Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 3 * PART 3 * BOOK 18
ACTS CHAPTERS 6,7 & 8
Now back to Acts Chapter 8, where we left off in the last lesson. For some time, I never liked to teach the Book of Acts. But now I just love to. The Book of Acts just comes alive when you are able to see that God was still dealing with the Nation of Israel during these early Chapters, and how Israel rejected the message. Then God in so many words said, “I’ll just turn to the Gentiles without you.” That is exactly what happened. In Chapter 8 we are still pretty much on Jewish ground. In the last lesson we have just seen the stoning of Stephen, and Saul of Tarsus consenting unto his death. He was actually promoting and leading the assault on these early Jewish believers. So let’s begin with verse 1:
“AND Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church (assembly of Jewish believers) which was at Jerusalem; and they were all(I’m a stickler for every word of Scripture and when it says they were all scattered, I’m sure that every Jew who had embraced Christ as The Messiah is in that word `all‘) scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria except the apostles.”
Now analyze that verse for a moment, exactly as it is. I’m not going to try to be a theologian or do like some rabbi’s do with the Old Testament, trying to think of a million ways I can interpret it. But rather, I’m just going to take it for what it says. Every believing Jew now had been scattered out of Jerusalem because they had to run for their life or else Saul would have had them. And yet the very leaders of those Jewish believers sat tight. I’ve got another question. Remember we are about seven years after Pentecost, and according to Matthew 28:19, where should these Twelve men have been by now? They should have covered the whole Roman empire in those seven years. Even in the transportation of that day they could have covered a good portion of the then-known world. But where do we find them? Having never left Jerusalem. Are they derelict in their duties? No. They knew they could not go beyond the borders of Israel until Israel had her King. They still had that hope that Israel would yet repent of their national sin of having crucified their Messiah, and then Christ could return and set up the Kingdom. Zechariah 8 is as clearly put as any Scripture in the Old Testament regarding what Israel was to have done, getting the message of Salvation to the Gentile world.
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass (it hadn’t happened at this time because they hadn’t had the Kingdom yet. Oh, they had the glory of Solomon and David but they hadn’t had what God had been promising, so it’s still future), that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities;”
“And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, `Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong(now what’s the next word?) nations (we’re dealing here with Gentiles) shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in (Heaven? No but rather in) Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.'”Now verse 23, and you don’t have to twist this and analyze it.
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass (which days? When Christ is ruling in Jerusalem. His Kingdom is set up) that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, `We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.'”
And indeed He will be. And this was the prospect for the Nation of Israel. Resuming Acts Chapter 8, we find then these Twelve men were not derelict in their duties, they know their role, and they know they cannot have a ministry to the Gentiles until Israel has come to recognize that the One they crucified was their Messiah. Then He could have returned and set up His Kingdom. I’ve always used this analogy. You go to an airport to meet a loved one, but the announcement comes that the flight is late. So you’re tempted to go somewhere else for awhile. But what’s uppermost in your thinking? “Just as sure as I do the plane will come in and I won’t be here to meet it.” I think that’s the thinking of the Twelve. They weren’t about to leave Jerusalem because they knew that Christ would return to the Mount of Olives from where He had left them just as the angel had told them in Acts Chapter 1. And they were going to be there when this happened. So in spite of all the pressure of persecution that old Saul of Tarsus could bring to bear, those Twelve men sat tight. They’re still in Jerusalem seven years after Pentecost. Turn to Acts Chapter 11 and let the Scripture speak for itself.
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word (Old Testament) to none but unto the Jews only.”
That’s what The Book says plainly. They knew they couldn’t minister to Gentiles, the Old Testament Scriptures wouldn’t permit that until the whole nation was a Kingdom of priests. So they didn’t go to the Gentiles, they didn’t go down into Egypt or over to Greece, (if they did it was to Jews). They were still preaching to Jews only. Remember the Old Testament was used to prove that the One that Israel crucified was The Christ. That was the Jewish message all the way through here. Now how in the world can you put Gentiles into anything in that first few years, when the Scriptures says they preached to none but Jew only. Back to Acts Chapter 8, verse 2:
“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul (you will see more and more of him now), he made havoc of the church (this assembly of Jewish believers), entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
Saul was ruthless in the name of religion. He is a religious Jew, and everything he does he thinks he is doing it for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Let’s look at Acts Chapter 26. And remember there are three accounts of the conversion of Saul in the Book of Acts. Now that tells me that three is an important number all through Scripture. And here this sort of puts the capstone on it. Here Paul is talking to King Agrippa in particular.
