a theater to the world and to messengers and to men" (1Co.4:9).
1 It is important to grasp clearly the distinction between the "Hebrews" and "Hellenists." The latter were not gentiles. They were Israelites just as really as the Hebrews. The Hellenists were those in the nation who had renounced the ancient customs and traditions to a large extent and had taken up Greek culture. All classes spoke Greek, but the Hebrews also used an Aramaic vernacular in familiar intercourse. The Hellenists were largely those Jews who had resided in foreign lands and had acquired the customs and manners of the Greeks. In one sense the Hellenists were Hebrews, but this term gradually came to be confined to those who were true to the old traditions. Thus, when Paul speaks of himself as a Hebrew of the Hebrews he means that he was not a Hellenist, but had clung closely to Judaism and had resisted the influence of foreign culture and customs. The usual definition of a Hellenist, "a Greek-speaking Jew," is not adequate, for all Jews spoke Greek. Our Lord and His apostles used it in their public discourses and the most illiterate could understand them. Only occasionally did they use Aramaic expressions. The Hebrews looked down on the Hellenists, hence they formed a separate class of disciples.
5 Though these seven names are all Greek, the fact that one proselyte, Nicholas, was included, seems to indicate that all parties were represented. Only the first two are mentioned again in the Scriptures. They do not seem to have confined themselves to the serving of tables, but took a leading part in the evangel.
9 There were hundreds of synagogues in Jerusalem, some of which were maintained by the various groups of Jews in foreign lands. About B. C. 63 Pompey carried a large number of Jews to Rome. When they were liberated and returned to Judea, they formed the synagogue of the Freedmen, These synagogues seem to have been composed mostly of Hellenists. In all probability Saul of Tarsus belonged to the synagogue of Cilicia.
13 These synagogues were doubtless very lax in their adherence to the Jewish law and customs, yet they are not ashamed to charge Stephen with this, in order to inflame the Sanhedrin against him. The false witness did not consist in trumping up charges with no foundation in fact, but in perverting the truth, just as was done in the case of our Lord. Indeed, they brought up the very same charge (Mt.26:61). While Christ was on earth, His body was the true temple of God (Jn.2:21). Jehovah did not inhabit Herod's splendid pile. It did not house the Shekinah glory. The only times that it was tenanted by the Divine Effulgence was when He came into its courts. When He left it the last time, He exclaimed, "Lo! your house is left to you desolate!" (Mt.23:38). Stephen had doubtless brought this truth home to them, and perhaps had also pressed our Lord's prediction concerning the destruction of Herod's shrine, so that not one stone should be left on another (Mt.24:2). But in no case could he have said that Christ (Whom they contemptuously termed the Nazarene) would Himself destroy the temple. On the contrary, He said that, when they destroyed it, He would raise it up (Jn.2:19). This He did in His resurrection (Jn.2:22). And now the glory of God's presence illuminates the face of Stephen, so that he becomes, for the time, the messenger, or angel of God to them.
1 The address of Stephen is a model for presenting the Messiah to the Jews. They stumbled at His sufferings and rejection, so Stephen takes up the greatest of the nation's heroes, who were types of Messiah, and shows that, in each case, there was a preliminary separation or rejection. Abraham was compelled to leave his kindred and his father's house, Joseph was hated by his brethren, Moses was not recognized when he first came to help his people, even David, that unparalleled type of the coming King, not only spent years in rejection, but had to leave the building of the temple to Solomon. All of these are pictures of a rejected Messiah. In each the glory followed suffering and separation. Such is the picture which the ancient Scriptures draw, and the inference is clear that Jesus is Messiah.
2 Abram was first called out of his land and from his relatives, and went as far as Haran, accompanied by his father's household. Further obedience to the divine command seems to have been hindered by his father, and they went no further. At his father's death, he leaves his father's house and completes his journey to Canaan. Yet he received none of the land which should become his, and thus prefigures Him Who came to his own and received nothing but a tomb (Gen.23). The rite of circumcision likewise tells of the cutting off of His flesh on the cross.
9 Joseph is a marvelous miniature of the suffering and glorified Messiah. The jealous hatred of his brethren placed him in the pit and in the prison, but God was with him and exalted him to the highest place on earth. He became the deliverer, not only of his own brethren; but of all of Egypt also. The one whom they despised and ill-treated became their lord and saviour. The Sanhedrin could hardly miss the application of this to the Messiah Whom Stephen proclaimed. They were the brethren of Messiah ben Joseph.
11 The great affliction of Jacob is typical of the great affiiction of the end time, after which Messiah will make Himself known to His brethren.
14 The Septuagint, or Greek version, differs from the Hebrew text in Genesis 46:26-27 by giving Joseph nine sons in place of two, and thus bringing the total up to seventy-five. But, as the enumeration in Genesis does not necessarily include all who are alluded to by Stephen, there is no reason why they should give the same total. The Septuagint differs greatly from the Hebrew text in regard to numbers, especially in the genealogies, and it may preserve some true readings.
16 The bones of Joseph were transferred from Egypt to the land by Moses (Ex.13:19). So the rest of the patriarchs were transferred to Sychem, where Jacob had bought a parcel of a field (Gen.33:19), probably near, or adjoining the sepulcher which Abraham had bought before, of which there is no record in Genesis. If Stephen had made even a minute blunder regarding this the Sanhedrin would soon have set him right. They were much "higher" critics than any we have today,
18 It is probable that the lot of Israel in Egypt was pleasant under the dynasty which was acquainted with Joseph, who made these rulers absolute masters in Egypt, for he got for them all the silver and the cattle and the land in exchange for grain, in the time of the famine (Gen.47). Such service could not be forgotten. So it was that Israel prospered in the land of Goshen until the reigning dynasty was displaced by a different line of rulers, who knew nothing of Joseph and were not indebted to him for their power.
20 Moses is a memorable example of God's method of meeting the wisdom of the world. Pharaoh plans the extermination of the Hebrew race, yet he himself nurtures and educates their deliverer!
22 Egypt is set before us as the sum of human wisdom, as Assyria was of human power. The Egyptian priests had a knowledge of science which, in some points at least, far surpassed what is known today. No scientist can accomplish the feats of Jannes and Jambres. Moses was far beyond our present standards of intellectual attainment.
23 The incident concerning Moses' rejection by his brethren at his first attempt to become their deliverer must have had a powerful effect on the Sanhedrin, for nothing would appeal to them more than a parallel between Moses and Messiah. Except to the most hardened heart, the fact that Moses was, in the first place, scorned by those whom he came to save, and his efforts in their behalf misunderstood, proved positively that Messiah would receive similar treatment. As Pharaoh menaced the life of Moses, so Herod sought the life of Christ. As his own people cast out Moses and refused to accept the salvation he offered them, so the Jews murdered the Messiah and rejected His deliverance. And we may add, as Moses came back and led them out, so will Messiah return and lead them into the blessings of the millennial kingdom.
30 The flaming thornbush is a notable symbol of the nation of Israel. They were in the midst of the fire of persecution and have often been since they came out of Egypt, yet they are never consumed. They are the only eonian nation.
30 He Who is especially referred to as Jehovah in the Hebrew scriptures is here called a messenger or angel. The same term is used of the One seen by Moses on mount Sinai (53). Hence it is evident that the theophanies, or visible appearances of the invisible God, were carried out by intermediate agents. Indeed, the deity is identified with the messenger even in Exodus. First we are told that the angel of the Lord appeared in the midst of the bush. And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, Elohim called unto him out of the midst of the bush (Ex.3:2-4). The same is true of the giving of the law at Sinai. Moses went up unto Elohim, and Jehovah called unto him out of the mountain (Ex.19:3). Yet we are assured that the law was prescribed through messengers in the hands of a mediator (Gal.3:19), and that it was spoken by messengers (Heb.2:2).
35 The prime point with Stephen is that it was the one whom they had disowned who was chosen by God to be their redeemer and judge. Just so with Messiah. The fact that He had been disowned was no proof that He was false. It was, rather, the great sign which identified Him with the types of old, for Moses was rejected by the people even after he led them out of Egypt and had received the law and wrought wonderful miracles to attest his office. This should be the key note in all evangelism of the people of the covenant. A prophet like Moses must suffer at the hands of his own people. This thought ought also to cheer the hearts of His lesser slaves who find themselves rejected and despised because of their faithfulness to Him.
36 The forty years covered by the book of Acts is the antitype of the wilderness wanderings. It is characterized by the same stubborn unbelief which strewed the bones of Israel along the wilderness, so that those who left Egypt did not enter the land of promise. Neither did those of the Pentecostal era enter the kingdom. The epistle to the Hebrews unfolds this likeness, for it was written to explain why the promise of the kingdom waits.
37 Accused of disloyalty to Moses, he proves the falsity of the charge by his constant reference to Moses' writings.
41 Idolatry is, etymologically, the offering of divine service to that which can be perceived by the senses. In this way, all objects of worship, even if they are supposed to be representations of the true God, are idols. God will have no images of Himself but One–His beloved Son. He is the Image of the invisible God (Col.1:15). The idolatry here mentioned is usually referred to Israel in the wilderness. But their conduct at that time was hardly the occasion of the Babylonian exile. In neither Amos (5:25-27) nor Acts is the time given, but it was, most likely, in the days of the kings, before the captivity. One of the causes of their exile was that they had transgressed very much after all the abominations of the nations (2Chron.36:14). In the land they corrupted the form of the wilderness worship, substituting the tabernacle of Moloch for the testimony which Jehovah had directed to be constructed according to the model Moses had seen. It is possible that the Hebrew should be translated "your king", rather than "Moloch". Amos writes concerning Israel (Amos l:1), so that the reference may be to their first king, Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. He, like Aaron, made a "calf" or bull for the people to worship. In fact, he made two, and placed one in Bethel and the other in Dan (1Ki.12:25-30). In one case it was a revolt from the prophet of Jehovah, in the other it was secession from the rightful king and the house of David. Besides the false tabernacle, they also had a substitute for the glory, which seems to have been an image of one of the constellations. Thus they worshiped the "host of heaven". Raiphan, or Remphan, is sometimes identified with Saturn, but it is not certain.
44 Stephen is charged with speaking against the temple. Hence he traces God's dwelling place to the temple of Solomon, yet proves from Scripture that the true temple is not made with hands. The God of glory had left that temple tenantless (Eze.9:3, 10:4, 18, 11:23) and had taken up His abode in His Son, as He had tabernacled amongst them, full of grace and truth (Jn.l:14). And now the glory was in their midst, irradiating the face of Stephen.
48 The quotation from Isaiah provoked opposition. See Ac.22:22.
51 A review of Israel's history reveals a series of apostasies. All of God's spokesmen suffered at their hands. Even while maintaining the outward form they were always at variance with the holy Spirit. This charge is of special import at this time, for this is the first great crisis in this book. The holy Spirit's testimony to Jerusalem is summarily rejected. The question, Art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel? receives an emphatic negative, so far as Jerusalem and Judea are concerned. The testimony now goes to Samaria.
55 Stephen begins his address with "the God of glory" and now he beholds the glory in heaven, and Jesus standing, ready to return and bless them should they repent. After this He is always represented as seated, His work accomplished, waiting until the apostate nation is ready to receive Him as their Messiah.
59 Like his Master, Stephen prays for his murderers with his last breath. But, for the nation, this sin against the holy Spirit could not be pardoned. Until Paul's last visit, we hear of no further testimony in Jerusalem.
55 Stephen was the messenger sent after the departed Nobleman with the message "We do not want this man to reign over us!" (Lu.19:14).1 With Stephen was interred the hope of the kingdom. Yet at the same time God begins to hint at another testimony of a very different character. The kingdom called for righteousness. It visited iniquity with swift judgment. In preparing for the new departure, God introduces Saul of Tarsus, not as a just or holy man, but as a malignant and vicious enemy. This is necessary because He is about to deal with those who are sinners and enemies on the ground of grace. Grace cannot be shown to those who deserve aught. Merit mars it and hinders its outflow. Saul was, in very truth, the foremost of sinners. He exceeded the most rabid of the Sanhedrin in his hatred of Messiah and His people. If any man deserved to be damned, that man was Saul of Tarsus. Yet, eventually, he it is who is raised to the highest pinnacle of glory–far beyond the fondest hopes of Stephen or the twelve apostles. Such is the potency of grace when it is unhindered by human help!
4 We now enter the second cycle of the kingdom testimony. Jerusalem and Judea have not heeded its proclamation. It is now offered to Samaria, then it will go to the limits of the earth, and even to the proselytes like the eunuch and Cornelius. Thus it was that the Lord had commanded (1:8).
After the ten tribes, whose capital was Samaria, were exiled, the king of Assyria sent colonists to repopulate the country (2 Ki.17:24-27). They intermarried with the remaining Israelites and thus sprang the mixed race of the Samaritans. Because the Jews would not recognize them or allow them to help in rebuilding the temple, they stirred up the Persian king against the Jews, and hindered the work of restoration. They also built their own temple on mount Gerizim and worshiped according to the law. They recognized only the five books of Moses. Thus sprang up a jealous antagonism between them and the Jews, so that the latter refused to have any dealings with them. As they, however, worshiped Jehovah and taught the law and had a strain of Jewish blood, it was fitting that they should hear the proclamation of Christ, after Judea had been evangelized. Physically they were nearer the Jews than any other nation. Thus the widening testimony to the kingdom spread, until the evangel reaches the limits of the land. Then it is carried beyond by means of Saul, who at this time, was its chief opponent.
9 The Roman Empire was overrun with fortune tellers and jugglers and magicians, many of whom were Jews, The Samaritans were a simple, credulous people, and in their amazement, they gave Simon the place which belongs to Christ. But when the evangel came, Simon himself was amazed for he could see that it was accompanied with a power such as he had never known. His case is an example of "faith" founded on miracles, which is very different from the faith which is based on God's word, apart from the evidence of the senses. Many believed in the Lord when they beheld the signs which He did, yet Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew what was in humanity (Jn.2:23-25).
14 As our Lord told the woman at the well, salvation is of the Jews. And moreover, the twelve apostles were appointed to have jurisdiction over the whole land, including Samaria. Hence, holy Spirit is not imparted to them except through the mediacy of the apostles. This is in marked contrast with the case of Cornelius and his friends, who received holy Spirit without baptism or the laying on of hands. It is evident from this that physical affinity and miracles hinder rather than help the outflow of the spirit. The exceptional dealing with the Samaritan believers, who were a circumcised people; is seen in the fact that, though repentant and baptized, they had not received the holy Spirit upon these conditions as promised by Peter to the believers in Jerusalem (Ac.2:38). The ancient schism must now end, and Samaria must acknowledge Jerusalem as God's earthly seat of government. The supreme gift can be bestowed only as they recognize their dependence on Peter and John as come down from Jerusalem.
18 To this day men fondly imagine that spiritual gifts may be bought with money. One of the most delusive and disastrous notions in the church today is that a billion dollar budget will buy billions worth of spiritual benefit. God's gratuities are not sold to the best bidder; we cannot gain His grace with gold. Any effort to bribe Him can only bring down His displeasure. Would that there were more like Peter, who spurned the silver which sought to buy the benefits of the evangel! The church has sunk so low that it is eager to trade its blessings for sordid gain. Peter would lose prestige today if he would not take advantage of such an opportunity to add a goodly sum to the fund for the furtherance of the kingdom!
19 Among the nations, in Paul's later ministries, the spirit is received on believing, without the intervention of apostles, or baptism, or laying on of hands (Eph.1:13). And with the removal of such mediate causes, the effect of holy Spirit's presence also changes. It is no longer manifest in signs which confirmed the coming of the kingdom, such as the gift of tongues and healing, but in the love, joy and peace which become God's dwelling place.
26 It is notable that the messenger, or angel, who spoke to Philip is also called "the spirit" (29) and "the spirit of the Lord" (39). This suggests that these expressions may refer to created beings in some places where we are accustomed to understanding it of the holy Spirit of God. In order to leave the subject open and not inject our own opinions or prejudices it has been thought best to spell spirit always without a capital S in the Version. This will leave the matter open to the students own interpretation.
26 Gaza, once one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, was located near the southern limits of the land, not far from the Mediterranean.
27 Ethiopia includes the country south of Egypt, of which the island of Meroe, in the upper Nile, was the chief center; The title, Candace, was usually given to the queens, who ruled in Ethiopia in ancient times. The eunuch must have been a proselyte of Judaism, to come all the way from Ethiopia to worship at Jerusalem. It seems strange that he should not have been reached with the evangel of Christ in the holy city, where the apostles still remained. It indicates the fact that Jerusalem and Judea are apostate, for this stranger is going away without knowing the One Who fulfilled the fifty-third of Isaiah. But where God has prepared such a reader and hearer of His word as this Ethiopian, He always sends His preacher.
