Letters from Jesus #3

Letters from Jesus #3

Revelation 2:12-17

Title: The Compromising Church: Passive Pergamon.

Background of City

Pergamon is about 55-60 miles northeast of Smyrna. This city was renowned and had an illustrious history. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon under the Attalid dynasty from 281-133 BC. The city was adorned with beautiful buildings and structures.

image from freebibleimages.org

Art and literature were encouraged in the city. Have you ever heard of parchment? Parchment was originally created in the city of Pergamon to continue the city’s library project (that rivaled the library of Alexandria) and the word parchment is derived from Pergamon. Apparently one of the Ptolemies was so concerned about the library in Alexandria that he ordered the stopping of exporting papyrus to Pergamon. The Pergamon library boasted 200,000 volumes. 

In 133 BC the kingdom was turned over to Roman rule, and the kingdom became the province of Asia, not the greater region of Asia Minor, but a senatorial province. Pergamon remained the capital city of the province.

 The city held temples to four of the major gods worshiped at the time, Zeus, Dionysus, Athena, and Asclepius. The city was known for its temple to Zeus. The shrine to Asclepius was also a favorite as he was a god of healing. Despite these religions, Pergamon was enthralled with the cult of the Emperors. In fact it was the first city to build a temple to Augustus and Rome in 29 BC. The city would later receive the term “thrice neokoros” after two more Caesars had temples built there, the city was a “temple warden” for Caesar-worship. In other cities, the danger toward Christians not worshiping Caesar was annual, in Pergamon it was daily.

Let’s look to see how the church in this city did.

Commendation 2:12-13

Christ begins this letter by identifying Himself as the One with has the sharp two-edged sword.

This immediately draws our attention back to 1:16 with John’s description. This is not a comforting greeting, this impression strikes warning and fear. We see Christ’s judicial authority. This sword denotes the combining of a warrior defeating his enemies and pronouncing judgement on them. 

In Revelation 19:15, John describes how Christ comes in judgement against the unrepentant. “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” This is the same Christ addressing the church of Pergamon. How’d you like to get a letter from Christ that started that way?

Though the letter begins with a sense of warning and judgement, it quickly turns to a note of commendation.

Christ begins by telling them He knows where they live. He says, “I know where you dwell”. The idea of “dwell” here is your permanent residence.  [no mention of work here or in Smyrna] Christ knows that Satan’s throne is located in this city. What do we mean by this? Well, Satan’s throne is thought to refer to a couple of things.

One of the sites that was excavated is called the Pergamon Altar, or Zeus’ Altar. This huge temple had a colonnade that measured 120 by 112 feet. The podium of the altar was about 18 feet high. Running the base of the structure for 446 feet was a frieze that depicted the mythical battle between the Olympian gods and the giants. This structure looks throne like.

Another thought is the shrine to Asclepius. This god was depicted as a snake and pilgrims would travel to Pergamon to worship here seeking healing. Since Satan is depicted as a snake or serpent in Revelation (3x Chap 12; 1x Chap 20), this might be an early reference to that image.

Another thought is that “Satan’s throne” may be the dominating cult of the emperors and Rome in Pergamon. This religion possessed the most threat to the Christians in the city, and “Satan’s throne” could refer to the ultimate power behind this cult.

Any one or combination of these suggestions may be the reference to “Satan’s throne”. Remember there were multiple temples and shrines in this city, and this gives us further understanding to Christ’s claim that Pergamon was “where Satan dwells”. Again it is the idea of dwelling at a permanent residence.

Though this church was in the pagan religious center of the provence, Christ commended them for holding fast to His name.

The church would not deny Christ. They held fast to Christ’s name and faith.

Christ says, “even in the days of which Antipas My faithful witness, who was killed among you”. Scripture doesn’t tell us any more about this witness of Jesus, but that church would have recognized the name instantly. 

Tradition says that he was killed during an intense time of persecution under the Emperor Domitian. Though how Antipas was killed isn’t the point. Christ singles him out for commendation of his faithfulness. The church was faithful even during that time.

Though Christ commends them for their faithfulness, His complaint is serious.

Complaint 2:14-15

First He tells them that there are those holding to the teaching of Balaam.

The name Balaam comes from two words creating a meaning of “people swallower”. The reference here goes back to Number 24 and 25. Where Balak king of Moab pays Balaam a supposed prophet to curse Israel though the Lord would only allow Balaam to bless Israel. Though we do read that Israel was seduced to immoral and idolatrous behavior, though Balaam isn’t mentioned in Numbers 25, in chapter 31 he is indicated as having given advice to Balak on how to cause Israel to fall.

So what was the issue in the church? In this time religious and civic life were so intertwined that it was nearly impossible to separate the two. Balaam taught Balak to place a stumbling block of seduction and idolatry before Israel. It appears that there were some in the church doing the same thing. These Balaamites were calling for the church to relax its standard and slip back into their old habits of paganism. It is possible that since sexual immorality was linked to pagan worship and feasts that some of the church did fall into these sins.

The language of the verse is that while the entire congregation was commended for its faithfulness, the entire congregation is being condemned for tolerating those in the congregation that held to Balaam’s teaching. The church was at fault for their indifference to those sympathetic to this dangerous teaching and compromising their faith.

In verse 15 Christ tells them that they are also tolerating those holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.

The identity and teaching of the Nicolaitans are somewhat mysterious. There are three major thoughts on them.

The first comes from the church father Irenaeus claiming that the Nicolaitans were the followers of Nicolaus of Antioch, one of the seven in Acts 6 who later apostatized.

Second, this sect began through a misinterpretation of a statement by Nicolaus, and that this group lived a life indulging in fleshly living and were an early sect of Gnostics.

The third though is that since the word nicolaitan is a Greek compound word meaning “conqueror of the people” (and the Hebrew counterpart is Balaam, “people swallower/devourer) they were forerunners of some sort of clergy/laity distinction or hierarchy.

So what is the answer? I don’t know. I’m not sold on any of these three arguments at this time.

Whatever the Nicolaitans taught, it seems that is was similar to the Balaamites teachings. It appears that they taught a blending of Christian life and the Greco-Roman society. Some try to link this to Paul’s teaching, but this is a perversion of Paul’s teaching of liberty. Paul taught to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols to not offend a weaker brother and the link between idols and demons.

This church was strong in its faith before persecution, but compromised its holiness by tolerating pagan, worldly teaching within its membership.

Transition:

Now that Christ has brought His complaint against the church, what are they supposed to do? [state point 3, read 16-17]

Correction 2:16-17

First Christ tells them to repent.

The church needed to repent of its toleration and leniency toward those accepting the corrupting and heretical teachings. The call to repentance is also for those corrupting the church. 

Repentance is a change in action and thought. “It is an appeal to begin at this moment a complete change” (Thomas, Robert L., Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, © 1992, p143).

John MacArthur puts it this way, “ The church must not accommodate the sins of professing believers who insist on living as close as possible to the corrupt culture. ‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (1 Cor 5:6). We must confront such worldliness (a term mostly absent from church vocabulary today)” (MacArthur, John, Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, © 2018, p 100).

Christ calls for repentance, but issues a warning as well. He tells the church that if they don’t repent He would come and use the “sword of My mouth”. The picture is that of a warrior coming in force. This is the same picture that we see later in the book at Christ’s second coming (19:11-21).  The language here seems to demonstrate the imminent return of the Lord and shows that if the church did not repent before that time, Christ would come in judgement against them.

The church was called to repentance to show its genuine faith and its devotion to the holiness and purity of the church. The failure to genuinely repent would have “dreadful consequences for them (Thomas, p197)”.

