We are continuing our study through the book of Acts by looking at the necessity of general and special revelation, how worldviews affect how we interpret our surroundings, Paul's understanding of his weaknesses, church leadership, and why it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and settle the issue of the necessity of the Law for salvation.
Of course, Paul encourages them to turn from these vain beliefs to the true and living God.
VERSES 17-18: Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (18) And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them. When he says that God left not himself without a witness, that speaks of general revelation. Revelation speaks of a disclosing of information that could not have been known otherwise. In regards to revelation, there are two types of revelation: General and Special. General revelation is by definition, "God's disclosure of Himself in nature as the creator and sustainer of all things." It comes through nature (Psa 19:1-6), conscience (Rom 2:14-15), and history (Deu 28:9-10).
That is what Paul was referring to when he said in vv.15-17, "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness". He further concluded in Romans 1:20 that as such, it leaves all men without an excuse (Rom 1:20). One writer said that general revelation is that "natural knowledge of God that is the basis for divine judgment." No one can escape it.
However, ultimately, general revelation is not enough. While it does indeed point to God, it is insufficient to reveal the totality of God and His ultimate plan. Special revelation is when God reveals Himself to men "directly in a personal way." It is information that cannot be learned any other way, but through God (1Cor 2:14) and it must be accepted by faith (Rom 10:17).
Swindoll and Zuck point out that it was necessary as that it would have been impossible for Adam and Eve to just look around at God's creation in the garden and have been able to surmise from creation alone what God's will and purpose for their lives was. God had to have eventually communicated with them by using words.
The conclusion would be that the ultimate form of special revelation is the Bible itself; for it is the Bible that contains the gospel that is necessary for salvation. Thus is the urgency of getting out the gospel (Rom 10:13-15). It is only through special revelation that we are able to "learn about God that cannot be known or discovered by general revelation alone."
VERSE 19: And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Notice that these unbelieving Jews followed him from Antioch and Iconium to persuade the people to stone him. What virulent hatred they must have had for him!
In regards to the stoning, most people believe that this is what Paul was referring to when sharing in 2Cor 12:1-2. The Bible speaks of three heavens: the atmosphere where the birds fly, the stars and planets, and the abode of God (2Cor 12:3-6).
I find it interesting that Paul often put himself down. It is apparent from Scripture that his appearance was nothing to brag about and he knew that (Gal 4:12-15). As a matter of fact, he saw himself as contemptible (2Cor 10:9-10) and the least (1Cor 15:9).
Also, look at 2Cor 12:7-8. The thorn might have been physical in that he might have been weakened by an illness such as ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye) which he might have been referring to in (Gal 6:11).
Also, look at 2Cor 12:9. Whatever it was, God used it to keep him focused. Does God use our weaknesses to keep us focused?
VERSES 20-22: Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. (21) And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, (22) Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. I can't help but notice that he turned around and went back to the very place that he was stoned! That is a calling! cf. Burden vs. Call. The safest place a child of God can be is in the will of God. The most dangerous place a child of God can be is out of the will of God.
My next question did Paul says, we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God? I submit two possible reasons. 1. He had not as yet received any revelation in regards to God's complete plan for the Body of Christ, e.g., the Rapture. Again, there is no doubt that he seems to be referring to a future, physical, fraternal Kingdom that had been promised to the Jews. One teacher says, "Since the revelation of the mystery concerning the rapture of the church had not as of yet been revealed to the apostle Paul the Jewish believers were still expecting the kingdom to come at any moment." 2. There is an issue with pronouns. Notice that he says we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. The point is that he might have been referring Jews only in this statement (cf. v.19). It can make sense if we understand that at this unique point in time, we have both Kingdom and Grace believers at the same time in the same place which Paul was addressing. Therefore, we could be referring to Kingdom believers only in that statement (cf. v.23).
VERSE 23: And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. These verses had become a bit controversial today in the realm of church leadership. Where they simply ordaining one elder in every church or multiple elders in each church? I do know that Paul when giving instructions to Timothy always referred to the singular elder, never plural. However, a pretty good argument could be made for a plurality with 1Tim 5:17. However, he did refer to deacons in the plural.
The word ordained seems to indicate that it was done by vote.