The kingdom, when it is set up by Christ in the day of the Lord, will reach all the descendants of Noah's sons. In the early part of Acts they are evangelized representatively; The eunuch probably traced his lineage from Ham. Cornelius was a descendant of Japheth. The Jews, of course, sprang from Shem.
32 Hezekiah, king of Judah, was the most beautiful type of Christ as the Vicarious Sufferer. The prophet Isaiah probably refers to his experience in the fifty-third chapter, in which are some statements which cannot be applied literally to the great Antitype. But the spirit charges the prophets words with higher truth and deeper doctrine, so that Hezekiah's typical sufferings foretell the sufferings of His Lord.
1 Saul was at the stoning of Stephen (7:58). He endorsed his assassination, and seems to have been the leader in the persecution which followed, until Jerusalem was emptied of all disciples except the apostles.
3 The call of Saul is the most marvelous of all the manifestations of God's grace. It is a pattern for us who believe in this day of grace. He was the foremost of sinners, yet God made him the foremost of His saints. The grace of the Lord overwhelmed Him, with faith and love in Christ Jesus (1Tim.1:12-16). The twelve apostles were called by the Lord on earth, before His ascension. Saul was called by the ascended glorified Lord from heaven. They were called in the land. He was called outside the land. Their ministry was confined to the land and the Hebrews of the dispersion. Paul's service was outside the land among the Hellenists and aliens. They were concerned with the earthly life of our Lord before His ascension. Paul begins with the Lord in glory.
4 This is only a brief outline of what was said. The following combines the three accounts and probably includes all that passed between Saul and the Lord:
THE LORD: Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me? Hard is it for you to be kicking against the goads.
SAUL: Who art Thou, Lord?
THE LORD: I am Jesus, the Nazarene, Whom you are persecuting.
SAUL: What shall I be doing, Lord?
THE LORD: But rise and stand on your feet, for I was seen by you for this, to fix upon you before for a deputy and a witness both of what you have perceived and that in which I will be seen by you, extricating you from the people and from the nations, to whom I am commissioning you, to open their eyes, to turn them about from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, for them to get a pardon of sins and an allotment among those who have been hallowed by faith that is in Me. Rise and go into the city of Damascus, and there you will be spoken to concerning all which has been set for you to do.
7 The apparent discrepancies between this verse and 22:9 are easily explained when we see that the vision was intended exclusively for Saul and
not for his fellow travelers. They were probably a little distance away and heard a sound and saw a light, but did not see the Person Who was speaking or recognize the sound as His voice. At first they fell on their faces, but they rose before Saul. There is a close harmony rather than any discrepancy in the various accounts.
The call of Saul is an entirely novel departure in this book. It is the first exhibition of pure grace–favor shown to one who deserves punishment–and is the key to the character of the ministries of the apostle Paul which occupy the latter half of this treatise on the proclamation of the kingdom. After the failure of the testimony in Jerusalem and Judea, Saul is called to carry it to the dispersion among the nations and to the proselytes and even to the idolaters themselves. Hence it must be founded, not on righteousness, for they had no deserts, but on grace. So he is called outside the land, by the Lord from heaven, while he is still the most malignant enemy of the evangel and deserving of the direst doom.
10 God graciously gives a double witness to His dealing with Saul. Ananias is quite his opposite, being a devout disciple. Saul would have found it almost impossible to join the disciples as he did without some such confirmatory testimony to his conversion, for Ananias himself was afraid to go to him, knowing what he had done and what he proposed to do.
15 What grace and sovereignty is seen in terming the terrible persecutor of His people a "choice instrument"! God's choice is not like man's. He works His will in the face of human opposition. The most undeserving are the fittest instruments for the manifestation of His favor.
15 Here we have the field and scope of Paul's ministries-first and foremost to the nations, later to kings, and meanwhile to the sons of Israel among the nations.
16 Paul suffered more than any other apostle. Long before his course was completed he claimed to be foremost in this (2Co.11:23-33). All who are faithful are sure to share in the privilege of suffering for Christ's sake (Phil.1:29).
20 The Jews in the synagogues must have been greatly astonished to find this emissary of the high priest, who had come hither to stamp out the heresy of the Nazarene, boldly proclaim that He is the Son of God. None of the other apostles ever proclaim the Messiah as the Son of God in the Acts. They are chiefly interested in Him as the Son of David (2:29-30), the King of Israel. But Saul has become acquainted with Him in a higher, heavenly glory, hence proclaims Him, in accord with his own experience, as the Son of God. Besides, he reasoned out of the Hebrew Scriptures, which foretold the Messiah, and deduced from them that He Whom he had been persecuting and Who met him on the road was indeed the Anointed One, the hope of Israel.
23 At this point occurs one of those striking omissions in the narrative which assure us that it is concerned only with the kingdom, and that Paul's epistles differ from it in purpose and scope. Paul passed a large part of three years in Arabia (Gal.1:17-18). This journey is included in the "considerable number of days". Where in Arabia he went is not revealed, in fact, the term itself is vague. He may have gone far south into the desert between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, which is properly called Arabia. He may have gone only a few miles from Damascus, and yet be in Arabia in the popular sense of the term. Wherever he went, and whatever he did, it is evident that it has no bearing on the narrative of Acts. Paul uses it in Galatians as evidence that he did not immediately consult those who were apostles before him, so could not have received his evangel from them. As Acts deals only with that aspect of his ministry which had contact with the commissions of the twelve, it is clear why this incident should be overlooked.
25 Elsewhere Paul tells us (2Co.11:32-33) that the Jews had gained the help of the governor under Aretas the king, and his soldiers, as weIl as the Jews, tried to arrest him. His ignominious escape was his greatest boast.
21 Though most of the apostles were absent from Jerusalem, Paul saw the two real leaders, Peter and James.
30 Other details of Paul's stay in Jerusalem (not pertinent in this treatise) are interesting. Not only did the brethren lead him away, but the Lord Himself warned him to flee. While he was praying in the temple, in an ecstasy, the Lord urged him to hurry out of the holy city, because they would not receive his testimony (22:17-18). With the true tenacity of a Jew, Saul's heart's desire and petition to God for Israel was for their salvation (Ro.10:1). He would wish for nothing better than to be the instrument in God's hands to bring salvation to his own kith and kin. He did not yet understand God's greater purpose to bring salvation to the nations through their defection (Ro.11:11). It needed more than the entreaties of his brethren to make him leave Jerusalem, so God gives him a vision, reminding him of his commission for the nations afar.
33 There is always a designed contrast between the acts of Peter and Paul, which it is most inspiring to apprehend and enjoy, for Paul dips into depths of grace and ascends to heights of glory unknown to Peter. They illustrate the distinction between mercy and grace, favor shown to those who have some claim on the divine pity and that which is wholly undeserved. Eneas should be compared to the lame man of Lystra (14:8). Eneas, eight years paralyzed: the lame man never had walked in his life. The former stood up, the latter leaped and walked. These are types of the "walk" of the Circumcision and Uncircumcision. The former made no progress in divine things, the latter advanced joyfully.
Eneas means praise and his paralysis symbolizes the paralysis of praise in Israel. His healing is another taste of the powers of the age to come when Jerusalem shall be a praise in the earth (Isa.43:21, 62:7; Jer.33:9). As Eneas presents to us the healing of the sinners of the people, so Dorcas shows the resurrection of the saints who have been full of good works (Un.14:13).
36 Dorcas and Eutychus bring before us a picture of the former resurrection (Un.20:5), and the eclectic resurrection which Paul preached, which precedes it, for which we look. Dorcas was full of good acts. She was deserving. So will those be who have part in the former resurrection, who live and reign with Christ the thousand years (Un.20:4). This was in the day time. But Eutychus' case comes before us at a time which corresponds with our resurrection. It is at night, before the darkness that precedes the dawn. He had no deserts that we know of. He was drowsing (20:9). Nevertheless Paul brings him back to life (1Thes.5:10).
1 The kingdom has been proclaimed in Jerusalem and rejected; it has been heralded in Judea and Samaria, and now is being carried to the limits of the land. The Ethiopian proselyte has been reached by Philip. Now a Roman "proselyte of the gate" is brought before us in the person of Cornelius.
There were two classes of proselytes: the proselytes of righteousness and the proselytes of the gate. The former, by circumcision and conformation to the Jewish ritual, became incorporated into the Jewish people. The latter, called "fearers of God" or "the devout," renounced idolatry and acknowledged the God of Israel as the one true God, but were not circumcised and gave only scant heed to the ceremonial observances. Though highly esteemed, as Cornelius, they were regarded as outside the pale of Judaism, as "uncircumcised" and "of the nations." It was regarded as a crime for a Jew to enter the house of such a proselyte or to eat a meal with him.
Thus the kingdom message, as proclaimed by the twelve apostles, reaches its furthest limit in Cornelius. This accounts for the extraordinary pressure brought upon Peter, for none of the Jews thought that the proselyte of the gate was included in the kingdom commission. First the word was to the Jews only (including proselytes of righteousness), then the Hellenists are evangelized, followed by the despised Samaritans. Now that Cornelius is included, the original commission to the twelve is fulfilled in two of the three spheres–Jerusalem and Samaria (1:8). They failed to go to all nations as He had told them (Lu.24:47) .
As Cornelius was a Roman, descended from Japheth, and the eunuch was an Ethiopian, probably belonging to Ham, and the Jews were Shemites, all the sons of Noah were reached through their representatives. This was typical of the spread of the kingdom over
the whole earth when it will be set up in power at Christ's return. His dominion will include all the descendants of Noah's sons, and embrace all the families of the earth. His salvation will be known from sea to sea.
As the Romans despised the Jews, the signs of the operation of the Spirit Of God in Cornelius were very marked even before he called for Peter. Centurions were not naturally devout or in fear of God, nor did they give alms to the Jews or pray to God. Cornelius believed the Scriptures or he would not have recognized Israel's supremacy. He knew God or he would not have prayed to Him continually. Hence the salvation here proclaimed to him was not prefaced by repentance. It was of the same nature as that which Peter proclaimed at Pentecost. It was a deliverance which insured his entrance into the kingdom.
According to Solomon's dedicatory petition (lKi.8:41-43) that Jehovah should do all that the stranger who prayed toward His house should call for, Cornelius' prayers and alms come up for a memorial before God. Yet he must be taught that all his blessings come to him through Israel. Hence he is told to call for Peter. This is in direct antithesis to the present truth, for now, during Israel's apostasy, we get our blessings direct from God.
The location of Peter at the time is suggestive. The nations are often represented by the sea, and he had gone as far as he could on land for he was at the sea side. His hunger is typical of the hunger of God for the worship of all His creatures–not Israel alone, hence Peter is told to "sacrifice and eat." The ceremonially unclean animals must represent those among the nations whom God had cleansed. Hence we must regard Cornelius as one whom God had cleansed before Peter met him.
Peter, like all the Jews, was so prejudiced by birth and training that it was almost impossible for him to conceive of such a thing as having fellowship with a gentile, or even a proselyte of the gate, no matter how devout he might be. Henceforth the apostasy of Israel consists largely in refusing to be a channel of blessing to the nations. This led them to question Peter and persecute Paul.
The vision alone was not sufficient to break through the prejudice of Peter, for he could not make out what it meant. But the presence of the three men, who were ceremonially unclean, like the animals he had just seen in the vision, made his course clear. He dared not refuse to fellowship with them or disregard the call of Cornelius. The character of Cornelius was evidence that God had cleansed him. Peter could no longer class him as common or unclean. The fact that Cornelius gave of his means to the people of the covenant was much in his favor, for in the judgment of the nations which precedes the kingdom the nations are judged according to their treatment of the sons of Israel (Mt.25:31-46).
23 The journey from Joppa to Caesarea would lie along the sea shore. Thus Peter skirted the "limits of the land." The location of Caesarea is doubtless typical also. Its geographical location corresponded with Cornelius' moral position. It was on the fringe of Judaism, near the outer gentile world.
23 Later we learn that six brethren from Joppa accompanied Peter to Caesarea. This was a prudent thing to do, for Peter well knew that he would have to defend his action in thus going against all Jewish precedent and prejudice. True, there was nothing in their Scriptures which forbade all social intercourse with foreigners, but the apostles, as well as the other disciples, were bound by custom and tradition more firmly than by the divine revelation. In view of the storm of protest which was sure to arise, the six men accompany Peter so that they can confirm his account of the event.
24 Cornelius seems to have carried many of his dependents and friends with him in his regard for the Jews and their religion. They also were in a measure prepared for Peter's message. They were not, like Paul's converts, turned from darkness to light and from idolatry to the worship of the true God. They already had much light and worshiped the God of Israel. So the proclamation to them is much the same as to the Jews.
30 Cornelius calls the messenger, or angel, he had seen, a man. There is no warrant, in Scripture, for the pop-
ular idea that angels always have wings, like the cherubim. They usually appear in a human form.
31 The conversion of Cornelius is not in accord with the truth for today. Salvation is not offered to those who have access to God in prayer, for such are already saved. It is for sinners, and the ungodly and God's enemies (Ro.5:1-11). It is not based on works (Ro.11:6). Cornelius and his friends were acceptable to God because they feared Him and acted righteously and this before Simon was sent to them. They occupied the place of the godly Israelite before Christ came. They lacked the pardon and gifts which came with the proclamation of the kingdom. These are now made theirs through the chief of the twelve apostles. Their blessing is connected with and depends on the blessing of Israel in the kingdom. Our blessing depends on the opposite; It follows Israel's apostasy. Cornelius is blessed in accord with the prophetic prediction concerning the nations in the kingdom, as it will be during the millennial eon. We are blessed in accord with a secret administration, of which the prophets knew nothing, which could not be revealed until after the kingdom proclamation had been heralded to the people and the proselytes like Cornelius.
34-35 This statement teaches, not that the fear of God and righteous acts take the place of faith in Christ, but they take the place of Moses. Such as Cornelius who pant after the living God are candidates for the kingdom, but must hear the word of life in order to be saved (11:14). Such as Cornelius are they who will enter the kingdom when the nations are judged (Mt.25:34-36).
35 Peter's proclamation to the nations is in contrast with Paul's. He details the life of our Lord and His beneficent deeds in the land, leading up to His resurrection. Paul begins with His death and resurrection and proclaims His ascension and His heavenly glories. In a word Peter proclaims "Jesus Christ," Paul preaches "Christ Jesus." The former lays stress on His rejection on earth, the latter on His acceptance in heaven.
39 Paul could have no place in this testimony, for he was not a witness of our Lord's earthly life.
Besides being a specimen of the future blessing of the believing nations in the kingdom, who will be rewarded according to their treatment of Israel, the case of Cornelius was undoubtedly divinely intended to bridge the almost impassable gap between the ministries of Peter and Paul, between the evangels of the Circumcision and of the Uncircumcision. Here we see the blessings of the Circumcision given by God to those who are uncircumcised, and in such a way that His hand could not be doubted. Hence Peter claims (15:7) that God chose him first to speak to the nations, and he was enabled to acknowledge Paul's commission to the Uncircumcision. Unless Peter had been so prepared, it would have been practically impossible for Paul to carry on his earlier ministries among the nations, for he would have had, not only the unbelieving Jews, but the disciples and the apostles themselves firmly set against his work. Paul did not confine himself to converts to Judaism, as Cornelius and his friends, but had a message of grace suited to idolaters who had never heard of the true God. Nevertheless the principle taught to Peter applied to them also, for God acknowledged them by spiritual gifts, which made it evident that He had cleansed them.
44 At Pentecost the call to repent came to a people who had already rejected Jesus Christ. Peter says nothing of repentance to Cornelius (11:18) .
48 By baptism they were united to the believing remnant in the nation of Israel, for the name used was the same (2:38). It is evident, however, that this was a loose union, for the fact of their uncircumcision would bar them from the temple and from everything which the disciples had in common with the Jewish nation. In practice, even the social communion was always on a most doubtful and hesitating basis. Many of the disciples never would have fellowship with the Uncircumcision, and even Peter himself, after boldly defending his course with Cornelius as well as the truth involved, was intimidated by the prevailing opposition, so that, at Antioch he first ate with the Uncircumcision and then withdrew and severed himself for fear of the party headed by James, the brother of the Lord (Ga.2:11-12) .