After the call to repentance, Christ issues His call to listen and His promise. This statement of “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” is a call to the wider audience. Yes these letters had specific churches in mind, but these letters have lessons that every church and Christian needs to hear.

The first promise Christ gives the overcomer (or true believer) is the “hidden manna”. Manna of course was the bread given to Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. Like many things in Israel’s history, this pointed to a future, greater, heavenly something.

Jesus said, “I Am the Bread of Life”, He provides His people with spiritual food. That Christ is the true manna, is at least one of the suggestions for the “hidden manna”.  Other thoughts are that the manna alludes to a future reward and that believers being satisfied with spiritual food now is a foretaste of future fulfillment.

It should  be noted that this church was charged with worldliness and the eating of unholy food sacrificed to idols, and then Christ promises heavenly food to the true believers.

The second promise is a white stone. 

There are many, many suggestions about what the white stone symbolizes. The one I think is best refers back to a custom of the time where a white stone was given as a ticket into a special event or was given to a victor of the games to enter a special feast.

It is then suggested that the hidden manna my refer to the Messianc feast, and this stone being inscribed with a person’s name serves as an individualized guarantee of admission to the feast.

There is a third promised that is directly linked to the “white stone”, that is a “new name”.

There are a number of suggestions for this as well, but only one makes sense to me.  It is thought that this new names is individualized to the believer and somehow shows the uniqueness of how God worked with this person and the honor and affection God has for him. 

John MacArthur said it this way, “Whenever I have preached on this passage, someone will invariably ask what I think the secret name is. The whole point is that ‘no one knows.’ It is no doubt a name of personal affection and honor—a name that marks out God’s triumphant overcomers and reflects His love for His adopted children (MacArthur, p102)”.

Conclusion:

So what are we supposed to take away from this?

1. Christ centered, gospel centered churches need to be vigilant in their teachings and doctrine.

We need to be careful not to let worldly teachings and philosophies enter the church. I was speaking with one of you this week, and the concern this person had for their grandchildren and children that are attending a church of a different denomination in a nearby town. Their granddaughter was told by a pastor at this church that John 3:16 isn’t true and that there is more than way to God. Within the last month two different “celebrity” mainline Christians have renounced their faith and are now looking for answers.

2. The Church of Pergamon should be a warning to every church and christian.

This is why we have saved church membership and candidates meet with myself and the deacons; this is why we have a statement of faith, this is why we have church discipline and restoration as a part of our constitution. These are ways we can protect our churches from worldliness and false doctrine. But just because we have these things in place is not enough. Affirming sound doctrine and practicing it are different. James 1:22 tells us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers.

3. Worldliness has been a threat to corporate and personal holiness since the OT.

See to what God Israel in Leviticus 18:1-5:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”

Letters from Jesus #2

Copy of 7 churches

Letters from Jesus #2

Revelation 2:8-11

The Sweet Smelling Church: 

Suffering Smyrna

“O Lord. Show me yourself within your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me.”

Introduction:

Smyrna is the only city of these seven that is still in existence. Today, it is the Turkish city of Izmir.

Smyrna comes from the word “myrrh”. We recognize that from the gifts of the wiseman to the Christ Child, but this perfume was primarily used to in the burial process of the dead.

This city was located about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus on the coast of the Aegean Sea with well-planned port harbor. 

This city was ancient even at John’s writing of Revelation.

The city is thought to be originally founded in 1000 BC. In the 600s BC this city was destroyed by the king of Lydia. It remained like that until 290 BC when two Alexander the Great’s successors made good on his plan to rebuild the city.

The rebuilt city was known for architecture. It held a group of buildings that was called the “crown of Smyrna”. The city was also known for its science, medicine, and academics. The poet Homer was supposedly from Smyrna.

008-seven-churches-maps
image from freebibleimages.org

The city was religious to a fault. It held temples to Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Asclepius and Cybele. When the city became an ally of Rome, it erected a temple to Rome, deification of the city was the goddess Roma. Later the city would beat other cities out of the right to build a temple to Tiberius.

However, there was a church in the city as well. We don’t know for sure when this church began, but most believe it was started during Paul’s time in Ephesus in Acts 19. In fact we don’t have any other Scriptural reference to this church other than here in Revelation. This church would see persecution for many years, and when Christ had John send a letter to them, His message was one of comfort and encouragement, Smyrna is one of two churches that doesn’t receive a word of condemnation.

What is happening v 8-9

Christ begins by calling Himself, “the First and the Last, the one who was dead and came to life”. Christ reminds this church that He was before the beginning and will be after the end. Christ reminds this church in a city that thrived, was destroyed and received new life that He suffered and died and was raised to life. This letter is one of encouragement and promise.

This letter begins with Christ’s knowledge of the church. He says, “I know”. I know what is happening, I know what you are going through.

Christ tells them that He knows the affliction or tribulation that the church is going through. Christ is commending them for persevering.

 The construction of the phrases is that the church’s poverty and the slander they face are part of the affliction or persecution.

Their poverty is tied to the affliction they are facing. It is unlikely that this poverty was from the church being made up of people from the poorer classes, or because they were a heavily Jewish church and  expelled from the synagogue losing their property and good; but as a result of the persecution. The word used here indicates that they weren’t just lacking in things, they were destitute, they had nothing. They didn’t even have the means to improve their standing.

Remember that this city was extremely devout and loyal to Rome and the cult of the Emperors. During this time, under the reign of Domitian, annual sacrifices to the Emperor at his temple were mandatory, failure to do so was a capital offense. Even failing to say “Caesar is Lord” when prompted would lead to a death sentence. This is the pagan atmosphere this church lived in, worshipped in, died in.

Christ not only told the Smyrna Church that He knew of their poverty, He reminded them that they were rich.

This parenthetical remark by Christ reminds us that material wealth is nothing compared to living a godly life and the riches of God.

This remark is in stark contrast to Christ’s condemning words to the church of Laodicea in chapter 3, “‘For you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. ” (3:17 CSB). The church in Laodicea had all the material things they wanted, but were spiritually bankrupt. They didn’t have the things that really mattered, such as “faithfulness, holiness, perseverance, and love for God (Macarthur, John. Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, © 2018, p78)”. However, the church of Smyrna may have been poor, they were spiritually rich.

Not only was their persecution affecting their livelihood, but they were being slandered by the Jewish population. 

In the 1st century there were a number of accusations that were leveled against the early church. Things like, cannibalism, immorality, breaking up homes, and political disloyalty. More than likely political disloyalty was a favorite to use in Smyrna were Rome was such a high priority.

Why would the Jews be doing this? Throughout the book of Acts the Jews have opposed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and those spreading the gospel.

Christ calls these Jews a “synagogue of Satan”. These Jews were acting no better than the pagans around them as they opposed the Church of God. Their worship was just as dead and meaningless the other pagan worship in Smyrna.

The idea behind the statement “those who say they are Jews and are not” is not that these were not natural Jews or Jewish proselytes. It’s the idea that though they were Jews by birth, spiritually they were blasphemous and enemies of God. Paul speaks to this condition in Romans 2:28-29, “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart — by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God. (CSB)”

What is about to happen v10

After comforting the church by telling them He knows and understands what they are going through, Christ gives the church a warning and promise.

The letter is continued with a command to not fear what is coming. 

It appears that though the church was in the midst of persecution, they were expecting more and were becoming afraid because of it. The church in Smyrna faced persecution for many years. 

