The Gospel Proclaimed Outside of Jerusalem
Lecture 4: The Gospel Proclaimed Outside of Jerusalem
This is the 4th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
(Any slides, photos, notes or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded separately. If they are not available, you may be able to find something similar using the Google© search engine.)
It is interesting in chapter 6; we have this problem with the Hellenistic widows who were probably Greek speaking Jews. There were also Hebrew widows who were Aramaic speaking Jews. So you have a division in the community. The Hellenistic widows were being over looked in the distribution of food. The Apostles didn’t want to focus on this as they wanted to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word; so they appointed seven people to care for this need. Interestingly enough from what we can tell, all the names of those who were appointed are Hellenistic Jews. And one of the men is Stephen whose death becomes very significant. By the way, they are not called deacons here. Although the Greek verb diakonain is used to serve; so many people have seen deacons here. I don’t think that is wrong. Maybe they even were deacons but Luke didn’t use that term to describe them. Diakonos is the noun.
B. Summary Statement
So after this problem was solved we are provided with a summary statement in verse 7, ‘and the Word of God continued to increase, and so the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.’ So we have this notice in Acts that the Word has power. It is the Word that has increased. The Word has a converting power to it. And secondly, the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem which is also significant. If we remember that Acts 1:8, it will begin in Jerusalem, a geographical reference and then an observation with a number of priests becoming obedient to the faith. This is interesting because sometimes we think that all the Jewish leaders rejected Christ and of course that is not true. Many believed and became obedient. The New Testament often emphasizes how many disbelieve as well. Sometimes we remember the negative more than the positive. This summary statement interrupts the narrative of Stephen. I believe this is done intentionally because the situation with Stephen leads to a new situation in the life of the church which we will look at now.
II. The Gospel Proclaimed Outside the Environs of Jerusalem 6:8-9:31
We have Stephen’s impacting the extension of the Gospel beyond Jerusalem in Acts 6:8-8:3. The focus includes his grace, his power and the wonders and signs he is doing among the people. But he gets into a conflict with the synagogue of the Freedmen which consisted of people from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. It seems that he irritated those who were not from Jerusalem. These people were Hellenistic or Greek speaking Jews. They really get angry with him and stirred up people to falsely accuse him fir saying blasphemous words against Moses and God. This was the charge as such against Stephen. Next they stirred up the Sanhedrin and brought Stephen before them. A more specific charge is leveled, ‘this man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law. Of course the law relates to Moses. The holy place is the temple of course. We see here the two distinguishing marks of Judaism being the Law and the Temple which was in Jerusalem and was the only place you could offer sacrifices. When the Roman Empire destroyed the temple in AD 70, sacrifices stopped and have remained so for all these years. Today, they say repentance is the same as sacrifices so that is what they preach today. Luke says that the witnesses were false; Jesus never said that he was going to destroy the temple but that ‘it would be destroyed.’ So the truth is that Jesus said that something bad was going to happen to the temple. And the law was put into a new perspective with the coming of the temple. So there is something to these charges although they were misinterpreted.
The story is very fascinating as it is somewhat strange. Stephen answered the question starting with the life of Abraham before he lived in Haran. It first started with the call of Abraham in verses 1-8. The emphasis was about God appearing to Abraham in Mesopotamia, yet God called and promised him this land. This is the history of salvation. Yet, God did not give him an inheritance in it, not even a space of a foot. Abraham was used by God but he didn’t have any special holy place. So Stephen is saying in regards to the temple, a special holy place isn’t essential as God was with Abraham. Then Stephen comes to Joseph in verse 9. Stephen starts out, ‘the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt, but God was with him. He wasn’t living in the Israel but in Egypt. Joseph was in Egypt and God was with him there. God gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and Canaan.’ Joseph was following the Lord and it was God’s plan that his people would be preserved in Egypt. Just as Joseph was rejected and mistreated by his brothers, in our day, you have rejected the Messiah. Then the narrative continues on with Moses in verse 17. The people increased and multiplied in Egypt until another king rose up who didn’t know Joseph. Moses was born but he ended up in Pharaoh’s house. Moses was brought up as Pharaoh’s son as Stephen emphasizes. Moses ended up killing an Egyptian and this was partially wrong. But this wasn’t the point of Stephen’s narrative. Moses was beginning to understand that God had raised him up to become the deliver of the Jewish nation. The point here is that he supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand. However, they didn’t get it but they should have. And that is what he is saying to the Sanhedrin, just as they didn’t understand Moses, they didn’t understand Jesus.
As two Hebrew men were fighting and Moses wanted to stop them; they replied who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday? Moses ran to the land of Midian where an angel appeared to him in the flame of a fire in a bush. The only thing that made that bush special was the fact that God was there. God chose to appear there, so God makes sacred the places he goes to. So Moses was told that he would be God’s agent for the nation of Israel. Stephen emphasizes this by the first word in the sentence, ‘this’. ‘This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ So it was Moses who led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt. Now Stephen points to Jesus. Jesus is the greater Moses, the greater prophet. The Mosaic Law is from God, they are living oracles, but the people refused to obey him and turned to Egypt making themselves a golden calf which they worshipped. We see the motif of Moses being the deliver but they rejected him. Stephen continues speaking about the tabernacle and then the temple. The tabernacle was a movable shrine which they never went back to, even after the destruction of the temple. So Stephen is arguing that we haven’t always had a temple. There was also a tabernacle which was of God. In building the temple, God said in 2nd Samuel 7, ‘heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.’ I don’t need you to build me a house. On the other hand, God says that he will build David a house that will last forever. But God doesn’t really dwell in houses, although he did decide to dwell in that place. We start to think that a place such as a church building is scared and that God only dwells there. God does use places like this but does not need it? This was the end of Stephen’s speech except for a few more things to say.