4 So important is this new departure that Peter's rehearsal before his indignant brethren is given in full, for it removes the great obstacle which lay in the way of the further spread of the evangel. The commission which was received by the eleven from the Lord (Lu.24:33,47) included the uncircumcised. They had made it known in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the whole land of Israel, but only to the Circumcision. None of the disciples had any thought of proclaiming it to those of another nation even if they, like Cornelius, were devout and Godfearing men. This conclusion proves that the Pentecostal ecclesia did not include a single one of the Gentiles, but absolutely excluded all except those of Jewish blood. They could not, of course, exclude the Hellenists, or Jews who leaned to Greek culture, for they were not Greeks, but circumcised Israelites.
Neither may we take the case of Cornelius as the beginning of the evangel to the nations, as such. We do not find that this case was followed up by the evangelization of the Uncircumcision in the land. Indeed, it seems to have had no effect at all in this direction. After the death of Stephen and the following persecution, the disciples spoke to none but the Jews only (19). Other refugees from Jerusalem, however, being of Cyprian and Cyrenian origin, and having left some of the traditions of Judaism themselves, spoke to those Jews in Syrian Antioch who also had taken up Greek customs. The first time the evangel was proclaimed to the idolaters was probably the case of Sergius Paul, proconsul of Cyprus (13:7), or Paul's preaching to the people of Lystra (14:7). Throughout his early ministries, however, Paul not only went into the synagogues and preached to the Jews first, but he also spoke to the devout and God-fearing proselytes, like Cornelius, before going out to the Uncircumcision. Such converts from Judaism formed the nucleus of most of the ecclesias founded by him so far as their Gentile contents were concerned. See 13:43, 14:1, Lydia 16:14,17:4, 12, 18:4 (contrast 6) and Justus 7. The gentiles were a distinct class.
16 Peter saw a new significance in the words of the Lord (1:5) that he had not seen at Pentecost. John's baptism never went beyond the Jews. Now as the gospel comes to this gentile proselyte the baptism of spirit takes precedence over that in water, and is Peter's justiftcation for giving Israel's rite to this gentile.
17 The constant tendency, in this scroll, from the physical to the spiritual, is well illustrated by the gifts given to Cornelius and his friends, as a sign of their acceptance by God. The sign of the covenant, circumcision, was in the flesh. The lack of this excluded them from the blessings of the kingdom. In Israel, the spirit followed the bathing of their physical frames in the rite of baptism. But the Lord Himself baptizes these uncircumcised aliens in spirit before they are baptized in water. The spirit supersedes and governs the physical rite. In the case of these proselytes the rite of baptism followed the reception of the spirit (Ac.16:15; Ro.6:3; 1Co.1:14-16), because of their association with Judaism, but it does not seem to have been universally administered in the case of non-proselytes (lCo.1:17; Eph.4:5; Col.2:12).
19 Here the narrative goes back to the days of the great persecution in Jerusalem when all the believers were dispersed (8:1). Some of them came through Syrian Antioch, where they spoke to Hellinists. Later (14:27), when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, they informed the brethren that God opens to the nations (such as the Greeks) a door of faith. If the refugees from Jerusalem had ever spoken to Greeks in Antioch, this would not have been any news to them. In verse 20, there is almost equal weight of manuscript evidence for either reading, Hellenists, or Greeks. Alexandrinus has the shorter form, Hellenas [accent excluded] (Greeks), while Vaticanus has the longer Helllenistas (Hellenists). The Sinaiticus scribe copied the longer form, but incorrectly: euaggelistas (evangelists). One of his correctors, however, indicated his preference for Hellenas by inserting lle [accent excluded], . . . . . . n between the lines.
22 The Jerusalem disciples were most of them full of zeal for the law and the ritual, but Barnabas was full of holy Spirit and faith, and thus was in line with God's purposes.
25 Barnabas knew that Saul's commission was to the nations, hence he discerned that Antioch was the very field suited to his call.
26 The name "Christian" is Latin in its termination, so seems to have been given by the Romans. It is mentioned only twice more (26:28; 1 Pet.4:16), and was a term of contempt. It is never used by the saints of themselves, though there are hundreds of passages where we would use the term today. The name probably arose from the fact that here, for the first time, gentiles, Romans, left the worship of the synagogue for the faith of Christ. They would be continually speaking of one "Christ" and their countrymen gave them this new name in derision. Paul never uses this term. Peter alone uses it of his fellow saints of the Circumcision who believed.
27 "Antioch" (Antiocheia) seems to be a compound of anti (instead) and och (have, uphold). The prefix suggests that the two cities (11:27, 13:14) take the place of Jerusalem in the spreading of the evangel. They are upheld as the base of Paul's evangel to the Gentiles, while the Jerusalem ecclesia is eventually dispersed. So this may well be the import of their name: They had a place instead of Jerusalem.
In the Kingdom the evangel will flow again from the holy city.
29 It is not likely that Saul went as far as Jerusalem with the contribution, for, in his Galatian epistle, he intimates that he did not visit the holy city for fourteen years after his return from Damascus. The reason seems to be that there was a persecution on the part of Herod, as well as a famine in Jerusalem, so that it was not prudent to enter the city.
1 The failure of the nation to respond to the proclamation of the kingdom is fully manifest, and it is reflected in the events now chronicled. The twelve are no longer sustained by divine power in the city of the King. Herod puts James to death and there is no effort made to fill his place and maintain the due number of the apostles. That James, rather than Peter or John, was taken is significant, for they are typical men. James, or Jacob, brings before us the nation in flesh, and, as this aspect of the kingdom proclamation has failed and is finished, he is removed. Peter (not Simon) was a spiritual name (Jn.1:42), representative of the remnant who believed. He is persecuted, but not slain.
The apostasy of the Jewish nation was attested by the death of James. Instead of mourning the fact that one of the apostles of the Messiah was put to death, they are pleased. They prefer the yoke of their hereditary enemy, the Idumean Herod, to the Messiah God had sent them. So will the apostate nation in the time of the end rejoice at the murder of God's two witnesses (Un.11).
It was contrary to Jewish custom to carry on a trial during the national festivals, so Herod was waiting until the passover week should be over. Then he would increase his popularity by making a public exhibition of Peter's trial and death.
The Lord had told Peter that, when he should be old and decrepit he would glorify God by his death (Jn.21:18). That time had not yet come. No power on earth can touch God's servants before the appointed time.
The deliverance of Peter should be contrasted with that of Paul and Silas at Philippi. This will show the vast advance in Paul's ministry over that of the twelve. Peter's deliverance illustrates the power and stern righteousness associated with the kingdom. The grace and salvation revealed in Philippi is in closer accord with that which is ours in Christ Jesus. Peter slept. Paul and Silas, suffering from the Roman scourge and the stocks, sang praises and prayed. Peter was taken out by stealth unknown to the guards. Paul and Silas made no attempt to escape, even when the prison doors were open. The prisoners heard them, and the warden was saved by their testimony. Peter's escape did not bring salvation to his keepers. It brought death, for his guards had to pay with their lives for his. Peter flies from Jerusalem from the face of Herod. Paul and Silas are escorted out of the jail and through the city by the officers who had mistreated them. In every particular, the deliverance of Paul and Silas eclipses the escape of Peter. One figures Israel's deliverance by judgment on the nations, the other the salvation which comes through the temporary setting aside of Israel.
12 What a touching picture we have here of the disciples praying in the dead of night, and the extreme joy occasioned by Peter's escape!
17 The death of James and the escape of Peter mark a crisis in the history of the kingdom proclamation. The power in Jerusalem passes out of the hands of the apostles into the hands of James, the Lord's brother. Note that Peter does not ask them to report to the rest of the apostles, but to James and the brethren. Henceforth these have the controlling voice in Jerusalem. The death of James broke the ranks of the apostles. Now there were only eleven. Peter was compelled to flee and John does not seem to have taken an active part.
It is most significant that the leadership now falls upon one who was never commissioned by the Lord, but held his place and wielded his influence on the ground of a close physical relationship to the Lord. While He was yet on earth none of his brothers or sisters believed in Him. Our Lord made light of such physical ties. To those who told Him that His mother and brothers wished to speak to Him He said "My mother and My brethren are these who are hearing the word of God and doing it" (Lu.8:21). But the believers in Jerusalem have drifted away from spiritual realities and give the Lord's own brother the place which He gave to the apostles. James early had a high place among the Jerusalem saints. Paul makes special mention of him when he went up to Jerusalem (Ga.1:19). This is in marked contrast to the course of Paul, which is characterized by the gradual elimination of the physical and a strong tendency toward the spiritual.
20 Josephus' account of Herod's death agrees with this in all its main features, though he does not seem to know of the reason for the flattery, nor does he ascribe the disease to a messenger of the Lord. In accepting divine honors Herod becomes a type of the great dictator of the end time, who will set himself up, saying that he is God, and will be slain by the Lord Himself.
24 The death of Herod seems to have stopped the persecution of the apostles.
25 Barnabas and Saul were commissioned to bring succor to the poor (11:30). The manuscripts vary greatly as to whether they return out of, or from, or into Jerusalem, or into Antioch.
2 The severance of Barnabas and Saul by the spirit is the prelude to an entirely new departure in the book of Acts. The commission entrusted to the twelve apostles has been attempted and their testimony rejected. They went to the limits of the land of Israel. Beyond this they dld not venture. Jerusalem, in Judea, now gives place to Antioch, outside the land. The message now goes to the dispersion among the nations and to the proselytes and even to the nations themselves, and continues until it becomes manifest that the Jews outside the land refuse the Messiah, even as those in the land have done. This ministry is carried on by an entirely new set of apostles. The twelve have no part in it. Saul, or Paul, as he is now called, takes the place of Peter in this new apostolic group.
2 The choice of Barnabas and Saul by the spirit is in marked contrast with the choice of James, the brother of our Lord, by the flesh. He leads the apostasy of the pentecostal believers, who insisted on circumcision and law keeping. He was the author of decrees, which were concerned only with the flesh. This new departure takes us in the opposite direction. Saul was chosen by the spirit and led by the spirit until, at length, in his epistles, he gives the flesh no place at all.
6 Sergius Paul was the first individual among the nations who heard the evangel, without first becoming a proselyte of Judaism. Hence his case is typical. Bar-Jesus stands for the Jewish dispersion, who always resisted every attempt to proclaim the evangel to the nations. Seldom, indeed, do we find Paul performing any judgment miracle, but here he blinds the sorcerer for a season. This is the judgment which has befallen Israel during the present administration of God's grace. Israel, in part, has become calloused until the full complement of the nations may be entering (Ro.11:25). Throughout Paul's missionary journeys, when he turned from the unbelieving Jews to the nations, the Jews became jealous and sought to turn the gentiles against him. They became blind spiritually, as Bar-Jesus became physically.
The spiritual tendency we have observed is emphasized by the change of Saul's name to Paul. The name Saul suggested the first king in Israel, who was chosen by the people because of his physical superiority, well suited to Paul before he was called by Christ, and in accord with the trend of affairs in Jerusalem, but not at all in harmony with his present ministry. It is usually derived from the Latin, meaning little, but it may also be derived from the root pau, in Greek, which means an interval, the ending, of course taking the masculine form rather than the feminine of the ordinary Greek term. Saul is Hebrew; Paul is Greek.. This change of name coincides with his new commission. This signification is most appropriate to his special ministries, which fill in the interval during which Israel is thrust aside. It is brought in for the first time at the precise point when this doom is pronounced on Bar-Jesus. It marks the beginning of God's new departure, which brings blessing to the nations through Israel's apostasy. It was given when the first real gentile believed, for all before Sergius Paul were proselytes of Judaism, like Cornelius. And it is the more remarkable that the first convert under these new conditions was also named Paul, because he inaugurates that new form of God's activities which is well pictured there by the blessed believing gentile and a blinded unbelieving Jew. Before Saul's severance, blessing could not flow except through a Jew. Samaria could not receive the spirit except through Peter and John (8:14), and the proselyte Cornelius needed the mediacy of the chief of the apostles ere he was blessed with this gift. But now an alien, having no connection with Judaism, believes and is blessed, while a Jew, a son of the covenant, is blinded. This new principle now governs God's dealings, introducing a new dispensation, and gathers force until it is fulfilled at the close of the book.
13 John, doubtless, was at fault in thus deserting the apostles. But there seems to be a deeper reason for his defection. Being from Jerusalem, and a nephew of Barnabas, he represented the weakness of the flesh and its inability to channel blessing to the nations, so was not spiritually qualified.
14 Paul's sermon and course in Pisidian Antioch is doubtless a specimen case. He usually went first of all into the synagogue and preached the evangel of the kingdom to the Jews of the dispersion and to the gentile proselytes who attended the synagogue services. His sermons included all that Peter preached concerning Messiah as the Son of David, yet went further in order to reach the proselytes. The three classes to whom Paul preached should always be distinguished. There were the men of Israel, his brethren, who were under the law and to whom the covenants and promises pertained. But the synagogues amongst the nations were largely attended by proselytes, who are called "fearers of God," "devout," or "reverent," and usually included a company of women. The proselytes, as a class, accepted Paul's message, but the Jews rejected it, with many notable exceptions. Outside of these were the gentiles proper, the idolators who had no leanings toward Judaism. Among these it was that Paul found the greatest response, but it must be remembered that this account does not lay much stress on this part of his ministry. For instance, it is evident from his epistles that the Thessalonian converts were mostly idolators, yet no hint of this is found in Acts, which speaks only of the Jews and proselytes (17:1-4). Neither are we informed of all that the apostle preached, but only that which concerned the fate of the earthly kingdom. The doctrine contained in his epistles is none of it in Acts, but all is distinct from and above the highest point reached in this treatise. To the Jews Paul spoke of Christ as proclaimed by John the Baptist, and His life before His death and resurrection and ascension, before he knew Him. Paul's epistles, however, are entirely on resurrection ground. Christ was not seen outside the land of Israel until he was seen by Saul on the Damascus road. Let us never mix the testimony in Acts with the truth in Paul's epistles, but let us rather note the great contrast between them. Contrast Peter's first sermon and Paul's. Both quote from David. Peter to prove that Jesus is David's exalted Son (2:30-31). Paul shows by his first quotation (13:33) that Jesus is the Son of God.
33 The rendering first psalm in place of second psalm demands some explanation. Our three great witnesses all read second, and we would have so rendered it, but for the confusion which would result when we come to issue the book of Psalms. There is no longer any question that the first and second psalms of our collection are in reality only one, and this quotation occurs in the first not the second psalm. Some ancient manuscripts preserve this reading. But it was generally changed to conform to the condition of the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. In the Hebrew text of the psalms the text reads right on without any break to indicate the division into psalms except the headings and subscriptions. Consequently it has been discovered that each psalm is thus indicated, and those psalms which have no heading or subscription to separate them are fragments of adjoining psalms. Thus the second psalm, so-called, is not an independent composition, but the conclusion of the first psalm.
38 Here we have the first intimation of the great doctrine of justification or acquittal. But how far below the lofty teaching revealed in the epistle to the Romans! There justification is apart from the law: here it is associated with the law. True to the kingdom he has just announced, Paul proclaims the pardon of sins. But pardon or forgiveness is but a temporary respite which may be forfeited or withdrawn (Mt.18:23-35). Those Pentecostal believers who had been forgiven like the ten thousand talent debtor, yet refused to extend this blessing to the gentiles, who owed much less, had their pardon revoked.
Now, however, the apostle offers them more than pardon. Those who were pardoned still tried to keep the law of Moses (21:20). He promises an acquittal from their infractions of the law, on the ground of faith. Pardon takes guilt for granted. Justification or acquittal denies guilt. They mingle here for a moment, but in Paul's epistles those who are justified are beyond the necessity of any pardon, for they are pronounced not guilty. The contrast between Moses and Christ is made first by Paul, and in connection with the preaching of justification.
44 This is the first time we have the evangel preached to the nations directly except the single case of Sergius Paul. Never before this have we any intimation that the word was spoken to any except Jews, Samaritans, or proselytes. Now that the whole city came to hear the word, the Jews, following the example of Bar-Jesus, oppose Paul and Barnabas. Not till then do we hear the memorable words, "lo! we are turning to the nations."
48 It would be of greatest interest to us to know what Paul preached to the gentiles on this occasion, but there is no record of his words. The reason doubtless is that he went beyond the kingdom proclamation and announced, for the first time, the grand foundation on which God's favor to the nations is based, the doctrine of justification. His previous proclamation was hampered by the fact that his hearers were under the law. Now he is able to set it forth fully and freely as he does in his epistle to the Romans, for his audience Is not seeking any justification under law. He announces a divine righteousness, apart from the law.