In about fifty years time, Polycarp a Church Father and bishop of Smyrna was martyred by being burned at the stake. The Jewish population apparently was so opposed to the Church that they allied themselves with the pagan government and broke the Sabbath by bringing most of the wood gathered for Polycarp’s pyre.

Christ did not promise deliverance, but tells them what the coming persecution will be.

A new round of intensified persecution was about to start. This would see some of the members of the church imprisoned to test or try the church. The verb for test is passive meaning the action is happening to the subject. There are differing views on where the testing begins. Is God the originator of the test or Satan or both? I think, that it is both. Though God is not directly spoken of here as testing, ultimately God is allowing Satan to use his servants to test the Church.

The language implies that Satan is testing or trying the church to get them to  fall away, to get them to sin and renounce Christ.

But we see an element of encouragement here that this period of persecution was limited. Christ tells them this affliction will only last ten days. There are multiple views on what “ten” means. Some think this is symbolic in a number of ways. Ten specific periods of time, ten representing a large number, ten representing a small number, ten days meaning periods or years. However, I hold to the natural reading that ten days is ten days. Christ was warning them that an intense short time of ten days of persecution was coming. This fits best with the overall encouragement that this letter intends.

The last part of verse 10 holds a command and a promise.

Christ tells the church to “Be faithful”. The idea is actually keep proving their faithfulness. The idea is to continue doing what you are already doing.

This plays directly with the next phrase of “to the point of death”. The idea here is not that you can be faithful unless your life depends on it, but continue to be faithful as if your life depends on it. This doesn’t mean everyone in the church will die a martyr’s death, but that corporately, everyone would be willing to make that sacrifice.

The reward for the faithful, those true believers who through God’s strength and mercy persevere throughout this life, will receive the crown of life. This crown is not a royal crown signifying importance or standing, but the word implies the victor’s crown. The laurel wreath given to winners of the games. We see this promise in James 1:12 as well. The question of what the crown of life is, is still discussed. Is crown being used in a symbolic way or will certain believers receive a special reward beyond eternal life? Most sources I looked at, took the line that only true believers will persevere, will remain faithful, therefore the reward is eternal life that is promised to those who believe in Christ.

The Final Reward v11

Christ closes the letter to the Smyrna Church with an invitation and promised reward.

Christ then gives an invitation to all who hear the message, this makes us think back to the original blessing given in 1:3.

This invitation is given in all seven letters, but the first three letters give the invitation before the promise to the overcomer, while the last four letters hear the promise before the invitation.

We also need to see that this invitation is given to the churches, plural. This tells us that each of these invitations were first for each individual church, then all the churches in Asia Minor, and then by extension to every church worldwide.

So what is the promise to the one who conquers here?

That the overcomer will not be harmed by the second death.

The negative, never, the word used there “is the strongest negative assertion of the future of which the Greek language is capable” (Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, © 1992, p174).

We should note that overcomer or the one who conquers or terms John uses talking about the truly born-again believers. This promise logically tells us that harm will come to those who are not overcomers. That harm being the second death. John will identify the second death later in the book (20:14 and 21:8) as the lake of fire. The place of eternal punishment away from God.

Conclusion:

Not every church or every Christian is called upon to suffer persecution like the church in Smyrna, but every Christian is called to be faithful to Christ.

Are we so faithful? What if in the next few years saying our Pledge of Allegiance is the most important thing a citizen can do, what if Americana becomes the dominating religion and freedom to worship only comes after saying “Caesar is Lord”? Will we be faithful? 

I mentioned earlier that Polycarp was bishop/pastor in Smyrna and was martyred there, he was asked to curse God and say “Caesar is Lord” or offer a sacrifice at Caesar temple to save his life. “We are told the faithful pastor responded, ‘Eighty and six years have I served Him, and HE never did me injuryl how can i blaspheme my King and my Savior?’ (MacArthur, p82)” Right now this is speculation, no one is threatening us with death or imprisonment if we don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, but if they were? Could we respond like Polycarp? Will Christ find us faithful?

Remember Smyrna is a translation of myrrh, and myrrh only gives off its sweet aroma when it is crushed. 

Letters from Jesus #1

Letters from Jesus #1

Title: Behold Our God

Text: Revelation 1:1-20

Background and Setting 1-11

Title 1-3

Verses 1-3 gives us the book’s title, author and a blessing to the obedient hearers of the book. Revelation comes from a Greek word that we get our English word apocalypse that means an unveiling, a manifestation, a showing, a revelation. Then we also see the author is the Apostle John. He calls himself a servant or slave of Jesus who testified and gave witness about Jesus and the word of God. Then John gives a blessing to the reader and hearer of this book in verse 3. Notice that the blessing isn’t just tied to hearing the Word, but doing it as well, this is like the exhortation in James 1 to be doers of the Word and not just hearers so we are not deceiving ourselves.

Greetings 4-6

In verse 4 John gives the official greeting to open the letter by addressing the seven churches in Asia. Those seven churches are later named specifically in verse 11. John prays for grace and peace for these churches from the triune Godhead. The first title, “who is, who was, and who is to come” is not a reference to Christ, but is actually being ascribed to the Father, the eternal God the I AM. 

The second title given is of “the seven spirits that are before his throne”. There is a lot of discussion on how to interpret this title, but most hold that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, but there is debate on how it relates to the Holy Spirit. The answer I am most satisfied with is tying John’s writing to Zechariah 4. In Zechariah 4, the prophet has a vision of seven lamps and there is mention of the seven eyes of the Lord seeing over the whole earth. If these references in Zechariah are also about the Spirit, then so is John’s reference here in Revelation 1, as well as chapters 3, 4, and 5.

John then names Jesus Christ as the third person giving grace and peace, but John also ascribes to Christ other titles. Theses titles and actions all point Jesus’ deity. John isn’t arguing for or proving Jesus’ deity, but he assumes its and gives honor to Christ. He also reminds his readers that we have become part of His kingdom and became like royal priests before God.

Doxology 7-8

John then goes into a doxology in verse 7 which is actually a combining of two different OT prophetic writers. He combines Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10 to create this doxology. This strengthens the link between this apocalyptic book with those prophecies from the OT. 

Then in verse 8, which has no direct connection to verse 7, we hear the voice of God telling us the He is Alpha and Omega. He is the One who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. He is from the beginning with no beginning, He will be at the end with no ending, and He is everything in between. His is the all powerful Eternal God.

Calling 9-11

John then moves into his calling to write this letter. In vers 9 he connects with the seven churches by identifying himself as their brother and partner in the work of the Gospel through the afflictions and the endurance that they were facing with the open persecution from
Rome. He tells them that he was on the Island of Patmos, an inhospitable rocky island prison, as a result of his testimony for Christ. John says that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. John was at the very least probably spending time personally worshipping when he was filled by the Holy Spirit and given this vision. The vision begins with John hearing a loud trumpet like voice from behind him telling him to write to these specific seven churches.

image from freebibleimages.org

Why would John be writing to these churches? Church tradition and history tells us that when the Jews rebelled against Rome in the late 60s AD John left Jerusalem for Asia Minor where these churches are located. There he ministered to and with these churches and developed a close relationship with them. But this book was written later, around 90-92 AD, near the end of John’s life. 

This section sets the tone for the next couple of chapters and for the rest of the book. We see eternality and power of the Godhead, the deity of Christ, and we also see that the key to the book of Revelation is not the Church, but Jesus Christ. Christ is revealed to John, Christ speaks to these churches, Christ is the center of chapter 4 and 5 and on through the book. Behold our God.