VERSES 24-28: And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. (25) And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: (26) And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. (27) And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. (28) And there they abode long time with the disciples. Here we see a precedent for churches sending out missionaries. This is one argument that I heard as a missionary against parachurch organizations assuming the responsibility of the local church. I do tend to lean that way as well because there are no parachurch organizations in the Bible.
Notice they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. My first thought is why was this such news-breaking information if Pentecost was the birth of the Body of Christ?
The dating of this chapter is around 48AD to 50AD which would have been about fifteen years after Pentecost. Also, bear in mind that he had just proclaimed the Gospel of Grace for the first time at Antioch in Pisidia before the Jews stirred the people up and they fled to Iconium and Lystra where he was stoned. He then returns to Antioch to report to the church all that God had done among the Gentiles by opening the door of faith to the (14:27). Paul spoke of this in Gal 2:1-14.
VERSE 1: And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. These certain men were the false brethren that Paul referred to in Gal 2:4. Naturally, they were teaching observance to the Law for salvation. This was obviously in opposition to the new gospel that Paul was preaching.
VERSE 2: When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. Here it says that they went to Jerusalem at the determination of the assembly in Antioch, but Gal 2:2 says that he went by revelation. The issue is the wording of the KJV (cf. other translations). That means that, yes, the church at Antioch did sent him, but the subject was to be the revelation of the mystery. This, of course, will be the first time that he is sharing the mystery with the Twelve. The question was in regard to the necessity of the Law for salvation as mentioned in v.1.
VERSE 3: And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. The brethren here is a reference to the believing Jews. Again, we tend to clump all Jews, believing and unbelieving into one to say that they had a problem with salvation being given to the Gentile. No, only the unbelieving Jews had a problem with it (Gal 2:4).
VERSE 4: And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. Now they are making their way to Jerusalem and are received by the Jerusalem assembly including the Twelve and elders. They then declared all things that God had done with them. No doubt this included all that God had done during their journey through Asia Minor and more importantly the revelation that Paul had received in regards to the mystery. This will be the first time this information is shared with the Jerusalem church as we will see by the heated conversation that follows.
VERSE 5: But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. Here we see Pharisees which believed. The context to me is saying that these were Kingdom believers and therefore believed, correctly so, that they were still under the Law that required obedience to circumcision. They were biblically right but dispensationally wrong. They had apparently missed the part that Paul said in regards to all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:39).
VERSES 6-9: And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. (7) And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. (8) And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; (9) And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. What matter? That is was needful to keep the Law to be saved. The fact that there is much disputing indicates that it was a controversial subject. Of course, the Twelve taught the Kingdom Gospel that required Law and Paul was now teaching the new Grace Gospel that did not.
Peter then reaches back in his past, a while ago, and reminded them what happened when Cornelius, a Gentile, believed and received the Holy Ghost just like they did at Pentecost and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Peter is by no means saying that he first received the Grace Gospel, but is merely pointing at that God was obviously offering salvation to the Gentiles as had happened with Cornelius through the Kingdom Gospel.
Also, remember at that time, all of them, including Paul, preached the same gospel until he shared the new one in Acts 13:38-39. Notice also that Peter said that God purified their hearts by faith. Hearts have always been purified by faith in that works were just an expression of said faith. However, those works could never completely justify. And that is exactly where the Gospel of Grace comes in (Acts 13:39).
VERSE 10: Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? In other words, Peter is saying that if the Law was insufficient to completely justify us, why should we try to place them under it? Of course, the immediate issue is circumcision, but it speaks of the entire Law.
VERSE 11: But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. Thus ends the reading of the word as that these are the last recorded words of Peter in the book of Acts. Again, my mind, just like in vv.14:22-23, is drawn to the pronouns we and they. He does not say they are saved the same way we are, but we are saved the same way they are. Some would say that this is Peter's way of acknowledging that there had indeed been a dispensational change (2Pet 3:14-16). It seems that Peter is saying in v.15 that the postponement of the Kingdom is salvation not only to the Jews but also to the Gentile.
Now with that being said, there is nothing in Scripture that shows that Peter or the other Eleven ever started preaching the Grace Gospel, instead, as we will see in this chapter, they will agree not to.