While there can be little doubt that the apostle preached justification on this occasion in some of the fullness to which his epistles testify, yet it is of the utmost importance for us to note that the account in Acts never attains to the truth taught in his epistles. It leads us up to some of it, but never makes actual contact with it. It prepares for it but does not proclaim it. Not one single doctrine for the present secret economy is found in the book of Acts, though all was made known and committed to writing during this period. We are continually led up to, but never enter into the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. Acts is not a record of the beginning of the present, but a treatise on the end of the previous dispensation. Most of the ecclesiastical confusion which prevails would vanish if this record of the kingdom apostasy were left where it belongs, and all truth for the present based on Paul's written revelation, which deals with the same period of time, but deals with it from an entirely distinct standpoint. God's program is, some Jews, some gentiles; then Jews and gentiles alike.
6 Lystra seems to be the first place Paul preached without first proclaiming to the Jews in the synagogue, for it seems that there were not enough Jews to have a place of worship. Hence this is the first time the evangel is preached to the gentiles, apart from Judaism altogether. Here we reach the limit of his journey as well as the moral limits of the evangel. It has now broken through all barriers. From being preached to the "Jews only" (11:19) it has not only reached gentile proselytes and idolaters through the synagogue, but it has gone outside the pale and influence of Judaism, and won its way to the hearts of the far off foreigners.
8 The contrast between the ministries of Peter and Paul is reflected in their acts. The lame man at the gate of the temple (3:2-8) was near the dwelling place of God, the source of all blessing. The lame man of Lystra was far off. Neither had ever walked, but the former, picturing the privileged people of God, was carried by his friends. Even the manner of their salvation was different. Peter reached out his hand and lifted the lame man to his feet. Paul did not need to touch the Lystrian, for he leaped up and walked.
11 It was commonly believed among the ancients, that the gods visited the earth at times in human form, but more especially those places which were devoted to their worship. Lystra seems to have been under the protection of Zeus, for one of his priests resided before the city. Zeus was usually attended by Hermes, the messenger of the gods. Subsequent revelation suggests that, in a very real sense, the Lycaonians were not much mistaken in their estimate of Paul. He was indeed the messenger of the true God, visiting the earth for a time. The Greek gods were in reality demon spirits who had usurped the authority of the air, who, with Satan, are to be cast out of their heavenly habitations when the kingdom is set up. Paul, together with those who receive the grace which comes through him, will replace them and rule the celestial realms, as the body of Christ. So that the Lycaonians were not far wrong, and we may take their words as prophetic of the grace which God was about to reveal (Ga.4:14).
15 In speaking to idolaters in Lystra and Athens, Paul does not appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures, for they knew nothing of God's written revelation. He appeals to them through God the Creator and Sustainer, as revealed in nature.
19 God has a way of giving his servants a vision of the end at the beginning, to sustain them in the trials on the way. Joseph knew God's purpose for him and was prepared for the pit and the prison, for he realized that these led to the throne. So, we may well believe. God made known to the apostle Paul his purposes of grace for the nations long before Paul made them public from Rome. And what time would be so opportune as this, when the evangel for the first time is carried directly to the nations? Indeed, about fourteen years later, Paul seems to refer to his stoning at Lystra as the time when he received his greatest visions and revelations, which he was not allowed to publish until his kingdom ministry in Acts was brought to a close. Such a revelation must have been made in a setting calculated to reveal God's grace. And what occasion compares with this? Let us remember that Paul was stoned but once (2Co.11:25) and this by the gentiles just as soon as the evangel breaks through to them. The Jews reject the evangel and call down judgment. How dire must be the punishment due to these uncircumcised aliens for stoning the chosen vessel God had sent for their salvation! This is surely the opportunity demanded by grace to show its potency! They drag his body, battered and bleeding, outside the city, but his spirit flies far ahead to the paradise of the new earth, and soars into the heights of the third heaven. There he sees the despised, undeserving gentiles, who had stoned him to death, ruling the celestial realms as members of Christ's body and "blessed with all spiritual blessings among the celestials" (Eph.1:3). Here we reach the summit of grace, the secret (lCo.2:7) which God had prepared for those who love Him. Though Paul was not really dead, it is well to note that, from this time on, he reckons himself and all believers as having died, and as living a resurrection life (2Co.1:9) .
21 The report in Antioch that God had opened the door of faith to the nations sums up Paul's first missionary journey. This is given out as something new, unknown before. It is evident that Antioch itself was composed partly of gentiles, but they had been proselytes of Judaism before the evangel was proclaimed to them. Many of the misconceptions as to the book of Acts, especially in regard to Pentecost and the ministry of the twelve apostles, would vanish if this fact were given the prominence it deserves. The twelve apostles did not reach out to the nations. Jews from the dispersion spoke to the proselytes. When Peter did this in the case of Cornelius, it was considered a grave breach by the majority in Jerusalem. Not till Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey did the word go out to the idolaters. Before this the door was shut. The only way of access was through Judaism. Now it is open, and consists of faith, altogether apart from Jewish rites and ceremonies.
1 No sooner was the door of faith opened to the nations than the emissaries of Jerusalem tried to slam it shut. Paul had been reporting that salvation had been brought directly to the gentiles without the necessity of their becoming proselytes. Now the Judaisers come and insist that it is not sufficient to be a "proselyte of the gate," but they must become a "prosselyte of righteousness" and take upon themselves all the obligations of Judaism. The conflict was between faith and law, grace and works. The circumcisionists were perversely using in the interests of self-righteousness that which God had given for its cure.
From Paul's account, given in his epistle to the Galatians, we find that these "false brethren" crept into the ecclesia at Antioch unawares, spying out their freedom in Christ Jesus, and determined to bring them into the bondage of the law of Moses. Besides being sent by the brethren at Antioch, Paul had a revelation which directed him: to go to Jerusalem and communicate his evangel, which differed materially from that of the twelve and the Judaisers, to those in authority in Jerusalem. He also took Titus along as a test case, because he was not circumcised (Ga.2:1-5) .
6 Before this convention Paul took up the question privately with the more influential members of the Jerusalem ecclesia, especialiy with James, the brother of the Lord, and with the apostles Peter and John. Having convinced them that he had a special revelation for the Uncircumcision they were able to influence the assembly, and thus he was able to check the growing opposition to his ministry in Jerusalem.
In Judea the ecclesia of Christ was rapidly degenerating into a Jewish sect. It was called "the sect of the Nazarenes" by its enemies. They clung to the Mosaic law and ritual as fiercely as ever, and could not bear to consider anything which seemed derogatory to their ancient religion. Besides, they gave the traditions concerning social intercourse with the alien nations all the force of a divine command. Peter's course with Cornelius was not a direct violation of the law, though it may have involved the eating of that which was forbidden by Moses.
7 Peter here refers to Cornelius, and his words must be taken, not in the light of Paul's subsequent course, but as the Jews present would understand them. Peter's preaching to the nations was confined to proselytes in the land. Without that experience Paul would never have been able to convince Peter that God could deal with the nations in a way different from His dealings with the Circumcision. The case of Cornelius was specially designed to bridge the gap between the two ministries of Peter and Paul.
11 These are bold and noble words to be spoken by the chief apostle of the Circumcision in such an assemblage of Judaisers. These are Peter's last words in the book of Acts. Instead of conceding that the gentiles must be saved by means of the law and the ritual, through Judaism, Peter insists on the very opposite. The aliens are not to be saved like the Jews, but the Circumcision themselves are not saved by the law and circumcision, but by grace, even as the nations. We can hardly realize how astounding such a declaration would be in this assembly. It was not understood or heeded. Peter himself denied it by his acts soon afterward (Ga.2:11-21).
James, the brother of our Lord, though not an apostle, had by far the most influence in Jerusalem, especially with the Judaisers. Peter, who should have had the leadership, was afraid of him. If his wise and weighty words had been heeded all would have been well. But the legalists were too strong, and listened to James, their leader, the brother of the Lord according to the flesh, rather than to one who was not only one of His brethren in spirit, but had been trained and commissioned to lead His people. Peter's decision was in accord with the spirit and should have been obeyed. James' compromise was a concession to the flesh. Later, when the full truth for the present was revealed these decrees were abolished (Eph.2:15).
18 James does not refer to the report of Barnabas and Paul, when he quotes Amos 9:11-12, but to Peter's address. The prophet, speaking of the time when the kingdom will be set up, refers to those among the nations, who, like Cornelius, invoked the name of the Lord, and are blessed with His people Israel. It has no reference to the present economy of God's grace.
19 Notice the emphatic I. This was James' own solution. The object of the decrees seems to have been to make it possible for the Jews to have social intercourse with the believers among the nations without offending Jewish prejudices. A Jew, even if a believer, could not eat at the same table with a gentile if he should serve an idol sacrifice, or strangled meat, or blood. Had Peter's advice been followed, they would have cast off the yoke of the law, which they never were able to bear, and so could have had free and joyful fellowship with the Uncircumcision. James' plan keeps the Jews under the divine law and puts the nations under a human law. Instead of loosing all from bondage, he binds both.
24 The great object of the conference was definitely settled, and never again do we hear that circumcision and law keeping are essential to salvation. The Judaisers now change to the teaching that, though these may not be necessary for salvation, they are essential to progress and perfection. Paul refutes this in Galatians.
29 Strictly speaking, these decrees were binding only on the believers in Syria and Cilicia, though they must have influenced all the saints among the nations. Paul practically repeals them when he makes the eating of meats offered to idols a matter of individual conscience (1Co.8) The revelation of the new humanity (Eph.2:15) in which all physical distinctions disappear, so that there is no Jew or Greek, nullifies this "law of precepts in decrees." They were based on a distinction which no longer exists for those who are in Christ Jesus. Speaking of this to the Colossians, the apostle boldly cancels them by "erasing the handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it away out of the midst. . ." How far has Jerusalem fallen! Instead of bringing blessing to the nations, they use this opportunity of burdening them with a law of their own devising; No wonder, when Paul comes again, he finds James in full charge, and all the tens of thousands of believing Jews zealous of the law and hostile to him and his ministry.
35 It was during this period that Peter came to Antioch and lived at first in unrestrained intercourse with the gentiles, eating with them in consistency with his speech at the conference and with the decrees, also with his own conduct in the case of Cornelius. In the presence of "certain from James" Peter began to vacillate and complied with their prejudices. If Peter, through consideration for the weak conscience, had been yielding a non-essential point, Paul would approve. But his motive was the fear of man. His example not only sanctioned the heresies of the Judaizers but also carried away such believers as Barnabas, and well merited Paul's rebuke.
37 Barnabas had already provoked Paul's indignation by weakly yielding to the influence of Peter and the Judaizers. Possibly he was still smarting under Paul's public rebuke. Paul, on the other hand, always revolted against anything that looked like compromise and weakness. Though it was impossible for them to longer work together, they evidently make amicable arrangement to divide between them the territory of their former journey.
40 Silas was almost necessary as a companion for Paul. The decrees provided that they should be delivered by both Barnabas and Paul, while Judas and Silas were to confirm them by word of mouth. Now that Barnabas is gone, Paul could hardly deliver the decrees without a second witness, and Silas was the very one for the purpose, for he had the recommendation of Jerusalem.
40 Paul seems to have had the sympathy of the brethren in Antioch. Nothing is said of their interest in Barnabas and Mark. But when Paul and Silas go, the brethren commend them to God's grace.
1 Paul did not retrace the steps of his first missionary journey. He did not go to Cyprus at all. He went by land through Syria and Cilicia, and crossed the Taurus mountains more to the east, coming out upon the high inland plain near Lystra and Derbe.
1 Timothy was Paul's son in the faith, being one of those who believed when Paul was there before. He was a witness of his sufferings and now becomes a companion of his trials. Hitherto Paul's associates have been a Levite, Barnabas, and Silas, a Jew, but now he takes one whose father was a Greek. Thus there is a gradual tendency away from the physical to spiritual relations.
3 The circumcision of Timothy, at first sight, seems strange and inconsistent. Had Paul not refused to circumcise Titus? Had not the council at Jerusalem decided that circumcision was not essential to salvation? But Timothy's case is an entirely different matter. Paul is still going among the synagogues proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews. To have an associate who was uncircumcised would be a great hindrance and give the Jews the occasion which they sought to denounce and persecute him. He still maintains that circumcision is nothing. Yet he has no hesitancy in using it if it will mollify the prejudice of those whom he desires to reach with the evangel.
6 Paul's sickness in Galatia and the evangelization of that region is almost completely passed over because his course there was not in line with the testimony of Acts.
9 Paul's commission is as broad as humanity, yet the guidance of God decides matters of time and place for testimony.
9 Up to this time Paul was guided by hindrances. Trying to go through Galatia to the regions beyond, he is taken sick. He then seeks to enter the populous province of Asia, but the time had not yet come. Finally, at Troas, he receives the first intimation that his work lay in Europe. Without stopping to preach in Troas he immediately sets sail for Macedonia, which he reached in two days–a remarkably swift journey. It took five days on a later occasion (20:6).
10 Luke seems to have joined the party of Paul at Troas, for now the narrative is continued in the first person. "They . . . descended into Troas," but "we . . . seek to come away to Macedonia."
11 Neapolis is the harbor of Philippi. It was about ten miles from the city.
12 Philippi was a Roman colony in the special sense that it enjoyed many of the privileges of Rome itself. It was free from the control of the governor of the province. It regulated its own internal affairs by its own magistrates.
13 There seem to have been few Jews in the city. There was no synagogue. As it was the custom of the Jews to retire to the sea shore or some stream, which they esteemed a pure place, for prayer, Paul and his company resorted to such a spot and spoke to the women who came. Here it was that the Lord, who had led them from afar, manifested His presence and power by opening the heart of Lydia, the first fruit of the evangel in Europe. Strangely enough, however, she was from Asia, and from the very regions which they were forbidden to evangelize.
16 Python is the name of Apollo in his character as an oracle. Those who were ventriloquists, speaking with their mouths closed, were called Pythons. It was a kind of demon possession, not at all uncommon in ancient Greece. Their ravings were highly esteemed by the superstitious idolaters. Hence this slave girl was able to earn much money for her masters. It was probably the enemy's plan to discredit Paul's message by a questionable commendation.
19 This is the first occasion in which the evangel comes into conflict with the religion of the nations and with the spirit powers back of it. Hitherto the Jews and Judaism opposed the evangel. At Lystra it was welcomed by the idolaters, at first, until the Jews turned the people against the apostles.
19 Note carefully the real reason of the opposition. Their income was cut off. To this day this, the first symptom of antagonism, has largely controlled the opposition to the truth. Doubtless, if the evangel had increased their income, they would have accepted it.
20 There was no law against casting out demons, so the accusation is craftily perverted to arouse the prejudices of the Roman officers. The Jews had been ordered out of Rome and were in bad repute. There was a law, practically obsolete, which forbade the introduction of any religious innovation as dangerous to the peace of the empire. So that, if the law had been allowed to take its normal course, the apostles might have been imprisoned for a long period, and the evangel would have received a permanent check, but the unlawful action of the officers, putting them in the wrong, effectually opened the way for the further proclamation of the evangel in Philippi.
22 The terrible Roman flogging and vile, filthy jail, with the torture of the stocks, was intended to put a stop to the evangel. But God turned it to its furtherance. Paul and Silas, rejoicing in their sufferings for Christ, get an audience even in the prison.
26 Contrast the deliverance of Paul and Silas with that of Peter (12:3-19). Peter had not been ill-treated as they were, and slept. They prayed and sang songs of praise. No angel came to deliver Paul and Silas, but they brought a much greater deliverance to the warden and his household, and doubtless to some of the prisoners as well. Peter's escape, on the contrary, cost the lives of his keepers. Paul and Silas come out in broad daylight, escorted by the officers of the city and leave openly after they have met their brethren and taken leave of them. Peter comes out at night and flees to another place to escape Herod's wrath.
30 The earthquake, the open doors, the knowledge that he would forfeit his own life if a prisoner escaped, and the voice out of the darkness of the dungeon that read his inmost thoughts when he is about to take his own life, all conspired to convince the warden that these men and their message were from God. He doubtless had heard what the spirit of Python had declared about them, hence his cry, "What must I be doing that I may be saved?"
32 They did not stop with the bare exhortation to believe, but went on to open up the truth of the evangel. Faith does not come by the mere entreaty to believe, but through the setting forth of the truths which are to be believed. The death of Christ for our sins, His burial and resurrection are essential to salvation and should be the subject of every effort to preach the evangel. This gospel of God's grace was immediately effective, producing great joy.
33 What a transformation in the warden! The day before he had treated them with unnecessary severity; now he stoops to bathe their backs and attends to their comforts, taking them into his own home.