Christ in Glory 12-16

Lampstands and Son of Man 12-13

After hearing this trumpet like voice, John does the most natural thing he could do, he turned around to see Who was speaking to him. After turning around the first thing he saw was seven golden lampstands. We will see in a few verses that these lampstands symbolize individual churches in different cities as churches are supposed to show God’s light throughout the earth, there are deeper meanings as well, since Revelation is heavily dependant on the OT. The reference here is similar to the gold lampstand in Zechariah’s vision in chapter 4 of that book, and to the seven branched lampstand that was in the Tabernacle. Both of these symbolized God’s people being a light to those around them.

Among these lampstands John sees a person, and uses the phrase “one like the Son of Man”. More than likely John is meaning this phrase in the messianic sense that many of us would think of, especially John heard Jesus use this term of Himself as Jesus quoted Daniel in Mark 13:26. Then John tells us of the dress the Son of Man is wearing. A long white robe with a golden sash across his chest. Many take this to symbolize Christ’s status as our great High Priest, but priests are not the only ones who wore long robes. It is possible that the robe signifies the general  high rank or dignity of the person.

Appearance 14-16

John continues to describe the appearance of Jesus in the next few verses. In six of the letters to the seven churches, Jesus uses as titles and descriptions of Himself from here to verse 20. So His presentation is an important aspect of those letters. John first describes Jesus’ hair as white wool and white snow. In Daniel 7 the Ancient of Days on the throne is the One with hair of white wool. Tying this to Jesus, we see the connection to Jesus’ deity and holiness. Then John describes His eyes as a flaming fires. This again links back to Daniel’s vision, in chapter 10 he describes the eyes of the angelic messenger in a similar way. The general idea is of a supernatural intelect, but in John’s writing of Christ the fiery eyes represents His omniscience. That He knows all and sees all. There is nothing that is hidden from the Lord.

John then describes Jesus’ feet as “bronze as it is fired in a furnace”. Visually what we should be thinking of is pure bronze when it is still in the crucible, when the metal is in its molten state at a high temperatures. The idea is a glow so bright that you cannot look straight at it. This image should be understood to represent Christ’s purity. John then describes the sound of Christ’s voice as that of rushing or crashing waters. Throughout Scripture, wording like this tends to show a powerful force. This phrase is also found in the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 43:2 and is associated with God the Father. Again, we see the equality of the Father and the Son. This same voice was described as a trumpet a few verses ago, but it is likely that the trumpet description was used to indicate the introduction while the power force of crashing waters gives the authority behind the commision to write.

Verse 16 finishes Jesus appearance. We start by seeing in His right hand He hold seven stars. In verse 20 we are told what these stars are, angels or messengers of the seven churches. I believe that the better translation should be messengers here as they seem to be in leadership or have an authority within these churches, and angels are described as ministering spirits in Hebrews 1. Angels are not seen as having authority over the church, and why would Christ need to John to write letters to angelic beings to give them to the churches? So if we hold that these stars are messengers/leaders/pastors of the churches what is symbolic of them being Christ’s right hand? There are two views about that. One is that the right hand is viewed as authoritative and controlling, the other is the idea of protection and comfort. Both of these views can be argued from Scripture, but I am going to take the middle ground on this and say it is a mixture of both comfort/protection and authority/control.

John also describes a sharp double edged sword coming from His mouth. There is OT and NT passages that can relate to this image. More likely the one that comes to mind is Hebrew 4:12 describing the Word of God as a sword. John then describes Jesus face as the sun shining in its strength, or at high noon. This is the climax of this vision with the overwhelming power of the glory of Christ. Some sixty years previous, John, his brother James, and Peter were able to witness Jesus in His glory on the Mt of Transfiguration where Jesus face was said to shine like the sun, here John is able to see that glory again.

We see Christ here in His glory. We see Christ in His deity. We see Christ among the Churches, seeing all, knowing all. We see Christ ruling over and guarding His ministers in His Churches. We also see Christ is moving in judgement against the churches. Behold our God.

Commission to Write 17-20

John’s Response 17a

Here again, John does the natural thing, he falls down at the feet of Christ. Ezekiel did the same in his vision of God. The appearance of the Lord causes men to realize Who the are before, and in fear and shame they fall before Him in worship.

Christ’s Comfort 17b-18

Christ doesn’t leave John like this, He lays His hand upon John’s back and tells him to not be afraid and then confirms Who He is to John. Jesus gives John another “I Am” statement by calling Himself the First and the Last. The Lord continues by saying He is the Living One, The Lord is the only living god. Other “gods” are dead idols. But Jesus is the One Who conquered death. He hold the keys to death and Hades. The keys are a symbol of authority. Christ has absolute dominion over the death and the realm of the dead, hades.

Commission 19-20

Verse 19 is the commission to write. This verse is also the main outline to the book of revelation if you interpret from a futurist perspective as I do. Chapter 1 the things you saw, the vision of Christ; Chapters 2-3 the things that are, the seven churches; Chapters 4-22 the things that will be, the future events. 

Verse 20 Christ explains the meaning of the seven lampstands and the seven stars. We have already discussed the lampstands and stars earlier as we walked through this vision of Jesus.

Though Jesus was coming in judgement, coming in power and authority, He wasn’t coming for John. The faithful servant of Christ’s never has a need to fear Christ’s coming, though our natural response to fall in worship of Him and in shame and repentance of our sin. Behold our God.

Conclusion:

This morning we looked at John’s vision of Jesus. We saw Christ’s deity as a member of the Godhead. We saw Christ’s power and authority among the churches. We saw what our response should be when we are confronted by our holy God, but we also saw that Christ is compassionate on those who are faithful to Him.

It is easy to focus on Christ as the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. It is easy to focus on Christ as our Great High Priest ever making intercession for us before the Father. But we should never forget that Christ is just as all powerful, all knowing, and eternal as the Father. Let us not forget Whom we serve and Whose church we are. Behold our God.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #34

Notice: I did not preach on Acts 27. I had another engagement that week, and our guest speakers spoke on Acts 27:21-26. The following week, I resumed with chapter 28 to finish the series. To open this sermon I quickly summarized chapter 27 for context.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #34

Title: The Unfinished Task

Acts 28 

Chapter 28 closes the book of Acts with Paul in Rome still working out his commision and doing what he needs to for the Cause of Christ.

Overview (What?)

Now that Paul and the other 200 people are on the island, what happens next? Where are they?

Verses 1-10 is the time spent in Malta

Verses 11-16 is leaving Malta for Rome

Verses 17-29 Paul is the Jews

17-22 intro and diplomacy

23-29 discussion and unbelief

Verses 30-31 Close

Now What?

So, now that we see that Paul makes it to Rome, what now? What is the Holy Spirit telling us in this chapter. I see a few things in this chapter, so let’s take a look.

In this chapter, we see that Paul continues to example evangelization. Paul has never stopped doing the work of the ministry. On Malta, he showed his servant attitude in assisting in keeping the fire going by gathering more wood. After being shown kindness by the island official, he returns the kindness by praying over and healing Publius’ father. He then is able to minister to the people of Malta as many who were sick came seeking to be healed. Paul engaged the people of Malta. Though the text doesn’t tells, I think it is safe to assume that Paul took these opportunities to explain the gospel.

Then when Paul makes it to Italy, we see that he received encouragement from some local Christians. Fellow Christians came from Rome and met them at these two small towns that were mere stopping points on the way to Rome along the Appian Way. Paul must have been blessed to meet these Christians after the recent shipwreck, the trial before Festus two years after being tried before Felix. These Christians expressed Christian love and fellowship with Paul.