Stephen then calls them a stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. He asked them, which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered. You received the law from the angels but did not keep it. Basically, he says that they really haven’t changed since the golden calf. They were not members of the New Covenant at all. You are just like your parents. You have just rejected the things of God. One would think by this time, Stephen could have been raging at them but instead he simply tells them the truth. You talk about me keeping the laws; you are the ones not keeping it. This charge doesn’t have anything to do with me, but everything to do with you. Of course, they become enraged and ground their teeth against him. But Stephen still doesn’t stop at that, but continues as he gazes into heaven, he sees the glory of God and then he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is presumable acting as the attorney with God being the judge. Stephen is acknowledging that Christ as an attorney is on his side. Stephen is having a revelation of God. They became so angry that they rushed to him and took him out of the city and put him to death with Paul being there. This was an illegal act by the Jews to put anyone to death as we learned in the death of Jesus. Did the law change since that time, we don’t know. It is just possible that they lost their tempers and did something they should not have done. At the time of his death, Stephen imitated Jesus by asking God not to hold this sin against them. It was then he died. We see that Saul or Paul approved of Stephen’s death.
B. Gospel is Proclaimed In Samaria
So this caused a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and they became scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. As they left Jerusalem, they went about preaching the Word. In Stephen’s persecution and death, the Gospel went out to Judea and Samaria. Stephen caused a change in the church. He was buried with great sorry and it was then that Saul began to ravage the church in Jerusalem. As Philip went and preached in Samaria; remember that the Samaritans and Jews were extremely divided. The Jews had destroyed their temple at Mount Gerizim at 150 BC or around that time. It was in John 4 that when Jesus was taking to the Samaritan woman, she was surprised and the disciples were surprised, both because she was a woman and especially because she was a Samaritan. We remember in Luke where John and James wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans and destroy them. They were going to follow the example from Elisha. In Samaria there was a magician called Simon who practiced before the people of Samaria. Simon and others listened to the preaching of Philip and were saved. Later when Peter and John came, he tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from them, but the Apostles told him that his heart was wicked. Simon repented and asked forgiveness. It says here that Simon believed and was even baptized in verse 13 but it doesn’t seem that it was genuine. Peter indicated that his heart wasn’t right with God and peter said that he was possessed by evil. There is no indication that he actually repents. This Simon Magus continued to be famous as a heretic in church history. Now we need to understand that Philip was not the Apostle Philip but instead he was one of the seven and one of Stephen’s friends. We know that because in 8:4, the apostles didn’t leave Jerusalem. Even with Philip he performed signs and wonders and people believed.
Interestingly, when they first believed they didn’t receive the Spirit. So how do we explain that? Philip could not give them the Spirit and he doesn’t. Pay attention to the narrative as it is written in a certain way for a reason. It tells us the Apostles had to come down and when Peter and John laid their hands on them, it was then they received the Holy Spirit. Some consider this a second blessing, especially those of the Pentecostal persuasion. But I would argue the reason Luke tells the story this way is because it was unheard of. This never happens anywhere else where people believe in Jesus and not receive the Spirit. To believe in Jesus is to have the Spirit of God in you. Philip couldn’t give them the Spirit because the Lord didn’t want two different churches emerging. So they had to receive the Spirit of the Spirit comes from the apostles. And some would say that this idea fits within Roman Catholicism. But this is another issue that is separate as some believe in Apostle Succession.
C. Philip Proclaims the Gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch
So Philip was directed by the Lord to the road that ran south down from Jerusalem to Gaza. There he met an Ethiopian, a court official of Candace who was in charge of the Queen’s treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship God, now travelling home in a chariot and at the same time reading the Book of Isaiah, ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth. Philip had met up with him and began to explain this passage and about Jesus to whom it had been written about. Philip ended up baptizing the eunuch then and there. Afterward the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away to Azotus and he continued preaching the Gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
D. Paul’s Conversion and Impact
We have Paul’s story in this chapter, then in chapter 22 and lastly in chapter 26. This is a very important story because it led to the Gospel going to the Gentiles. When we look at chapter 22, Paul tells us that he went to the temple in Jerusalem and fell into a trance praying that he could evangelize the Jews. The Lord said ‘no’, I want you to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He was a trained Rabbi and a Pharisee who would have been a perfect evangelist to the Jews. The Lord says that he would take the fisherman for that! So Paul obeys the Lord and goes out and preaches the Gospel to the gentiles. I want to say something else; I don’t think Paul felt guilty about Stephen’s death. At the time, he believed that Christians were heretics. I think the night that Stephen was put to death; Paul didn’t fill any guilt over it. He continues his persecution because he thought he is doing the will of the Lord. He refers to this in Philippians 3, his zeal for the Lord when he was a Pharisee, he was persecuting the church. On the Damascus road falling to the ground, I think Paul was stunned to hear that it was Jesus talking to him. I think it was such a revolution for Paul, a shock that he needed time to process it. From that point on, God chose him to go to the Gentiles. It says that Paul saw a person and heard a voice while the other accounts heard a sound and saw a light. So Paul actually saw the resurrected Jesus appear to him but God didn’t reveal that to the others there. That seems to be how the three accounts are put together. Only Paul understood the spoken words while the others only saw light and heard sounds. Theologically, is this an example of election to salvation or election to service? Many Armenians would say it just a call to service but obviously it is both.