35 Phllippi was a military colony, hence the officials were army officers rather than magistrates. This may explain their illegal course of taking a hand in punishing those who had never been tried. Later reflection doubtless convinced them of this error, so they sent to have Paul and Silas released. The warden was doubtless very happy at this turn of affairs, and exhorts them to go. But Paul, seeing the hand of God in the changed attitude of the officers, and solicitous for the furtherance of the evangel in Philippi, determines to press the advantage. The officers did not know that they were Roman citizens, hence did not realize how serious had been their offense. A public acknowledgment of their fault would shield the saints from further persecution. He insists that the officers shall come and lead them out in person, so that all may see that they were no longer opposed to their work. This the officers do, but, lest a rumor of this should get to Rome, they entreat them to leave the city, which, with due deliberation, the apostles did.
1 Luke seems to have remained behind at Philippi, for the narrative now proceeds in the third person. Timothy also tarried, for no one was more genuinely solicitous of the welfare of the infant ecclesia (Phil.2:20). Later on he rejoins Paul and Silas and is found at Berea (17:14). But Luke may have remained there until Paul's next missionary journey, when he returns through Philippi to Troas (20:6) .
1 Instead of stopping at the smaller towns, Paul and Silas make their way to the most populous city of the province as a base of operations for the whole country. Thessalonica, the present Saloniki, became, in a few months, the center from which the word of the Lord was sounded forth, . . . in Macedonia and Achaia (1Th.1:8). For the first three weeks he seems to have made a special effort to win the Jews in the synagogue, but only some of the Jews were persuaded, though many of the proselytes were won for Christ. Meanwhile many of the Uncircumcision must have been reached, for the apostle writes to them as converts from idolatry, rather than from Judaism. They turned to God from idols (1Th.1:9).
3 The evangel of the kingdom, as Paul proclaimed it in the synagogues, is concisely set forth here. The suffering and resurrection of Messiah and Jesus as the One foretold by the prophets, are the leading points. Beyond this he gave them much else concerning the kingdom and the events which precede its coming, including the unveiling of the man of lawlessness (2Th.2:6). Paul's evangel was what is sometimes called "a teaching gospel."
5 The malice of the Jews is apparent from their charge against the apostIes. They, too, believed that Messiah would destroy the kingdoms of the nations, yet they bring this charge, hoping to rouse the power of Rome against them. They, themselves, gather a mob and raise a tumult, yet they accuse them of it. Not finding the apostles, they took Jason and some other brethren, but the civil magistrates did not act like the officers at Philippi, but took the legal course. Instead of imprisoning them, they made them give bail, which probably ended the matter when the apostles left the city.
10 As it was unwise to excite the mob in Thessalonica further, and the apostles did not wish to cease their labors, they slip away to Berea, probably one of the nearest synagogues. Here the Jews give them a hearty reception and eagerly examine the ancient Scriptures to see if Paul's message is in accord with their predictions. Consequently many of them believe and the proselytes also, from among the Greeks, receive the word of the Lord.
11 Paul's success among the noble Jews of Berea is clearly the result of their examination of the Scriptures. Here, doubtless, as elsewhere, current Jewish tradition, the teaching of the elders, had largely replaced the divine record, just as today the traditions of the church supersede the truths of Scripture. The truest nobility lies in ignoring current dogma and accepting only what is in closest accord with holy writ. This is the path that leads to real and substantial blessing.
14 The Jews seem to have concentrated their hate on Paul, hence it was not necessary for Silas and Timothy to leave.
15 Paul has now fulfilled the Macedonian call, and leaves that province for Greece, which was then named Achaia. Athens was, in some ways, the principal city, and it had a Jewish meeting place. Hence he went thither and took his usual course, speaking to the Jews in the synagogue, and to the others in the market place. We are not informed of his reception by the Jews, but they do not seem to have persecuted him.
18 The Epicurean philosophy was virtually Atheism. Like modern scientific theorists it denied creation, teaching that the universe was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, and continued to function without the intervention of God. There was no moral government, so there was no judgment and no resurrection. Their highest aim was self-gratification.
18 The Stoics had many gods. They cultivated an austere apathy and held reason to be the only good. Stoicism developed a class of philosophic Pharisees who needed no Saviour, and acknowledged no sin. Zeno, its founder, died by his own hand.
18 "Rook" was popular, picturesque Athenian slang based upon the habits of birds who pick up seed and scraps, and applied to men who pick up scraps of learning and who lack a thorough knowledge of their subjects.
18 "Demons" was used of good as well as evil divinities in profane Greek.
19 The hill called the Areopagus (Latin, Mars' Hill), just a few steps above the Market Place, was a most fitting forum for the folly of God to defeat the wisdom of the world. At Rome Paul's weakness overcame the power of the world; at Ephesus he overthrew its religion; at Athens his foolish talk about the resurrection confounded the philosophies that made Greece famous.
21 While the Epicureans derided him, both they and the Stoics, as well as the many Athenians who had returned from foreign travel, all were eager to hear anything that was novel, even if they could not agree with it. The resurrection was unheard of amongst them, so they wish to know more of it.
23 Paul is too wise to begin offensively by telling his hearers that they were too superstitious. His words are rather complimentary, at least so they would understand them. To dread demons was a virtue, the essence of their religion.
23 By this happy introduction the apostle manages to conciliate the pretense to knowledge which the philosophers affected. Instead of charging them directly with ignorance of God he introduces the inscription, to an unknown god, which they doubtless all had seen. Then he pursues a course of reasoning; which they could follow, showing the illogical basis of their philosophies as to creation, God's continued activity in providence, and His desire that men should use these evidences in groping for Him–as they were. He is careful to make every possible concession to the philosophers, yet boldly attacks their error. In the midst of marvelous temples, and elaborate ritual, he does not hesitate to declare their uselessness to the God Who needed nothing, but was the Giver of all things. He asserts His supremacy in time and space. He acknowledges the partial truth in the Stoic philosophy by proclaiming His presence and immanence.
28 Paul not only appeals to the measure of truth in their philosophies, but strengthens his cause with them by showing that even their own poets have stumbled on the truth he is about to deduce. The exact words "For of that race also are we" occur in a poem by Aratus, of Cilicia, Paul's native province. "The race" refers to the race of the gods, who were merely deified men. Cleanthes of Lystra also, in a hymn to Zeus, says, "for we are of your race."
29 Paul then does away with their idols, leaving nothing of their religion but the unknown God, Who knows their ignorance and bears with it, but now charges them to change their minds in view of future judgment, which is assured by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Paul wisely begins the evangel to them by announcing the resurrection, for it alone could dispel the error of their philosophies and bring them to a realization of the necessity for a Saviour.
32 The resurrection involves the death of Christ, and this the manner and necessity of His death for sin, but Paul was not allowed to proceed, though he doubtless did unfold the evangel to those who followed him when he left the Areopagus. Here we have a marvelous model for the preaching of the evangel to the wise of this world. No appeal is made to Scripture; for it would be useless. Every concession is made to the dim perceptions of truth which they held, and they are led as far as human reason can bring them up to the greatest fact of the evangel–the resurrection. But alas! Not many wise are called, for God chooses the stupid of the world to disgrace the wise (lCo.1:26). No persecution drove Paul away, yet no flourishing ecclesia followed his labors. Indifference is deadly.
1 Paul's plan, in leaving Athens, was doubtless to found another center for the evangel in Achaia, as Thessalonica was for Macedonia. Corinth was the logical place, a large mercantile city, whence the evangel could spread in all directions.
3 While in Thessalonica he had been supported partly by gifts from Philippi, but now he engaged in tentmaking as a means of livelihood.
During his early days in Corinth his heart was continually occupied with the saints from whom he had been severed, especially those of Thessalonica. He had sent Timothy to them to establish them. Now when Timothy came to Corinth with Silas and brought good news of their faith and love, he writes an epistle to them. This was, it seems, not only the first of Paul's epistles to be penned, but the first part of the Greek Scriptures to be committed to writing.
6 As usual, Paul went to the synagogue and spoke on the sabbaths, but he does not seem to have proclaimed Christ until his companions came. Then he boldly preached Jesus as the Messiah. Profiting by his former experiences, he leaves them when they oppose and holds his meetings in a private house. Yet many, including the chief of the synagogue, are won for the Lord, Paul's language and symbolic action in withdrawing from the Jews are a denunciation of woe, and agree with what he wrote about them at this time (lThess.2:15-16).
9 Paul, in writing to the Corinthians concerning these early days, told them that he was with them in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling (lCo.2:3). Hence he received a vision in the night to encourage him, God had chosen many a sinner in that city who should hear the evangel through Paul and believe. The opposition did not develop for some time and he was allowed to work for a year and a half. Thus he laid the foundation (lCo.3:10) of one of the most flourishing of the ecclesias, which ever after had a large place in his heart.
12 The Jews, however, took advantage of a change in the government, when Gallio (Annreus Novatus, a brother of Seneca, the philosopher, but adopted into the family of Junius Gallio, the rhetorician) became proconsul. He seems to have been especially liberal and tolerant, and refused to act as judge in an affair involving the religious law of the Jews. He considered such matters entirely outside his jurisdiction as a Roman judge.
16 The Greeks thoroughly disliked the Jews, and, taking advantage of the discomfiture of the Jews, gave Sosthenes a beating in front of the very dais. This, of course, was contrary to law, but Gallio chose to overlook it. Sosthenes seems to have replaced Crispus as chief of the synagogue when the latter believed the evangel. It is possible that he, also, believed later, for a brother of this name is mentioned in Paul's first epistle (lCo.l:1) .
17 At Philippi, the apostle had turned all blame upon the officers. So here the Lord brings upon the Jews the violence and disgrace they hoped to heap on the apostle. His promise that Paul should not be harmed is faithfully kept. The opposition has helped rather than hindered the evangel.
18 The taking of a vow was not apart of the law, but was strictly voluntary on the part of those who took it on themselves. Such a person was separated to God, and must not touch the dead, no matter how close the physical relationship. So Paul, at this time, became separated from the dying nation of Israel (Nu.6).
Perhaps Paul's deliverance from the Jews in Corinth was the occasion of this vow. As a further indication of his separation from the apostate nation it corresponds to his action at the beginning of his ministry in Corinth in severing from the unbelieving Jews and going to the nations with the evangel. We have no record of his release from the vow, for he only sheared his hair in Cenchrea. To end it he would need to go to Jerusalem and shave his head. Hence, in spirit, his ministry henceforth is that of a Nazarite, without the joy which will characterize the coming of the kingdom and with the weakness and shame suggested by the long hair.
22 It is evident that Antioch has displaced Jerusalem as the center of the evangel. From this point he commences his third missionary journey. He first retraces the steps of his former journey but is now permitted to enter the province of Asia.
24 Apollos' knowledge seems to have been limited to the Hebrew scriptures which had been translated into Greek in his native city, Alexandria, in Egypt, and to the ministry of John the baptist.
26 Apollos' ignorance of the ministry of the Lord and His twelve apostles made it easy for him to receive the truth proclaimed through Paul, so that he became a great help to the saints in Corinth as well as an ardent and powerful exponent of the ancient Scriptures concerning the Messiah. What Paul had planted Apollos watered. He built on Paul's foundation (lCo.3:6,10). The Corinthians made him the head of one of their schisms (lCo.1:12). He continued in fellowship with the apostle to the end (Titus 3:13). It is not likely that he was an eloquent man, for the word used denotes scholarship, rather than eloquence, and the combination is rare. Superiority of speech is not needed in the proclamation of the evangel. It is not in word but in power (lCo.2:1,4).
1 Paul came by an upper road to Ephesus, passing by those of Colosse and Laodicea (Col.2:1), who never saw his face in the flesh.
2 These disciples, like Apollos, seemed to know nothing of the ministry of the Lord and the twelve apostles, and of the gifts of the holy Spirit which were not given until after our Lord's ascension. They possessed none of these gifts and had not so much as heard of them. John's baptism was for the repentant, to prepare a people for the Messiah Who should come after him, Who would baptize in holy Spirit.
5 This verse is usually taken to indicate the act of the twelve disciples, rather than Paul's statement concerning those who heard John the Baptist. But the change in the tense of the verb is against such a rendering. Paul uses the indefinite "baptizes" (4), "hearing" (5) are baptized, of the acts or John and those he baptized, but it is changed to the present, at placing, when speaking of Paul's acts, and to the past when speaking of its effects. This is not so apparent in the English version as in the Greek, but suggests that the apostle followed his usual course, for Christ had not sent him to baptize but to preach the evangel (lCo.1:17). The gifts followed the imposition of his hands, not their baptism.
8 Once more Paul pursues his usual plan of proclaiming Christ in the synagogue of the principal city of a province.
9 In Ephesus the previous visit of the apostle and the testimony of Apollos, as well as his own bold proclamation in the synagogue, won many adherents among the Jews, so that in this case, it was not some who believed, but some who opposed. After three months matters come to a crisis and Paul leaves the synagogue and brings the believing disciples with him, making his headquarters in the school of Tyrannus, where he discourses daily. Besides this, as he reminds the elders in his affecting farewell at Miletus, he supported himself by his own hands (20:34), possibly working at his trade with Aquila and Priscilla, going about the homes as well as teaching publicly (20:20), and healing many of diseases, and casting out wicked spirits.
13 The Jews had fallen so low that many of them became sorcerers and magicians who used incantations in their attempts to overcome evil spirits. Finding that Paul's formula was so effective they do not hesitate to profane the name of the Lord, by using it in their exorcisms. But the evil spirits were not deceived by this means, as the sons of Sceva found to their sorrow.
15 The spiritual tendency of Paul's ministry and his authority over the spirit world is here impressed upon us by one of the spirits themselves. The special word used of Paul is a very strong term denoting that they were very well acquainted with him. But they refused to recognize those who would not have the Messiah for their Saviour and Master, yet thought to make capital out of His name and power. Throughout Paul's course he drew nearer and nearer to the spiritual powers until, in his final ministry, he recognized them alone as the real object of attack (Eph.6:12).
17 This incident had a marked effect on those who practiced such arts. The demons whom they feared had acknowledged both the Lord and His servant as worthy of their obedience. No wonder that they were filled with fear and magnified the Lord Jesus.
18 Many believers still clung to their old practices, but when they found that the Lord was greater than the demons whom they feared, they abandoned their false arts. They gave up the scrolls which taught them, and burned up nearly ten thousand dollars' worth.
21 The words "as these things were fulfilled" mark the central crisis in Paul's ministry. We have long passed Jerusalem, Antioch has held its place as the base for his missionary journeys, and his correspondence was connected with Corinth, but now we look forward to Rome. In epistles written at this juncture Paul declares that he has fully preached the gospel of Christ in these parts (Ro.15:19), that there is to be a change in his ministry, especially in the evangel he was proclaiming. He had gone about proclaiming Christ as Israel's Messiah, "after the flesh," yet henceforth he would do so no longer. He would recognize no man after the flesh. He would proclaim the conciliation, which does away with the distinction between the Circumcision and Uncircumcision (2Co.5:14-21; Ro.5:12-21). His gospel to the nations had been based on the promise to Abraham that all the nations of the earth should be blessed through His Seed. Now he preaches to all mankind because of a common descent from Adam. As this ministry is not in line with the kingdom to Israel, which is the subject of Acts, it is not recognized in this scroll.
The apostle's ministry in the synagogues is at an end, for the Jews among the nations have rejected their Messiah even as those in the land had done. All that now remains is his testimony before kings and in Rome.
Ephesus was the religious as Rome was the political center of the world. Paul gave a larger part of his ministry to the church there than to any other.
23 The disturbance in Ephesus was no doubt caused by the opposition of the evil spirits, or demons, who are the real objects of worship in idolatry. It served God's purpose as well, for the apostle's ministry had come to a crisis which required him to leave Ephesus.
24 The impelling motive of Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen was the loss of trade, just as in the case of the Pythoness at Philippi. Money moves the nations.
It was an ancient custom to use portable images or shrines, which were modeled after celebrated temples or other objects of worship. They were used for various purposes, either as household gods or for religious processions, or even on journeys or military expeditions. Some were of wood, others of gold or silver. It can easily be seen how a profitable trade in such images could spring up in Ephesus, for the temple of Diana was world-renowned. Worshipers from afar would want a shrine to take with them to their homes.
The reason why shrines or temples of Diana were made, rather than images of the goddess may lie in the fact that the temple was most magnificent, while the image it contained was rude indeed. It was not an image of Diana the Huntress, which is the usual character in which she is now represented, but a many-breasted female figure above and a shapeless block below, carved out of wood. Nevertheless, she was the object of the most fanatical veneration.