After Paul was in his private residence in Rome, he invited some of the local Jewish leadership. On the day he discussed what the Christian sect was and who Jesus of Nazareth truly was, he did so emphasizing the Scripture. I’m sure the Holy Spirit was with him assisting him in this discussion, but we are told plainly in Acts that he was using both the Law and the Prophets. We have seen this throughout Acts, Paul, Peter, Stephen, Philip all using the Scriptures to explain who Jesus is. Yes, Paul and Peter were at times receiving new revelation, but these additions to Scripture was for the Church to know how to behave, how to function. Now we have the completed Canon of Scripture and we have the ability to use the verses these men penned to aid in our evangelism, but Paul used the Old Testament to explain things, especially to the Jews.

We also see that Paul didn’t let house arrest stop him, or the unbelief of many of the Jewish leadership. Paul spoke with anyone who came into his home over the next two years about Jesus and the gospel. He took any and every opportunity he could, and you know he talked to the Roman guard that had nothing better to do for four hours a day but listen to Paul. I’m sure that Paul was discussed back in the barracks as well. It is generally thought that during these two years Paul wrote Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians. In Philippians, Paul makes to comments about the progress of the Gospel in Rome. In 1:12-13 Paul writes, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ.” Then as he closes the letter he writes in 4:22, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.” Through Paul’s persistence and the work of the Holy Spirit the Praetorian Guard and the members of Nero’s house had heard the gospel and some had come to Christ.

So What? 

Ok. Great. So what? What are we supposed to do with this information now? 

Acts closes in an incomplete way. We are left with Paul spending two years in Rome proclaiming the gospel from his house arrest. We don’t really know the state of the church in Judea, we don’t know the state of the many churches in Asia Minor and Greece. We know that the church continued, we know that a great persecution would begin in a few short years at Nero’s order; but the book is left with the task unfinished.

In one sense, the book does complete. Remember we said at the beginning that 1:8 was the key verse for Acts, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts recorded the beginning of the Church, spreading from a regional beginning in Judea to the seat of one of the greatest empires in the western world in ancient times. But this book also shows us how to evangelize. We need to engage the people where they are, we need to emphasize the Scripture in our witnessing and as our guide for faith and practice, we need to expand to every person, not a select people group, or type of person. But all of this has to be done with the power of God and in His way, not our way. Paul say in 1 Corinthians 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” God will bring in the harvest, we need only to go and labor. H. A. Ironside in his work on Acts closes with these lines, “What almost seems like the unfinished character of the book of Acts, from a merely literary standpoint, is doubtless intended to teach us that until the fulfillment of the angels’ prophecy that ‘this same Jesus’ shall return even as He went away, the work of evangelization for this age will not be completed . We are to heed the Word – ‘Occupy till I come.’” (Ironside, H. A., Lectures on the Book of Acts © 1975, p 650-651)

Conclusion:

Acts is a reminder to us that what the mission of the church is.

First the Church’s mission is to make disciples – Mt 28:19-20, Ac 2:41-42, 14:15, 18:8

This includes proclaiming the gospel – Ac 20:24; Rom 15:20

Bearing witness to Jesus – Ac 5:30-32

Bringing honor to God – Eph 3:10-11; 1 Pet 2:12

Second our objective is all creation – Mt 24:14; 28:19; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8

What are you doing for the Cause of Christ? Are we doing our part in this unfinished task? How can we do more?

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #33

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #33

Title: Paul’s Royal Hearing

Acts 25:1-26:32

Last time in Acts we saw Paul’s trial before Felix. We saw how the Jewish leadership had a seared conscience, how Paul kept his conscience clear, and Felix ignoring his guilty conscience as he rejected the gospel. Felix delayed his judgement and kept Paul in custody for two years. Two years Paul was not in Rome.

This week Paul stands before a new governor and a king, presenting the same defense he was been since chapter 22. Paul is two years closer to Rome.

Overview

Today we are going through two chapters, chapters 25 and 26, it may seem like a lot to cover, but these chapters play right into one another so first thing we are going to do is walk through the passage to overview what we have before us and then we’ll pull a few things out and discuss them. 

Festus meeting with Sanhedrin. Case of Paul. Plot to kill Paul.

Paul’s trial is a repeat of 24:1-21 in verses 6-8. Luke is giving us a condensed soup version of events in these verses, which is a repeat of the previous trial. Festus, having heard both sides asks Paul if he would consent to having the trial again before Festus in Jerusalem, instead of giving a judgement now. Paul, realizing Festus was starting to give in to the Jewish Council, must have thought that he wouldn’t receive the trial he deserved, appeals to Caesar in response.  Festus confers with his advisors, and then announces, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go.” I can’t help but picture in my mind that when Festus makes that statement, he washes his hands in a manner similar to Pilate.

Days later Agrippa II and Bernice arrive to greet and welcome the new governor to the Region.  Agrippa was possibly the same rank as Festus, just in another region, or he was immediately below him in rank. Agrippa was given jurisdiction over the temple in Jerusalem, he also held the ceremonial dress for the High Priest for the Great Day of Atonement. Agrippa is the son of Herod Agrippa I who we saw in chapter 12 of Acts and the grandson of Herod the Great. Bernice is his sister who had her own checkered past and there were rumors of an inappropriate relationship between these siblings. After they get there, Festus tells Agrippa about Paul’s case. Now verse 15-21 Festus recounts the events that we just discussed. He has piqued Agrippa’s interest as he has a better understanding of the Jewish religion, Festus is asking for guidance and assistance in what to say in the report to Caesar. The next day Agrippa and Bernice enter the court with a great pomp. Festus gives a general statement about what is going on, why Paul is there, and why Festus is allowing this hearing. Festus needs help understanding what the problem is so he can give some sort of credible report to Caesar.

This brings us to chapter 26. This is not an official trial,  once Paul appealed to Caesar all trials stopped until he was before Caesar. This was an informal hearing, where Paul could defend his position more thoroughly. We can break chapter 26 up into a few sections, verses 4-11 Paul recounts his upbringing and the strict religious life he led before he came to Christ. In verses 12-23 Paul discussed his conversion to Christianity and commission from Christ, and verses 24-32 we have dialogue and Paul’s intent that all should come to Christ, and the end of the hearing.

Festus – Priority of Peace

Have a priority of peace isn’t necessarily bad, but when someone is willing to bend over backwards and do what it takes to keep or maintain peace for their own gain or the sake of peace, that person’s priorities are probably off, and we see some of that with Festus.

Festus first demonstrates his priority of peace in verse 1 of chapter 25. Festus didn’t waste any time getting to Jerusalem to try and smooth things over and hopefully find ways to work with the Sanhedrin to keep peace in the province. The Jews tried to get Festus to do what they wanted by bringing up Paul’s case and asking that he be brought to Jerusalem. Festus didn’t give in here, but told them that Paul had to be tried in open court before him since Paul was a Roman citizen.

Next we see Festus is still trying to prioritize peace with the Jews during the hearing in verses 6-9 [read]. Verse 9 is key here. Festus is trying to keep the Jews somewhat happy. If the Jewish Council at least is happy or content, then Festus would have peace during his tenure as governor. And we talked about this earlier, I think Pau realized what Festus was doing, that Festus wasn’t able to grasp the issues of Paul’s case  and was starting to give in to the Jews’ wish for the sake of peace.

Next we see Festus wanted peace with Caesar. In 25:26-27 we see Festus’ issue with Paul’s case. He is new to the province and doesn’t know the religion or the politics of the Jews, but he has to send Paul and a report explaining the issues to Caesar. If the report is unclear, or incoherent Festus could be in trouble. He is responsible for the prisoner and the report representing the case up to the call for appeal when it goes before Caesar. To keep himself out of trouble or at peace with Caesar, Festus needed a better grasp of the issues, so he asked Agrippa for help. This peace is more self-preservation.

Now I am not calling peace a bad thing, but Festus’ desire for peace at any cost is wrong. Of course Festus being an unbelievers, ultimately his priority was his self-serving and not God honoring. Festus was making peace his god. Exodus 20:3, the first of the ten commandments reads, “Do not have other gods besides me.”

There are examples of others not putting God first, not making God the priority. Such as Solomon in 1 Kings 11:4, “When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his `father David had been.” And Abijam in 1 Kings 15:3, “Abijam walked in all the sins his father before him had committed, and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God as his ancestor David had been.” There are other examples, such as Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12, and Paul gives warning to the Romans in Romans  16:17-18, “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned, Avoid them because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words.”

Paul – Priority of God

Now that we’ve looked at Festus’ priority, let’s look at Paul’s. Paul’s priority was God. We see this in chapter 26, where we see three examples of Paul’s priority.

First we see his priority for God before his conversion in verses 4-12. What do I mean that his priority was God before he was saved? Paul grew up in a strict Jewish home, received a strict and prestigious Jewish education, became a Pharisee and living as a “godly” Jew he opposed the Church, and persecuted Christ’s disciples. Paul’s unconverted mind, sold-out to the religious Judaism that he lived and breathed his whole life, was a misguided priority of God. Everything he did before he was saved was, in his mind, for God, he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do. Paul writes in Galatians 1:13-14, “For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” He makes a similar statement in Phillippians 3.

Second we see his priority of God after he received his commission from Christ in verses 19-23. In verses 13-18, Pauls discusses his conversion on the road to Damascus, here he tailors the account for his captive audience and we get more information of the event. Now Paul’s priority changes though it is still on God and doing His will. Before, Paul thought he knew what the will of God was, now God the Son has directly told him what he must do. No longer seeking to punish the disciples of Christ, but go and preach repentance and make disciples of Christ. Paul was now sold out for the Cause of Christ.

Thirdly we see how he fulfills his commission, we see this in verses 20-23 also, but even in verse 29 where Paul makes his final statement in our passage [read 29]. Every opportunity he gets, before the common man or rulers he is keeping his priority on God by proclaiming the Gospel that all might come to repentance and know Christ as Savior.

Paul’s priority was for God, and His will. Paul knew what he had to do. By fulfilling his commission, by proclaiming the gospel, by planting churches his focus was on God’s glory and God’s plan. Paul is the opposite of those verses about Solomon and Abijam, Paul is wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God.

Conclusion:

Where’s your priority? I know I have to course correct, when my priorities are wrong. But if we are living a life devoted to God, if we are living a life of worship to God, God is our priority. We wouldn’t hesitate to what was needed for the Cause of Christ.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #32

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #32

Title: Paul’s 2nd Trial

Acts 24:1-27

Last week we saw Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin which turned into a dangerous debate over doctrine. Some Jews then plotted to kill Paul if the Sanhedrin could get Paul out of the Roman fortress. The Roman Commander, having hearing of the plot, sends Paul with a military escort to Caesarea to the Governor Felix for a more formal trial. 

Will Paul be able to get to Rome soon? What will Felix do?

Prosecutor’s Remarks – vs 1-9

After five days, Paul’s trial can begin. Ananias and a delegation from the Sanhedrin along with lawyer or orator to make their case against Paul.

As was common, those bringing the charges or claim spoke first to present their case to the governor. In true lawyer fashion, especially of the time, Tertullus gives Felix a heavy coating of flattery (2-4). He’s laying it on real thick folks, I doubt very much that any average Jew that would have heard Tertullus’ comments that day would have agreed with him. Both a Roman and a Jewish historian tells us that Felix was rather fierce in his governorship. But the lawyer continues to present his case against Paul. 

There are three charges that the Sanhedrin are leveling against Paul. First: Treason against Rome. They call him a plague or pestilence and an agitator among the Jews. They’re blaming Paul for inciting riots and problems among the Jews throughout the Empire. In recent years there had been uprisings in major cities such as Rome and Alexandria, two places Paul has not been; true Paul was in cities closer to home where riots happened, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, in southern Galatia, and Jerusalem; but we know that he had actually started or incited any of these riots. Second charge: Religious heresy. Paul is called a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”, here they are trying to say he has violated Mosaic Law. The Third charge: Temple desecration. In chapter 21, the original charge was the Paul had brought a Greek in the restricted area, now the Sanhedrin seemed satisfied to soften the charge to Paul had tried to and they had apprehended him. 

Now there is debate over the inclusion of the second half over 6 through the beginning of verse 8, for our purposes today, we will include this section of verses. By including these verses we see that Tertullus is trying to score points against Lysias, and taking an even more free hand with the truth than Lysias had done in his letter. The Jews were trying to keep the peace by having the Temple Police arrest Paul so that the Jews could try him, but Lysias had troops rush in violently to grab Paul and is wasting everyone’s time by making everyone come to Caesarea. Tertullus implies that if Lysias were present Felix could get the same story from him. We know that if Lysias and the Romans had not rescued Paul, the Jewish mob would have beaten him to death, not try him according the Law.

Once Tertullus had finished, the Jewish delegation all vehemently agreed with him and joined in the attack against Paul. The prosecution has rested its case. I think that Tertullus’ tactic was that by accusing Paul of causing Jewish riots around the Empire Felix may just have him executed and be done with it, or if Felix wasn’t convinced of that charge, maybe by claiming the Jews had real legal reasons to try Paul, Felix would just send him back with them to deal with.

Defense’s Rebuttal – vs 10-21

Now that the Jews had given their trumped up charges, Paul was able to speak in his defense. (v 10)

Paul says that Felix was a judge for many years. At this point Felix was Governor of Judea for about 4/5 years, but he had spent time in Samaria serving under his predecessor Cumanus. Paul also starts with a courteous acknowledgement to Felix without stooping to hollow flattery. Tertullus’ hands were covered in whitewash, Paul’s were not.

Paul answers each of the three charges. First he states that it has only been 12 days  since he had arrived in Jerusalem, basically he said he hadn’t been in town long enough to create the trouble they were accusing him, nor did they have witnesses or proof that he had spread sedition throughout the empire (11-13). Secondly, for the charge of heresy, he admits that he is a follower of the Way, but that this doesn’t mean he is a heretic. He still serves the God of the Jews, believes the OT Scriptures and holds to the orthodox Jewish belief of a resurrection (14-16). Paul was actually more orthodox than the Sadducees, who don’t hold to a resurrection, but there may have been a few Pharisees among the delegation from the Sanhedrin. Third, Paul answers the charge of temple desecration, by stating that he had been away for many years, I think it’s been about 4 years since the last time Paul was in Jerusalem at the end of chapter 18, Paul had come back bringing offerings and charitable gifts. Paul states that while he was going about his business of bringing offerings and being charitable, being ritually purified was seen by Jews from Asia. 

Paul tells Felix he wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t supposed to be doing in the Temple, he wasn’t creating a problem, and the Jews from Asia that started the whole thing weren’t even there before Felix to give testimony as to what Paul supposedly did. Paul then remarks that even the Sanhedrin didn’t have grounds to charge Paul, the only thing that upset the council was Paul’s remark that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection. Paul’s statement in verse 16 is the basis of his defense, he always sought to have a clear conscience before God and men, again he isn’t saying he is never wrong or never sins, but he gets things cleared up so his conscience is clear.