33 This Alexander may be that coppersmith who had done much evil to the apostle (2Tim.4:14). If so, it shows the shameless lengths to which the Jews went in their hatred of Paul. They would not wish to be implicated in this matter, though it was well known that they also were opposed to idolatry. If this was the coppersmith he might have some influence with craftsmen of a like occupation, and he would clear his fellow countrymen of any association with Paul. But the mob knew he was a Jew and the mob was in no humor to tolerate anyone who was not a worshiper of their goddess.
35 To be the janitor or sexton of the temple of some great divinity was considered a high honor by the cities of the ancient world.
35 The "scribe" is called by the same name as the well-known class among the Jews. He was a high city official, and, in this case, a man of tact and judgment. He appeals to them at their weakest point, and calms them before showing the groundlessness and danger of their mad uproar.
38 After showing them that the men they had led to the theater were not guilty of any overt act against the temple or goddess he reminds them that there are legal means of redress for any wrong which they may have committed.
39 We have purposely retained the uniform rendering ecclesia here, for it gives us a true idea of its meaning in ordinary Greek. It was a town council before which any matter such as this might be brought for settlement. A select portion of the population convened for public business was so called.
40 The Romans would not tolerate any disorderly assemblage, and would soon recall any liberties and privileges accorded to a city if disorders were not promptly suppressed. Thus God overrules to deliver Paul from "so great a death" even though the spiritual powers of evil, the avaricious mob, and the Jews were all combined against him. As in Corinth, he uses the power of Rome to protect him from false brethren and fanatical idolaters led on by his unseen spirit enemies.
1 During Paul's stay in Ephesus he penned the two epistles to the Corinthians. In these we find a full account of much which is outside the scope of Acts. They trace the gradual change which is coming over his teaching, for his ministry went "from glory to glory" (2Co.3:18). As associated with the proclamation of the kingdom, his ministry seems to fail, as did that of the twelve. This is what is recorded in Acts. But as associated with the secret which was not made publicly known until after his final appeal to the Jews in Rome, his ministry ascended to the heights of Ephesian truth by gradual degrees.
2 While in Corinth he wrote the epistle to the Galatians and that to the Romans. Thus, within a few months he writes all the Preparatory Epistles, in the central crisis of his ministry, after his determination to give the flesh no further place.
6 Luke seems to have rejoined the apostle at this point, as he now uses the pronoun we.
7 At Paul's first visit to Troas, the vision of the man of Macedonia caused him to pass through without delay. The door was shut (16:8-9). At his second visit a door was opened, in the Lord, but as he had no rest in his spirit because of the absence of Titus, he again left for Macedonia (2Co.2:12-13). Nevertheless a considerable number seem to have believed. Conscious that he would probably never see them again, Paul lingers and prolongs his farewell exhortation.
9 There is a contrast as well as a similarity between the miracles wrought by Peter and Paul. Peter raised Dorcas to life as Paul raised Eutychus. Much stress is laid on the good works and almsdeeds that she did. Nothing of the kind is recorded of Eutychus. Indeed, he was not sufficiently watchful to keep awake when the apostle was preaching. Are not these types of the resurrection of Israel and of the ecclesia which is Christ's body? Those in the former resurrection (Un.20:4-5) have worked as well as believed, and their resurrection is, in measure, deserved. But the saints of the present economy of grace are like Eutychus. Paul's preaching fails to keep them awake. They are drowsy and undeserving. Nevertheless, such is the superabundance of grace, that, in the secret resurrection (lCo.15:51) revealed about this time by the apostle Paul, merit has no place, for we shall live together with Him whether we are watchful or drowsy (lThes.5:10).
13 We may see something of the tense solicitude of the apostle's heart in his actions. For the sake of a few more hours at Troas he walked twenty miles after having preached most of the night. He would not trust himself in Ephesus, lest he should linger and defeat his purpose to be in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Yet he could not sail past without at least a parting word to the elders of the ecclesia he had come to love so well. It becomes more and more evident that the new departure in his ministry included the cessation of his own physical presence with the ecclesias. It was to be communicated in true spiritual style by means of epistles.
It must be remembered that Paul's ministry was continually changing. As the apostasy of the Jews progressed, the evangel of the kingdom became less pronounced and he was entrusted with a secret, which, depending on Israel's failure, could not be made known publicly until Israel was set aside. Hence there is a great gulf between this address and the Ephesian epistle, which he wrote to them from Rome some years later. His career at this time was still imperfect. Writing to the Corinthians a short time before, he says that the saints are still in the period of minority and that maturity, or perfection, had not yet been attained (lCo.13:9-12).
21 Repentance had its place in Paul's preaching while he was proclaiming the kingdom. It was associated with pardon. Henceforth he no longer preaches these, but justification and conciliation by faith alone, as is set forth in his epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, which were written not long before this last meeting with the Ephesian elders. The call to repentance is most frequently made to the covenant people, and usually for the purpose of averting impending judgment.
22 Paul had a profound conviction that it was God's will that he should go to Jerusalem and then to Rome. The further intimation of the spirit that bonds and affiictions awaited him did not make him fiinch. The distinct character of his ministry is seen by comparing him with Peter, who left Jerusalem after he had been delivered from bonds. Paul goes to Jerusalem well aware that his physical frame would be put under restraint. This corresponds closely with the change which his ministry was undergoing. The kingdom and physical blessings were fast receding and spiritual gratuities were taking their place. Henceforth Paul's physical environment is expressive of the truth which he ministers.
27 The counsel of God concerning the kingdom, as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, must not be confused with the still secret purpose of God, which the apostle did not make known to the Ephesians until after his arrival at Rome. See Ephesians 1:9, 3:1-9, and Colossians 1:25-27.
28 The oversight in Ephesus seems to have been in the hands of a number of supervisors who cared for them as a shepherd tends his flock. Not one of the ecclesiastical arrangements of later days was present.
29 The apostle draws a dark picture of apostasy. Wolves from without were to come in. These are spoken of as "burdensome" and probably refers to those who came in to get rather than to give. But even worse was the apostasy within. In Corinth we see the readiness with which the disciples followed a leader even when the leader refused a following. In Ephesus began the destructive work of those who set themselves up as heads of parties or divisions. Had they acted like Paul with the Corinthians the schism would have been healed. But, as they courted a personal following, it has led to the multiplied divisions of today,
31 Paul's tears were occasioned by the fear that they would turn away from his gospel, as they subsequently did (2 Ti.1:15).
32 "God and the word of His grace" means much more to us than it possibly could have meant to the Ephesian elders at Miletus.
The richest storehouse of His grace had not yet been opened. The epistle to the Ephesians had not yet been penned. Yet Paul doubtless referred to these later unfoldings and committed them to that further revelation which it was not yet lawful for him to utter (2Co.12:4). God and the word of His grace are our only, yet sufficient, recourse in the present apostasy.
33 As Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus, it is probable that Paul worked with them for his living as he had done at Corinth. What a marvelous example of self-sacrifice he has left! Vast as was the spiritual wealth he brought to Ephesus, he did not even take the meager dole needed for his sustenance.
37 The occasion of their most poignant sorrow was the sign of their greatest benefit. They were about to exchange a subordinate place at Israel's board, for "every spiritual blessing among the celestials" (Eph.1:3). Paul's face may fade from view on earth, yet it was but a symptom of a higher and greater fellowship in heaven.
1 The party made a quick journey. The various terms, "running straight," "looming up, and leaving," suggest that they sailed before the wind, which blows from the northwest at that time of the year.
4 We cannot take this statement "who said to Paul, through the spirit, not to be stepping on board to Jerusalem" as a prohibition by the Spirit of God, for Paul was acting in closest accord with the directions of the spirit. Rather, they knew, through the spirit, what was awaiting Paul in Jerusalem, and they, like all the disciples, were anxious to spare him the trials and sufferings which would surely be his lot if he persisted in his purpose to go on to Jerusalem. But Paul was emulating the Spirit and conduct of his Master, Who set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem, when He was well aware of all the shame and suffering which should befall Him in the city. Instead of blaming Paul for his persistence we may rather marvel at the steadfastness of his purpose and unflinching courage, not only in view of the trials ahead, but the importunities of his fond friends, who were compelled to recognize that his steadfast purpose grew out of clearer discernment of the Master's will, and so acquiesced (14).
6 What demonstrations of affection were witnessed wherever the apostle paused to say farewell! Following the party with the wives and children as far as the beach, after prayer they "pull away" from one another. Surely Paul had won many hearts who could not but dread the dangers which were ahead of him!
8 More than twenty years have passed since Philip, the evangelist, after his meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch, was left at Caesarea (8:40). Whether he has remained there ever since, or had his headquarters there, does not seem clear, though he now seems to be a permanent resident. His duties as one of the seven do not seem to have detained him in Jerusalem.
9 We are not informed whether the daughters of Philip added their warnings to the rest, but there seems to be no reason for mentioning their gift here unless they, too, confirmed the word of the others.
11 This is probably that same Agabus who came down to Antioch and prophesied the famine under Claudius Cresar (11:28). He now reappears under similar circumstances. There is to be a great spiritual famine in Israel. The indications of it are found in their treatment of Paul, which was set forth in the style of the ancient prophets. This was the last intimation he had, and it so impressed all his friends that they once more sought to dissuade him from entering the city of Jerusalem. We may see how thoroughly he was convinced that he was in the Lord's will by his reply to their entreaties. He was no fanatic, bent on carrying out his own will, unmindful of the feelings of his friends. His presence in Jerusalem was necessary, not only that he might fulfill his promise to contribute to the support of the poor of the Circumcision (Ga.2:10), but that the apostasy of the nation, including former believers, might be manifested, and thus his last and crowning ministry, which was to follow their failure, might be made known to the nations.
18 The absence of the apostles from the leadership of the saints in the holy city and the elevation of James, the brother of the Lord, to the place of authority show how the apostasy had progressed amongst them. The Lord's commission to the twelve was practically ignored, while the physical relationship of James made him their chief. Even at Paul's first visit, though he saw none of the apostles except Cephas, he saw James, who already seemed to have a high place (Ga.1:19). At the conference concerning circumcision Peter was quite overshadowed by James, who proposes the decrees and carries his point (15:13-21). Paul gives him a higher place than John or Peter, when he says that James, Cephas and John seemed to be the pillars at Jerusalem (Ga.2:9). Soon afterward this becomes evident in Cephas' conduct at Antioch. He acted in accord with the decrees until some came from James: then he was afraid of the circumcisionists (Ga.2:12). James was at the head of those believers who led the Galatians astray and were the source of much of the trouble in Corinth. James means HEEL, or Circumventer.
24 The belief of the circumcisionists, based on tangible evidence, such as signs and wonders, was of a very different quality from that of Paul's epistles. In our Lord's day "many believe in [into] His name, beholding His signs which He did. Yet Jesus Himself did not entrust Himself to them. . . for He knew what was in mankind" (Jn.2:23-25). So the myriad believers in Jerusalem were still zealous for the law and circumcision and the traditional observances. Their belief did not hinder them from hating the apostle and sending emissaries to undo his work among the nations. That Paul's real danger lay in the circumcisionists is evident not only from the warning of the elders and the precautionary measures they proposed, but from his own prayer to be rescued from the stubborn (not the unbelievers) in Judea (Ro.15:31). Those who submitted to James' leadership could not tolerate Paul.
24 It was considered an act of piety to defray the expense of the sacrifices offered by the Nazarites at the completion of their vow, especially if the men were too poor to provide them (Nu.6). Paul himself was not rich, but it was probably agreed that some of the contribution he had brought for the poor could be used for this purpose. By thus publicly associating himself with this ceremonial it was hoped he would be able to disarm the prejudice against him. Paul's course in this matter cannot be condemned. Up to this time he became a Jew to the Jews. He could circumcise Timothy, because of the prejudice of the Jews, at the same time making it evident that circumcision was nothing. Ceremonial observances were nothing, only as they might be used to conciliate those who clung to them. It is the motive rather than the act which determines what is right and what is wrong.
27 As it was the season of Pentecost, Jews from all parts of the world were in Jerusalem to keep the festival. Much stress has been laid upon the first Pentecost, when the gospel of the kingdom was first proclaimed by the apostles. What a contrast is this Pentecost, when the chief herald of the kingdom is hated by the believers and nearly put to death through their opposition!
28 While all the charges against Paul were false literally, they had some foundation in spirit, just as the accusation that our Lord had threatened to destroy the temple and raise it again in three days was false, yet true in the deepest sense. In his epistle to the Romans he had shown that maintaining and discharging law is what matters, not resting in law. He had led some Jewish and many gentile believers, in spirit, into the very holy of holies. Yet in fact he had not led Trophimus beyond the central wall of the barrier (Eph.2:14) called the "soreg," which forbade the nearer approach of any except those of Jewish blood. He insisted that the law was holy and just and good (Ro.7:12) and maintained the special privileges of the people of the covenant (Ro.9:4-5). The plan to conciliate the Christian Jews ends in a disaster which shows that Paul and the legalists are incompatible.
30 Since the whole city was stirred and the people ran together, it is evident that the myriads of Jews who believed sided with their unbelieving countrymen against Paul. This is not so strange as it appears, for even to this day the bitterness of religious controversy leads those with far less between them than there was between Paul and the Judaisers to act in much the same manner. A supposed heretic is not given the consideration which is granted an unbeliever. Religion, especially that which lays stress upon ritual, has radically vitiated the standard of human morals. Paul came to them with much alms and immense spiritual wealth, all of which they spurned as their fathers had spurned his Lord.
31 The fortress of Antonia was at the northwestern corner of the temple area, with turrets which overlooked all the temple courts, so that any disturbance could be immediately reported to the captain. Hence the mob did not have time to kill Paul before the soldiers rushed down and took him out of their hands.
33 As the captain could not find out who Paul was he came to the conclusion that he was the Egyptian impostor who had recently led an insurrection, and concerning whom both the soldiers and the populace were still somewhat excited.
40 God acts in marvelous ways. Human opposition works out his purposes quite as effectively as human help. What better means could be devised to get all Jerusalem as well as representatives from the dispersion together to hear this final testimony to the Messiah and His kingdom? Such an assemblage could not be called and there was probably no building large enough to hold them. It seems almost incredible that Paul should be granted an opportunity to speak to them, as Roman law and Roman soldiers were usually excessively strict and severe. Thus, in a few minutes, the whole situation is changed. We would naturally expect him to speak Greek, for all would have understood him, but, with fine tact, he speaks to them in the language the people of the covenant would best understand, which was associated in their minds with all that was sacred in the Judaism they fought for. It was the nearest approach to the language of their sacred Scriptures. It was the language of Jew with Jew, just as Yiddish is with one class today.
3 We cannot help admiring the opening words of the apostle. His gesture had stopped the tumult. His language had quieted them. Now his words are calculated to draw them into sympathy with him, as he shows them that he understands perfectly why they are persecuting him, for he himself had outdone them in his desire to stamp out the heresy which he now defends. Indeed he had witnesses among their leaders who could testify that he had received authority from them to carry his persecution to outside cities.
4 "The way" on the lips or the apostle meant the true faith and the correct life. Apparently it was a phrase of the disciples' own choosing. "The Path" of Buddhism is an interesting parallel.
6 Never before had the apostle such an opportunity to tell of his meeting with the Messiah to his own people. We may gather much from his address concerning the status of the believers in Judea at this crisis. The offense of the cross had ceased. They were regarded simply as another Jewish sect. The crowd made no demonstration against the mention of Jesus as Messiah. Myriads of them believed that and the rest tolerated it.
9 The apparent discrepancy between this and the first account of his call (9:7) is readily explained. The men with him heard a sound but did not recognize it as the voice "of Him Who is speaking to me." The Greek word means both voice and sound. They gazed at the light, but not at the One from Whom it radiated.
10 With admirable tact Paul presses such points as were calculated to win his audience, but omits whatever would rouse their ire. The Lord Himself had told him that he was to be sent to the nations (26:17) and this was confirmed by Ananias (9:15). Yet he carefully refrains from any mention of the nations at this time. The wisdom of this is confirmed when they refused to hear him further, once he had mentioned the nations (21).
12 In the same spirit he introduces Ananias as "a pious man according to the law," omitting all mention of his belief in the Messiah. He speaks of "the God of our fathers," and baptism, and the familiar prophetic formula of "invoking His name."