Judgement Postponed – vs 22-27

At this point Felix had heard both sides and with some knowledge he postpones his judgement (22).

Felix seems to understand what is going on, how he knew about the Way we don’t know. It is possible that he learned about it while serving in Samaria. Felix states he needs to hear testimony from Lysias before making a judgement. Lysias would be able to give some clarity to the case, as Felix had just heard two contradicting testimonies. Whether Lysias ever comes to Caesarea or not we are not told. Felix keeps Paul in custody in Caesarea until he is able to render a verdict. Paul does have some freedom, specifically mentioned is that Paul was able to receive visitors or other things he may need. If Felix did see that the case against Paul would not stand, he may have been trying to win a few points with the Jews by keeping Paul in custody and therefore out of Jews hair, keeping the Jews out of his hair.

After some time, as we see in verse 24, Felix has Paul brought to him so he and his wife Drusilla could hear more about Jesus and Paul’s faith. Drusilla is called Jewish, she is the daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had James the brother of John killed in chapter 12, roughly 12 years previous. She is also the sister of Herod Agrippa II whom we will meet in upcoming chapters. Drusilla was Felix’s third wife, possibly not quite 20 or in her early 20s at this point. She was betrothed to a prince in eastern Asia Minor but that was called off as the groom didn’t want to become a Jewish proselyte, she was then married to a king of a small state in Syria, but Felix persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him. She did. They had a son named Agrippa, who died in AD 79 when Mt Vesuvius erupted.

In verse 25 we see Paul obliged and began teaching the Christian faith. Specifically mentioned is that Paul spoke on righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgement. Paul took a courageous step by discussing these topics with man who could order his death or had him over to the Jews. But notice the rest of verse 25, “Felix became afraid” and sent Paul away saying he’d call Paul back when he had a chance. Obviously his conscience was bothering him through the Holy Spirit and Paul’s preaching of the Word. Verse 26 also give us an insight into Felix. He was hoping Paul would offer a bribe, so Felix could release him. Of course the behavior was illegal, but sometimes the Roman political wheels turned easier for someone who was able to pay. Where Felix got the idea Paul had the ability to pay a bribe, we can only speculate. Perhaps when Paul had stated that he came to Jerusalem with offerings and charitable givings Felix thought Paul had access to a large amount of funds. Felix is also an example of someone hearing the gospel several times and, as far as we know, not believing, we see that he called for Paul several times to talk with him over the next two years.

Let’s look at verse 27. We just skipped forward two years to about AD 58/59. Paul has been in custody unable to leave the Roman headquarters in Caesarea, speaking to Felix, probably taking any chance to speak to the guards or centurions that were assigned to him as well. But this was two years of not getting to Rome. Felix was recalled because of a riot that broke out between the Jewish and Gentile populations in Caesarea, which Felix ordered troops into the fray to intervene. The troops acted in such a way that there was a lot of bloodshed from the Jewish faction leaders. The Jewish population was so outraged, they were able to force Felix’s recall. Felix could have faced serious consequences when he returned to Rome, except that his brother that helped him get posted there, was very wealthy and had a lot of influence. This explains why Felix was looking “to do the Jews a favor”, if he could placate the Jews by leaving Paul in custody for Festus to deal with, it may have benefited him.

Conclusion:

I think this passage gives us three examples responding to one’s conscience. What do I mean? I think verse 16 is a key part to this chapter, “I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.”

First we see with the previous actions and the accusation from the Jewish Council an example of corrupted or seared consciences. Paul will write to Titus, “To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. They claim to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15-16), and to Timothy, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). In verses 1-9 here in Acts 24, I believe, we see seared and defiled conscience from the unbelieving Jewish Council.

Our second example is Paul himself in verse 16 says he “always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” Job makes a similar statement in Job 27:6, “I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live!” Job knew he had done nothing wrong deserving the hardships he faced and he was saying that his conscience was clear. Now, being a born again Christian is the best thing for a conscience. Hebrews 9:13 and 14 tells us, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” Paul is the example, and he makes several claims throughout his letters of how his conscience was clear, Paul obviously listened to his conscience a lot.

Then with Felix we see a guilty conscience. Verse 25 of our passage today, “Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come Felix became afraid…” Why was Felix afraid? The Holy Spirit through Paul’s teaching of the Word was causing his conscience to bother him and he knew he was guilty and would face judgment. We see other examples of guilty consciences in Scripture as well. In 1 Samuel 24, David sneaks up on Saul and cuts the corner of his robe, and his conscience troubled him. Then in 2 Samuel 24, David again is troubled by his conscience verse 10 of that chapter reads, “David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops. He said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, LORD, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away your servant’s guilt.’”

So I ask, how’s your conscience? 

Is your conscience clear before God and man? Wonderful, keep listening to it.

Is it seared, are you ignoring it? Stop ignoring your conscience. The more you ignore it the easier it is to ignore. Journalist Sydney Harris is credited with saying, “Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a ‘necessary evil,’ it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.”

Is your conscience pricking and picking at you about something? Then deal with it. If it is sin confess it to God and if you are able to, ask forgiveness from the person. If your conscience is prompting you to come to Christ, don’t wait. Now is the time to confess your sins to God and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #31

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #31

Title: Paul’s First Trial

Acts 22:30-23:35

Last week we saw as Paul delivery his defense to the Jewish people. We saw how Paul, through his testimony, demonstrated that the Lord can break into our lives at any point, and that baptism is important to the life of the believer as it publicly identifies us with Christ. We also recognize that the Christian life can be full of danger, but as Christians we need to remain faithful to Christ and what He called us to do.

This week we see Paul still in Roman custody, and still in danger. Paul wanted to get to Rome, will he get the chance?

Paul and the Sanhedrin – 22:30-23:11

After a night in the barracks, Paul is brought before the ruling Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin.

Since the Roman governor wasn’t staying at Jerusalem at the moment, this Roman Commander was essentially the highest Roman official in the city, so when he ordered the Sanhedrin to meet, they met. The Commander needed to find out what trouble Paul was in and if it was serious enough to place him under arrest or to turn him over to the Jews, so the Sanhedrin had to meet to decide to charge Paul or not. Whether this was an informal meeting, a formal council, or something in between we’re not sure on and I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

Paul begins the meeting by stating that he had lived before God with a clear or good conscience all the way up to that moment. Paul is not saying he is sinless, or that he was never wrong, but that his public life was blameless and he had lived up to the demands of the Law. Paul makes a similar statement in Philippians 3:4-6, “although I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.”

But this statement was too much for the High Priest, to him it sounded close to blasphemy, so he ordered that Paul be slapped across the face. Is response Paul makes comment back. Now there is much criticism and debate over the next few verses and whether Paul was right or not. I think that Paul was justifiably angry about this. Paul hadn’t been proven guilty of anything and the High Priest should be counted on to act fairly if he isn’t going to be compassionate. Paul calls the High Priest a “whitewashed wall”, this is similar to Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Paul was calling him a hypocrite. Someone nearby asks Paul if that was any way to talk to the High Priest. Paul’s apology, I think, shows respect for the office, but not for the man that was currently holding it.

Ananias was one of the most corrupt men whoever held the position of High Priest. This man stole tithes from other priests and did whatever it took to increase his own authority. He was known as a brutal man who cared more about gaining favor from Rome, than caring for Israel. Paul’s comment about God striking Ananias proved to be somewhat prophetic. In AD 66 when the Jewish revolt began, Ananias had to run and hide. He was hunted because of his known sympathies for Rome. He was found hiding in an aqueduct in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem where he was killed. Paul’s response in verse 5 has been interpreted in a number of ways. Some think he didn’t actually know who was High Priest, some think Paul had poor eyesight and didn’t really see who had ordered him struck, some even think that this meeting was more informal so Ananias wasn’t wearing the traditional dress for the council, or that Paul was speaking with a touch of sarcasm. I think Paul is using a touch of sarcasm, along the lines of “Could a man like that be high priest?”because he quotes Exodus 22:28, I think he knew that the High Priest was the one who ordered him struck, but he is showing respect for the office and not the man.