17 Nothing is said here of Paul's sojourn in Arabia (Ga.1:17-18), and the fact that he did not return to Jerusalem for three years after his call. What most concerned his hearers was that he did return and with the fullest confidence that those who knew so well of his malignant zeal against the followers of Jesus would not fail to believe his testimony concerning Him. He even argues the point with the Lord Himself. How could they refuse to listen when they knew perfectly how madly he had carried on his persecution and had even taken part in the murder of Stephen?
18 That this is a solemn witness against the Jews is evident from the statement of the Lord that they would not receive Paul's testimony no matter how anxious he was to win them. Paul is here being used in the land as he afterward was in Rome to the dispersion to give the apostate nation a solemn intimation that God was through with them for a time and was now about to take up the nations.
21 Here we have the cause of Israel's apostasy laid bare. They were to be a channel of blessing to the other nations, but, instead, they kept all Jehovah's gifts to themselves and refused to share them with the less favored nations. They were like the slave who owed ten thousand talents, but, having nothing to pay with, is forgiven the debt. But when he found a fellow slave who owed him much less, he refused to be merciful and had him cast into prison. Consequently his Lord was indignant and gave him up to the tormentors (Mt.18:23). Israel is the ten thousand talent debtor. The nations were their fellow-slaves. Israel was pardoned, but, since they refuse to pass on the blessing to the nations, the pardon is withdrawn and the nation has been in the hands of the tormentors ever since. Only a few years after this Jerusalem was destroyed, the nation scattered and driven from the land to wander up and down the earth, despised by the nations whom they had wronged.
25 On several previous occasions Paul had been protected from the fury of his own countrymen by the intervention of the Roman power. Gallio had turned the tables against them (18:12-17), and the scribe of Ephesus had cleared him (19:37), but never before had he appealed to his Roman citizenship as a defense against his own kin. In Philippi he had used it, not to shield himself, but for the sake of the evangel. Now, however, that the nation in the land is finally given over to judgment, he has no hesitancy in claiming his rights as a Roman citizen. He had already been beaten five times by the Jews (2Co.11:24) and it was needless to bear any more.
25 As he was a Roman citizen, the captain had no right to bind Paul, much less to scourge him before trial. But the fact that he had bound him illegally put Paul in an advantageous position, to which was added the respect due to one who had received such a citizenship by birth, while the captain had obtained it by purchase. "I am a Jew" availed nothing with the Jews. But on his declaration that he is a Roman, his word is instantly accepted. It was a capital offense to claim unlawfully the possession of the citizenship.
1 Paul now stands before the Sanhedrin, in which body he seems to have had a vote after the death of Stephen. Doubtless many who were there were old associates of his and most of them were acquainted with his life and doctrines, so that the inquiry was a mere form and bound to arrive at no conclusion. Paul, contrary to his usual custom of speaking first in a winning way of his auditors, commences immediately with his own defense, and seems to apologize for the fact that his Roman citizenship had entitled him to this hearing before them. This so enraged the chief priest, who probably took it as a hint that he was beyond his jurisdiction, that he has him slapped on the mouth. There were constant changes in the high priestly office in those days, which accounts for the ignorance of the apostle as to the personality of the high priest. Josephus tells us that Paul's prediction was fulfilled in the Jewish war, when this hypocritical president of the Sanhedrin was murdered by assassins.
Paul had the privileges of a Greek (21:37), a Hebrew (22:2), and a Roman (22:27). The man that Christ found had been separated and trained and circumstanced by God.
6 The Pharisees had this in common with the faith of Christ, that they believed in a resurrection of the dead, which was, however, denied by the Sadducees. This question was the cause of perpetual strife between them. Paul, seeing how useless any further appeal to the council would be, determined to shift the contention to the subject of resurrection, in which he would have the Pharisees on his side and thus they would be diverted into strife amongst themselves. The result justified his plan, for the Pharisees immediately become violent partisans of his and some are even willing to allow that a spirit–which the Sadducees did not believe in–had spoken to him. They thought to use his testimony as an argument against their enemies the Sadducees. Thus it has ever been with the Jews. Their own internal strife was seldom laid aside even in face of the gravest crisis, and became the cause of many of their miseries.
10 The captain was more concerned that a Roman citizen should not be injured than to get their report, and so sends his soldiers to rescue him a second time from their clutches. It was well that he was again taken into the custody of the Romans, for the Jews would soon have torn him to pieces.
11 After such experiences we may well imagine that the future looked black to the persecuted saint. Now, if ever, he might yield to discouraging forebodings. At just such periods in the apostle's ministry he received divine help in the form of a vision to comfort and encourage him. In Corinth, when Jewish opposition threatened to wreck his testimony, the Lord spoke to him "Fear not! " And the reason was that God had a purpose to fulfil which demanded his continuance (18:9). Again, in the midst of the storm on his journey to Rome, he is again assured, "Fear not, Paul" (27:24). So now, he receives the definite and cheering assurance that it is the purpose of God that he should fulfill his wish to see Rome. Besides, the Lord commends his testimony in Jerusalem, which was such a failure seemingly. This word of approval should deter us from criticising any of the apostle's acts, for they undoubtedly were in line with God's purpose, and that, rather than our own provincial standard of right and wrong, is the true test of conduct. Results are not the test of a true ministry. Paul at Jerusalem was as great a failure as Noah, Elijah and Jeremiah. But for this commendation, Paul would seem to be out of the will of God.
12 In contrast with this serene assurance is the malignant activity of the Jews, who seem to have recovered from their temporary occupation with their own differences. The apostle now becomes the object of a plot to assassinate him. Thus the Roman citadel becomes his fortress rather than his prison. If the conspirators had been true to their oath, more than forty of them would have died of self-inflicted famine, but the Talmud assures us that they could be absolved. What a conscienceless load of crime was cloaked under the religious zeal of these pious Jews!
16 Paul's family was influential in the Hebrew world. His nephew was in a position to learn the secret plans of the Jewish leaders.
18 Roman citizens, while awaiting trial were kept in custody in several ways: according to circumstances and the rank of the prisoner. Public custody consisted in being thrust into the common jails and confined in dungeons of the worst kind. They were kept in chains or kept in stocks as in the case of Paul and Silas at Philippi. Free custody was simply a guarantee on the part of some person of high rank that the person would appear for trial. Military custody consisted in putting the person in charge of a soldier who was responsible for the prisoner with his own life. It was usual to chain the prisoner's right hand to the soldier's left. Sometimes, however the military custody was relaxed to the extent of merely putting the prisoner under the observation of a soldier, without chains. The soldiers, of course, relieved one another in military custody. There seems to be no doubt that Paul's imprisonment was a mild form of military custody, with liberty of access for his friends and relatives.
23 The Roman provinces were divided into armed and unarmed, the former being under the authority of the emperor, the latter under the senate. Roughly speaking, the garrisoned provinces were on the frontiers, or where the country had not been fully subjugated. Tacitus and Josephus tell us that the fifth, tenth, and fifteenth legions were stationed in Caesarea, Ptolemais, or Jerusalem a few years after this. They were largely recruited in the province where they were located. The Jews were, however, exempt from military duty, so that the soldiers in Judea were drawn from the Syrian and Greek population. A legion consisted of more than six thousand infantry, perhaps as many auxiliaries, besides a regiment of cavalry. Such was the force at the captain's command from which he drew the detachment which conveyed Paul to Caesarea, the seat of the governor of the province.
26 Claudius Lysias was a diplomat and did not stop at a simple lie to gain credit for himself for having protected a Roman citizen from the Jews.
28 As in the case of our Lord, witness after witness testified that Paul had done nothing deserving the bonds he endured or the death with which he was threatened. All who heard his case concurred in the opinion that the accusations against him were unfounded and false. Yet it was in this way that he fulfilled that part of his ministry foretold by Ananias which he hitherto had no opportunity of carrying out. He had witnessed to the Jewish people and to the nations. Now he was to testify before kings (9:15) and thus close the kingdom testimony. His undoubted innocence, coupled with his Roman citizenship, greatly mitigated the terrors of a long imprisonment. The divine reason for this seems to be that the testimony to the Jews in the land was fulfilled, and Paul was, as a consequence, put beyond their power. All that they are allowed to do aids him in fulfilling his final kingdom testimony to the kings of the land, and provides for his journey to Rome, the greatest center of earthly power at the time, there solemnly to close up the kingdom proclamation altogether. Paul's imprisonment was a sign that the earthly kingdom was being withdrawn, otherwise its herald would be delivered from the earthly rulers. And this is emphasized by the fact that the nation who rejected it is the cause of his imprisonment.
34 It was a nice point with the Roman authorities not to interfere with one another's jurisdiction. Thus Pilate, when our Lord was brought before him, learning that he was of Galilee, which was in Herod's jurisdiction, sent Him to Herod (Lu.23:7). Felix does not seem to have heeded Paul's Cilician origin, probably because the complaints against him were not sustained, and the alleged crimes were committed mainly in Jerusalem.
1 Ananias, the chief priest, lost no time in following the man who had called him a whitewashed wall. He hires a professional pleader against Paul, probably an Italian, acquainted more accurately with the Roman law, and the flattery to which governors were accustomed. As at the trial of the Master it was really Pilate before Christ, so now the judges are being judged, though judgment is not denounced here as in the Sanhedrin.
3 The smooth eulogy of Felix was most undeserved. He was a freedman of Claudius and brother of that Pallas who was a favorite of the emperor. Having been a slave and now owing his elevation to influence at Rome, it is no wonder Tacitus tells us that "in the practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty he exercised the power of a king with the temper of a slave." He had Jonathan, one of the high priests, assassinated because he protested against some of his practises. It must be acknowledged, however. that he did rid parts of Judea from robbers, and especially, at about this time, drove out the Egyptian for whom Paul was mistaken by Claudius Lysias. His acts stirred the Jews against the Roman rule so that. when he retired from the province and went to Rome, he was tried for maladministration, but acquitted by Nero through the influence of his brother Pallas.
5 Tertullus makes three charges against Paul. The first was against Roman law stirring up treason against the government. The second was against the law of Moses, as they supposed, a ring-leader of the Nazarenes. The third was against both Roman and Jewish law, profaning the sanctuary, for the Roman law protected the Jews in the exercise of their worship.
6-8 The omission of "and want to judge by a law of ours, yet captain Lysias, coming with much force, leading him away out of our hands, orders his accusers to come to you" is based on the evidence of almost all the ancient manuscripts and has the consent of almost all of the editors of the text. It is most unlikely that an orator like Tertullus would so damage his own influence as to accuse captain Lysias of a wrong, or suggest that Felix had no right to judge the case.
10 Paul quickly disposed of the two charges involving the Roman law. Since coming to Jerusalem only a few days before he had done nothing upon which they could base their charge of sedition. Neither had he profaned the temple, The other charge he admits, and makes it the occasion of his testimony. His dignified and truthful introduction is in marked contrast to that of his accuser.
17 To a man like Felix the accusation that Paul belonged to the sect of the Nazarenes would have little in it to incriminate him. And Paul, with marvelous wisdom, answers all that might be said against the sect by pointing out his mission to Jerusalem. He came bringing a vast sum of money for the poor, contributed by this same despised sect. Whatever their differences in doctrine they had as much right to their belief as the Jews. Viewed from the practical standpoint of a governor, their charitable act called for commendation. Paul came to Jerusalem with a gift for his nation. He engaged in the religious rites of their religion. The Jews of Asia, who started the riot against him should be present to say what he had done. Their absence was proof that he had done nothing.
20 Having thus defended himself of all but the theological charge against him, Paul dismisses that by showing that the fundamental doctrinal difference was the same as that which kept the Pharisees and Sadducees in continual strife with one another. If it was criminal to differ they should be indicted and one party punished. When they had settled their differences it would be in order to try the sect of the Nazarenes.
22 The "justice" of Rome, like all human justice, was based on expedience, rather than equity. Felix would have set Paul free, only he knew it would displease the Jews. He invents an excuse for deferring matters, for he evidently had no thought of consulting captain Lysias, who, on his own confession, could make nothing out of the case. One point seems to have impressed Felix. Paul had come to Jerusalem with much money. Could he or his friends be persuaded to part with some of it? This seems to have controlled his course until he was relieved of his place. On this account he not only lets Paul have much freedom but desires that he shall be able to get into communication with his friends. This is why he gives him audience and hints that, given occasion, he would call for him. It is not that he would hear him when he had a "convenient season," but that he would make any season convenient if given the proper encouragement. He was after a bribe. Yet the Lord used this mercenary motive to protect Paul from the Jews and to lead him before kings and to bring him to Rome.
24 The great moral courage of the apostle is manifest in his intercourse with Felix and his wife Drusilla, whom the king had enticed from her own husband by the help of a magician. To speak to such a notorious man, who slew the high priest for presuming to expostulate with him concerning his unlawful acts, while he was his prisoner and fully at his mercy, about righteousness, self-control and future judgment, so that the governor was affrighted, was to anticipate the powers of the coming kingdom, where righteousness shall reign.
1 Festus seems to have been a just man, though he tried to favor the Jews, as one in his position naturally would. The Jews had found that they could do nothing with Felix in Paul's case, and seem to have dropped the matter. But the accession of the new procurator gave them another opportunity to have him put to death and they are not slow to take advantage of it. Festus is more respectable than Felix. His name means "festive," and consistently with it he prefers the pleasurable to the right. He summarily disposed of the fact of Christ and His resurrection as a religious vagary because he was essentially worldly. The world holds festival while the saints suffer.
7 From Paul's reply we may imagine that the charges against him were much the same as those which had been preferred before. But they produced no evidence and the governor seems to have been convinced of his innocence. He should have freed Paul, but such a course would have brought his administration into disrepute at its very inception. Consequently he proposes a course which the Jews would approve, but he leaves it open to Paul to reject or accept. He proposes to bring the case back to Jerusalem. But Paul is through with Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. God has made it plain that his next testimony is in Rome.
10 Paul's reply is a marvelous compendium of his defense and his rights as a Roman citizen. Festus had supreme criminal jurisdiction in Judea over all except Roman citizens. Even these, should they be caught in some gross crime, such as banditry or piracy, could be condemned and executed by the provincial governors, with no recourse to any higher tribunal. Festus' consultation with the council was to determine this point. But it was all too evident that Paul was not guilty of such open violations of the law. Hence his appeal must stand. Festus had no right to try his case.
11-12 One of the legal advantages of a Roman citizen was his right to appeal to Caesar. But this right was not permitted to burden the supreme court of the empire with trifling cases, and the governor of a province was empowered to investigate such claims and to decide whether or not the appeal should be granted.
13 The Roman law required that the person of a prisoner who had appealed to the emperor should be sent to Rome for trial at the earliest moment, but he must be accompanied by an official report of the case up to the time of the appeal. All of the acts and documents, the depositions of the witnesses on both sides, and a record of the judgment of the lower tribunal had to be sent to aid the emperor in his consideration of the case. Here is where Festus was in a quandary. The evidence, if such it could be called, was quite unintelligible to him. He did not wish to make his government ridiculous at its very commencement by sending a prisoner against whom he could not even formulate a definite indictment.
22 Herod Agrippa II, king of Chalcis, was familiar with the Jewish law and customs from his youth and had the power of appointing the high priest. Together with his sister, Bernice, he had come to pay a complimentary visit to the newly appointed procurator. Here was an opportunity for Festus to get the information he required concerning Paul's case, for the king was the most likely one to help him formulate an indictment, as he was an expert in all questions relating to the Jews, besides having spent much of his youth in Rome. To him, then, Festus details Paul's case.
23 Caesarea was the capital of Judea and thus provided Paul with an audience composed of the principal political personages of the province. To this was added Agrippa and his retinue, altogether such a company as few heralds of the kingdom could hope to find. Besides, Agrippa had doubtless heard concerning the Lord and His disciples, and especially of Paul, whom he was hoping to hear. All the notables of the city as well as the military leaders assembled with them on the morrow to hear Paul's last proclamation of Messiah in the land.
What thoughts must have surged in the breast of the apostle as he is led forth to face this display of worldly power! Could anything be more expressive of the fact that, through Israel's apostasy, the longed-for kingdom, which he had proclaimed in the land and among the dispersion, was now withdrawn? Hence his defense contains no allusion to the theocratic rule to be established by Messiah. To have spoken before kings and governors before this crisis and declared the destruction of human governments by the advent of Messiah would have been suicidal. Now that the kingdom recedes, he is less and less occupied with it.
24 The well chosen words of Festus show that, though he could not understand the feeling of the Jews against Paul, he was convinced of his innocence. The examination which followed was in no sense a trial, for there were no accusations. The apostle is given liberty to speak concerning himself, yet he skilfully brings in his meeting with the Lord and his commission, so that all the elements of the evangel are put before his hearers. It is but one more example of God's inimitable ways of turning evil into good, of making human opposition work out His purpose. Paul, in his chain, and persecuted by his own people, was performing a ministry which could be accomplished in no other way.