Paul changes tactics and realizes the divide of the Sanhedrin between Sadducees and Pharisees. History tells us that Ananias was a Sadducee, and I think Paul maybe knew that he wouldn’t get a fair trial from the Sanhedrin. So Paul claims the issue is his belief in the resurrection, which of course the Sadducees think is heresy that crept in from the Babylonian captivity. These groups were greatly divided on this point. Pharisees begin to say they can’t find anything wrong with Paul and the groups debate grows violent and the Commander orders Paul removed and taken back to the barracks. I can’t help but think that if given the chance, that Paul would have explained further that the real issue was his belief in the resurrection of Jesus Chirst and not just about the teaching of the final resurrection.

That night when Paul was back at the Roman barracks, the Lord appears to him. This is one of 5 visitations from Lord to Paul recorded in Acts. First is the appearance on the Damascus Road (9:3-6), a few years later Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision in the Temple (22:17-21), then when Paul was in Corinth and thinking of heading elsewhere the Lord appears in a vision (18:9-10), then this appearance and then in the storm at sea in chapter 27:23-25 an angel is sent to encourage him. 

For this visit the Lord had three things for Paul. First, “have courage” or “be of good cheer”. The Lord is always near and always with us, we can have courage in difficult times because we know this. Second, Paul was commended for testifying about Jesus there in Jerusalem. I think this confirms the thought that Paul was supposed to come to Jerusalem, and though the Jews didn’t respond to his witness, Paul testified of Jesus. Third, Paul knew that he would get to Rome. Christ told him that he needed to testify there as well. Since Ephesus Paul had wanted to get to Rome, now he knew he would get there. Paul just needed to trust the Lord to work out His plan.

Secret Plots – 23:12-22

Whether Paul had any ideas of what was going to happen next, I don’t know. He knew he would get to Rome and be able to testify and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. But some Jews weren’t ready to give up yet.

Forty men, possibly Jews from the region of Asia that started the riot a couple of days previous, bound themselves into a vow with each other calling down a curse from God on themselves if they didn’t kill Paul. To add to their urgency, they swore off eating and drinking until the murder was done. There is a tradition that such a vow could be rendered void if it could not be completed because of reasonable constraint. These conspirators then go to some of the members of the Sanhedrin, certain elders and chief priests, to inform them of their vow and to get their assistance to get Paul in the open. One source remarks that these men, “knew how morally rotten their leaders were, or they would not have suggested such a scheme to them” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 170). What did they need from the Sanhedrin? They wanted the leaders to request Paul be brought back for another hearing so the Sanhedrin could question Paul more, but the conspirators would make sure, that once Paul was out of the fortress, Paul would never make it to the council room. These men must have thought themselves so pious, so zealous for God and thought Paul was such a problem that murder was the only way to bring peace to Judaism.

But something these conspirators didn’t know, was that their plot was known. We don’t know anymore about Paul’s sister and nephew than what is recorded here. How did this young man hear of the plot? We can only speculate. Perhaps he was in Jerusalem for his education just like his uncle, or perhaps he and his mother lived in Jerusalem and were known at the temple. It is generally thought that they weren’t fellow Christians as Paul’s comment in Philippians 3:8 of “I have suffered the loss of all things” is inferred to include Paul being disinherited from his family. 

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Paul wasn’t under arrest in the fortress, he was more or less under protective custody. He was an unconvicted, and uncharged, Roman citizen, therefore he was allowed to receive visitors, and centurions saw to it that many things Paul requested were done. So once Paul heard about this plot he called for a centurion and instructed that his nephew be brought to the commander to repeat the information.

The commander receives the young man, and perhaps, since Paul sent this messenger the commander may have realized that this might be a serious matter and led the young man to a more private area where he was told of the plot against Paul. The Commander understood the seriousness of the plot and sent Paul’s nephew home instructing him not to let anyone know that he had met with the commander about the plot.

Safety in Caesarea – 23:23-35

The Commander knew he had to act quickly to get Paul to safety, as Jerusalem was obviously the last place for Paul to stay, and he wasn’t going to take any chances.

If the Jews wanted to kill Paul so bad, they’d have to convince the governor or try to overtake 470 Roman troops during the night. After issuing his orders to his centurions, he needed to write a letter to Felix. How Luke knew what was written is not known, but we can speculate that Paul may have heard the letter read and told Luke the basic parts of the letter. We read for the first time the name of the commander, Claudius Lysias. More than likely he was a Greek has his second name is Lysias, and he purchased his Roman citizenship during the reign of Emperor Claudius as Claudius became is primary name. Claudius makes a change in the timeline of discovering Paul’s citizenship to remove himself from any discipline for his actions. But he continues to say that all he was able to determine is that the problem is based on Jewish doctrines and law, and nothing that warranted Paul’s imprisonment or death. But with the discovery of the plot to kill Paul, Claudius was forced to send Paul to Felix for Paul’s protection and to let Felix try the case.

That night about 9 pm, or the third hour of the night, those centurions with the 70 cavalry, 200 spearman and 200 soldiers left with Paul heading to Caesarea. In what was probably a forced march or quick march, the whole group arrived at Antipatris which is about 35 miles north of Jerusalem. Now at the foot of the Judaen hills, and the conspirators left behind them, Paul no longer needed such an escort. The next morning the group split with the infantry returning to Jerusalem and Paul escorted by the 70 cavalry continued to Caesarea. When they arrived, they brought Paul and the letter from Claudius to Felix the Governor.

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 Felix read the letter and then asked Paul what city he was from. If Paul was from a small client kingdom, it would be politically and diplomatically better for Felix to consult with that ruler, but upon learning Paul was from the Roman Province of Cilicia he could render judgement on his own without consulting anyone else. Felix became governor of Judea about AD 52, about 4 years previous to our passage. He wasn’t really well liked by many Jews as there was an increase of insurgency by more militant Jews, but Felix was rather ruthless in putting the uprisings down which upset more moderate Jews and led to more uprisings. A Roman historian summarized Felix’s character and career by quipping, “he exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave”. This was the man Paul’s fate now rested with, of course Paul knew and trusted that the Lord would do what He said, that Paul would testify about Him in Rome itself. Felix ordered that Paul stay there in the fortress, the palace Herod the Great and built for himself that the Roman governors used as their home and in Judae. Paul would have to wait for the representative from the Sanhedrin to come before a hearing could happen.

Conclusion:

Paul still in custody, but in a less dangerous place than in Jerusalem, still unable to get to Rome yet. But Paul is trusting that the Lord would do what He said, Paul continued to trust God.

What can we take away from this passage?

We need to trust God in difficult and even dangerous situations to do His will. This is especially true if we have been and continue to do what the Lord has commanded us to do as Christians. Jesus promised in Matthew 28, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

 Remember God has established the government, which means as long as we have legal means and the government still protects the rights of its citizens, we do not need to be afraid of using legal means. God can use one person in or before the government to work His will and plan.

Paul was confident that the Lord would work His plan out, are you? Paul was willing to lay his life down for the cause of Christ, it is an easy thing to say but hard when put the test. What are we willing to do for the cause of Christ?