1 King Agrippa was a notable figure throughout the closing period of Jewish national life. He was the last prince of the Herodian line. Unlike the Roman governors, who were frequently replaced and most of whom knew little of the people they sought to govern, Agrippa had all his life been in a position to acquire a most intimate acquaintance with the Jews and their religious customs.
4-5 The morality of Saul of Tarsus was as unimpeachable as that of Paul the apostle. He had a good conscience (23:1) and his life was blameless (Phil.3:6). But he was the chief of sinners (lTi. 115) because his self-righteousness and religion made him a hater of Christ. Mere religion degrades men.
6 Paul's plight has often been repeated in the subsequent history of Christendom. His offense consists in believing the Scriptures–which his opponents claimed to believe. Strange to say, the most bitter persecution, to those who believe God, comes, not from the irreligious world, but from those who claim that they, too, believe the Scriptures, but who do not seem to have received the spirit of love which pervades them.
7 The Jews were expecting the Messiah and the kingdom, and should have rejoiced in the fulfillment of their expectatIon. Instead, they fly in the face of their fondest hopes, when they reject the proclamation of Messiah.
8 The Hebrew Scriptures contain several instances of resurrection besides that predicted concerning the awakening of those who sleep in the soil of the ground at the setting up of the kingdom (Dan. 12:2). The only entrance into the kingdom, for those who have fallen asleep, is resurrection, or awakening. Even Israel, now that they die as a nation, will have a national resurrection, as depicted by the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision (Eze.37:1-14). Doubtless the stress which Paul lays on the doctrine of the resurrection in these final discourses, from the time he spoke in the Sanhedrin, arose from the fact that he now looked upon the nation as dead, and nothing but a spiritual resurrection would suffice to revive them when the kingdom should come.
12 This is the fullest account of Saul's call, and the only one which gives his commission to the nations. He forbore to mention this in speaking to his enraged kinsmen (22:7) as he here omits all reference to Ananias. He uses only such parts as suit the place and purpose.
13 Only those acquainted with the glare of the Syrian sun at midday, can grasp the full significance of this. Nature's brightest light is eclipsed by the glorious grace into which Saul is ushered by his call.
14 All fell to the earth at first, but later stood up (9:7) as Saul himself was told to do. The fact that the Lord spoke in Hebrew is shown in the other accounts by the form of the name Saul. It is spelled differently and is not declined, as is the Greek in other places.
15 In the Orient a sharp, pointed rod is used in place of a whip to urge animals to their task. To kick the sharp goad hurts no one but themselves. This is a graphic picture of Saul's service up to this time. The Lord was using him to carry out His purpose, but hitherto Saul did not acknowledge his Master. He had been goaded into persecuting the saints. Henceforth he was to render willing, intelligent service. Henceforth he acknowledges Christ as his Lord.
16 The twelve were to witness to the Lord's life from John's baptism to His ascension (1:21). Paul was to be a witness of Him after His ascension and glorification. It was to be progressive. Further visions were to be given to supplement this first commission.
16 Saul neither sought the Lord nor His service, neither had he a sense of need. He was arrested and saved by despotic grace.
17 As this is a continuation of Luke's account, most of the commissions are based on the commission for mankind (Lu.24:47) proclaiming a pardon for all men. The twelve combined it with the kingdom commissions and limited it to Israelites and proselytes (2:38, 5:31, 10:43). Saul first preached a pardon of sins to gentiles in Pisidian Antloch (13:38), combining it with the first intimation of justification. It is always coupled with repentance, though nothing is said in Saul's commission concerning this.
22 It is evident that the apostle did disclose secrets which cannot be found in Moses and the prophets. One of these was the secret of the resurrecction, made known to the Corinthians (lCo.15:15). Another was the secret of the evangel, which occupies much of the epistle to the Romans (Ro.16:25). We must either take the statement that he had said nothing but what Moses and the prophets said of future occurrences in a general way of all his past course, or take it strictly of his conduct since his apprehension by the Jews. If the latter is the case, it becomes clear why, at this time of comparative leisure, no epistles proceed from his pen and there is a gap of several years between the Preparatory and the Perfection epistles. For the time being he seems to have confined himself to the closing drama of the kingdom. This aspect of his ministry is the only one, of course, which finds any place in the present account. Until the kingdom was fully set aside, he could disclose no more secrets.
24 The idea that light was to come to the nations through such a channel was too much for Festus. He did not deride learning. He might acknowledge that light could come through study. The word here used is the same which is elsewhere rendered scripture or writing. He objected, not to human attainments, but to divine revelation. This is shown in Paul's appeal to Agrippa, who had believed the prophets without becoming mad.
26 This holds good of all the facts of the gospel. The evangel has no esoteric doctrines. Even its "mysteries" are for the enlightenment of all (Eph.3:9).
28 Agrippa was not "almost persuaded." His remark is sarcastic to a degree. Christian was not the honorable term it is today, but a name of reproach and scorn. He suggested that Paul is too hasty in supposing that, as he believed the prophets, he would believe the evangel. But Paul ignores his sarcasm and turns it into a sober wish. He could wish that all that noble company had the true treasures of nobility and wealth which were his in Christ! Thus ends Paul's testimony in Judea. This part of his course is finished.
1 The writer of Acts, probably Luke, seems to have become the apostle's constant companion from this time. In his latest epistle from Rome Paul speaks of him as his fellow laborer (Philem.24) and later laments that he alone remained with him (2Tim.4:11).
1 This Julius has been identified with Julius Priscus who afterwards became prefect of the Praetorian guards when Vitellius was emperor.
1 There seems to have been no regular service either for passengers or freight on the Mediterranean in ancient times. Travelers were entirely dependent on passing merchant vessels and often sailed in a number of ships before reaching their destination. Paul took three different vessels in his last voyage to Jerusalem from Macedonia. Even emperors used this casual means of transportation. Hence the centurion took a ship to Asia, with the idea of transferring to another vessel as soon as he found one which would carry them toward Rome. Such a ship proved to be in Myra, one of the ports at which they called. And in this they pursued their journey to Italy.
2 Aristarchus is probably that same Aristarchus who was seized by the Ephesian mob when they could not find Paul (19:29) who returned to Asia with him on his last voyage to Jerusalem (20:4). He was his fellow laborer in Rome (Philem.2:4) and seems to have been imprisoned with him (Col.4:10).
4 The direct course to the coasts of Asia would be south and west of Cyprus. This was the course on his second and third missionary journeys. They worked their way to windward by taking advantage of a current between Cyprus and Cilicia.
6 The Alexandrian ship was somewhat out of her course in this harbor unless it had business there also, but the prevailing west wind would account for this. Egyptian vessels were amongst the largest of that day, and as this one was engaged in the transMediterranean traffic it must have been of considerable size.
7 Cnidus had an excellent and sheltered harbor, to which, doubtless, they would have gone for the winter if the wind had allowed it.
11 Anciently the steersman, or helmsman, or pilot, was captain of the ship, but his duties in larger vessels corresponds to our navigator. The man who chartered the ship traveled as his own supercargo, and was as much interested in the safety of his lading as the navigator was in his ship. Hence his counsel was sought. One lost his ship and the other his cargo for rejecting Paul's advice. The souls on board (including these two men) were given to Paul, and he lost none of them, even though their action endangered all.
12 Ideal Harbors, was not, as its name implies, a sheltered enclosure, but rather an open roadstead. Hence the majority of those on board thought best to reject the Jewish prisoner's advice and seek better winter quarters.
12 "Looking" must be taken from the sailor's standpoint, which is usually the opposite of a landsman's. Phoenix faced east rather than west.
13 As the south wind came up they probably lost all confidence in the pessimistic Jew who had warned them of danger ahead.
14 This typhoon or hurricane was so violent that the vessel could not keep its course, but was carried off in another direction. Had it not been so strong they could have luffed to the wind and used it to carry them to Phoenix.
16 Cauda is usually called Clauda, but as this reading is corrected in Sinaiticus, and the modern name omits the "1," we have made it Cauda.
16 It was customary, in ancient times, to drag a small boat in the water behind the ship. So long as the vessel was being driven by the gale this was safe, but when its speed was temporarily reduced there was great danger of the boat pounding the vessel to pieces or being itself broken up. Hence they held it off, and then hoisted it on board.
17 "Lowering the gear" in order to keep from running into the Syrtis, on the north African coast, must have consisted in lying-to, or setting a small canvas to bring the vessel up as near the wind as possible. This would stop her progress and change her course.
23 That Paul, a mere prisoner, should have presumed to give advice at all shows how quickly he obtained recognition. Now that all wished that he had been heeded, he easily assumes the leadership. They deserve to be lost, and the vessel and its cargo are lost, through rejecting Paul's words. Yet, notwithstanding their disobedience, he is graciously granted the souls of all who are sailing with him. We cannot believe that this shipwreck is merely an interesting adventure in Paul's career without any bearing on the subject of the book of Acts. We have seen how this account gives us only what concerns the kingdom testimony, leaving out important incidents in his life which have no bearing on it. This shipwreck is not mentioned in his later epistles. Hence it must have a close connection with the fortunes of the kingdom. We take it as a parable of Paul's closing kingdom ministry and the fortunes of those who are associated with him in it. They are in the ship and sustained by it just as the nations, under Paul's early ministries are in the kingdom and find their sustenance at Israel's board. But the kingdom is fast going to pieces, Israel as a nation is nearing its end, and now the question is, what is to become of the believers among the nations to whom Paul had preached? Will they be swallowed up in Israel's downfall? The answer is pictured in the salvation of all who sail with Paul and the Loss of the ship with its cargo. The nations lose everything connected with the kingdom but are safely carried through the catastrophe. They lose all earthly hopes, but gain the higher heavenly place accorded them in Paul's epistles from Rome.
27 Those on board ship have the sensation that land is nearing them when the ship approaches a shore and sailors speak of it in this way. Experienced sailors know when they are near land, even if it is invisible, by the distant roar of the breakers and other indications. The danger now lay in striking something in the dark so that they should not be able to reach the shore and save themselves.
34 It is practically impossible to prepare meals in such a storm as they had encountered and the constant toil and apprehension would take away all desire for food. But now that land was near they doubtless remembered Paul's predictions and were more than willing to listen to him as he cheered and encouraged them. We hear no more of the navigator and the owner of the cargo, and even the centurion obeys Paul, who acknowledges his thankfulness to God before all and gives them an example of faith by taking his fill of food.
38 The lighter they could make the ship the better chance they had of beaching her near the shore. To do this it was necessary also to control her course, so they hoisted a sail to the wind and unlashed the rudders, which had probably been securely fastened, as steering was impossible. Unlike modern vessels, the ships of that day had two rudders, which they would now use to steer the ship for the beach.
41 It would seem that some current carried them into a channel, or the place "where two seas met," and hindered them from reaching the beach they were headed for. They ran aground in the channel itself.
41 Every detail of this description fits perfectly with the environs of what is now called St. Paul's bay on the northern coast of Malta. The depth of the sea, a channel made by the island of Salmonetta, and the evidences of a beach at the mouth or the Westara creek, all identify this as the probable location.
42 As a Roman guard was ordinarily responsible for his prisoners with his own life, we can better understand the inhuman suggestion of the centurion's soldiers. Once again Paul becomes the saviour of the prisoners even as he had been used but a few hours before to prevent the sailors' desertion and thus saved the lives of the very soldiers who now wished to despatch him. The centurion was too just to kill the one to whom he and the rest owed their very lives.
1 There was an island in the Adriatic called Melida or Melita, which some suppose was the scene of the shipwreck. It is in the gulf of Venice. The ancient Adria, however, included more than the present Adriatic, and was applied to all of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Greece. The modern condition of Malta is no index of what it was in those days. "Barbarians" (for which we have no English equivalent) was applied by the Greeks to any who did not speak Greek, and their conduct makes it clear that they were far from being barbarous or savage. There are no vipers in Malta today, but venomous reptiles always disappear with the increase of population. The Venetian Melita could not possibly be reached with the wind blowing so as to drive them toward the Syrtis quicksand and there is no reason to think that it changed. They would pass innumerable islands on the way as if by a miracle. And their subsequent journey would have been overland or by a different route from Melita.
1 Just as Matthew, who gives us the rejection of the kingdom as proclaimed by our Lord Himself, closes with a millennial foreview when He told them, in anticipation of that day, "all authority in heaven and on earth is given unto Me," so here, where we have the rejection of the kingdom as proclaimed by His apostles, we are regaled with a millennial scene to remind us that the kingdom is merely delayed, and will come in its proper time. First the serpent is destroyed, corresponding to the binding of Satan at the beginning of the thousand years, then blessing flows out to the nations. Paul, as a herald of that day, is able to pick up serpents without any harm coming to him, but lays hands on those who are ailing, and they have ideal health (Mk.16:18).
7 By healing the father of the chief man in the island, his fame and message would be immediately spread. Thus the very place of the shipwreck was chosen to suit his purpose.
9 Three months busy with blessing thus came out of the catastrophe. Had the ship wintered in Cnidus, as they had wished, or at Ideal Harbors, as Paul proposed, the ship and cargo might indeed have been saved, but a much greater loss would have been sustained by the islanders. Thus God always gets a greater good out of a lesser evil.
11 The Latin equivalent of Dioscuri would be "Castor and Pollux." But this gives the impression that it was a Roman vessel, whereas most of the commerce with Rome was carried in foreign bottoms, and this was probably a Greek ship, having a Greek name.
12 There is a local tradition that Paul himself founded the first ecclesia in Syracuse. The account reads as though the centurion allowed him the utmost liberty.
15 As Paul had written an epistle to Rome there must have been a considerable company of believers there. They showed something of their regard for him by coming out to welcome him on the way. One company came as far as Appii Forum. Another delegation met him at Three Taverns, about ten miles nearer the city. No wonder Paul thanked God and took courage. He was now near the goal that he had set before him several years before, and though a prisoner of Rome, he had almost all the freedom he could wish. Indeed, from this time he preferred to call himself a "prisoner of the Lord," as he recognized that it was the Lord's will.
17 It is eminently fitting that the final and decisive rejection of the kingdom should follow its proclamation in Rome, the seat of the world's greatest empire at the time. It had been proclaimed in Jerusalem and rejected by the rulers of the Jews in the land, now it has been fully heralded among the Jews of the dispersion, and they, too, have rejected it wherever Paul has gone. The most signal sign of their apostasy is his imprisonment. It reveals the height of their obstinacy. Rome would free him. But his own nation loads with chains the one who would free them from the Roman yoke.
23 Paul must have had many precious meetings with his believing brethren. He must have made known to them those transcendent truths which he teaches in his Perfection Epistles. If the Acts were giving an account of his career or of his evangel, it stops short at the most important point. As a "history of the commencement of the Christian church" it is the most disappointing of all books, for the truths which distinguish the present economy, found in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, were not made known until its close and are never referred to, much less taught. Those events in Paul's career which are of the utmost importance for present truth, from his sojourn in Arabia to the dispatch of Tychicus with the Perfection Epistles, are quite overlooked in this account. Paul's sojourn in Rome marks the beginning of that vast work of the Spirit of God which has continued down to the present time. Yet all we are told here is the disappointing meeting with the Jews! Instead of closing with a song of victory and sending the church on its triumphant way, he quotes Isaiah's doleful prophecy concerning the apostate nation, showing the failure of the kingdom proclamation and the reason why it should no longer be heralded. What stronger evidence is needed to show that the Acts is not concerned with the so-called "church"? It is no mere history of the apostolic times. It is concerned only with those events which chronicle the fortunes of the earthly kingdom. It deals with a transitional period when the church was still dependent on the favored nation and had a subordinate place in the reign of Messiah over the earth, as promised by the Hebrew prophets.
26 This marvelous prophecy has had a threefold fulfillment in Israel: when they rejected Jehovah (Isa.6:9-10), when they rejected the Lord (Mt.13:14-15), and, in this present instance, when they reject the testimony of the spirit, through His apostles. Israel, in part, has become calloused, until the fulness of the nations may be entering (Ro.11:25).
29 Verse 29 is not in the three manuscripts on which this version is based.
31 This proclamation of the kingdom would include its present abeyance and future manifestation. "That which concerns our Lord Jesus Christ" is purposely vague, and is the only hint in the whole book of the greatest of all Paul's ministries, those mysteries or secrets which could not be revealed until the kingdom had been finally rejected. Paul's prison epistles were written during this period.