“I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” He hated that Name. Because he thought it was making inroads into Judaism, and it was.
“Which thing I also did in Jerusalem (see how that fits with Acts 8:1?): and many of the saints (now those are Jewish saints) did I shut up in prison, having received authority from (not from Rome but rather) the chief priests;…”
Rome let the Jews take care of their religious Laws, even Laws concerning death sentences. You may ask, “How about Christ’s death?” Well, prophecy said that Jew and Gentile would both be responsible for that. Secondly, all Scripture intimated a lifting up, a Crucifixion. Remember the serpent in the wilderness? What did Jesus say in John Chapter 3?
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:”
So there had to be that kind of death. Stoning would not have fulfilled those prophecies. Now Paul continues on in the first person as the Apostle, he is reflecting back. Now reading verse 10 again.
Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priest; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them”
They actually killed some of these Jewish believers in the name of religion. If Rome was so benevolent toward the Jewish religion, then why did they turn so vehemently against Christianity? Here they put up with the Jewish religion until 70 A.D., with Rome never giving them opposition. But as soon as Christianity made itself known, then Rome did everything it could to stamp it out. And here is the reason. Rome, pagan as it was, had respect for any ancient religion, whether their own or someone else’s. And in the eyes of Rome you see, Judaism was as ancient as you could get it. But when Christianity came on the scene, that wasn’t anything ancient, that was something new, so that they couldn’t go for it. But I want you to realize that Paul makes it plain that he voted to have these Jewish believers, not just thrown in prison but put to death.
Now that reminds me of something that came up in a class last night. Was Paul ever married? I think he was, even though the Scripture never gives any indication. But does Peter ever talk about his wife and family? We know he had a wife because of his mother-in-law. But the main reason I think Paul was married and must have had children was that in order for him to vote here in Chapter 26, he must have been a member of the Sanhedrin. And in order to be a member of the Sanhedrin, what was one of the qualifications? You had to be a husband and a father. Because if you weren’t a husband and father how could you pass judgment on what parents had to deal with? In the Book of Philippians we know Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee of the Tribe of Benjamin. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, but what happened to his wife and family? Who knows? The Scripture is silent. Now back to Acts Chapter 8.
“Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” Now don’t forget in Acts 11:19, they preached to none but Jew only.
Now we are going to see a change of venue. Philip now goes to Samaria. You want to remember that Israel is a small country where everything is close. Samaria is only a few miles due north of Jerusalem. So let’s look at verse 5:
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria (that’s north of Jerusalem), and preached Christ unto them.”
Now let me show you a comparison. Look at I Corinthians, and see how Paul puts it. And this is just for comparison sake. So that we don’t put them both into the same kettle. It just won’t mix. Philip goes down to Samaria and he preached Christ.
I Corinthians 1:17,18
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel:… For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
I Corinthians 1:23
“But we preach Christ (notice Paul doesn’t stop at `Christ’ like Philip did. Paul continues with) crucified,…”
Now can you see the difference? Philip goes to Samaria and preaches Christ. But for Salvation he doesn’t preach Christ crucified. The Jewish message has been from Pentecost on that Jesus was The Christ. Remember all the references I have given you? Peter’s confession back in Matthew 16:
“He saith unto them, `But whom say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, `Thou art The Christ, the Son of the living God.'” And then Martha at Lazarus’ death in the Book of John Chapter 11:
“Jesus said unto her, `I am the Resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.’ She saith unto him, `Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art The Christ the Son of God,…'”
There was never any mention of death, burial, and Resurrection in any of these confessions of faith. And then we have the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts Chapter 8:
“And Philip said, `If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest (be water baptized).’ And he answered and said, `I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'”
And we will see Saul of Tarsus at his conversion on the road to Damascus, he is going to go into the synagogue after his conversion and preach, but he’s not going to preach Christ crucified, but rather the following:
“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”
Now can you see the difference? Oh, it’s all the difference in the world. Remember faith in our Lord’s death, burial and Resurrection for Salvation had been kept secret, until He revealed it to Paul in Arabia a short time later. Now back to Acts Chapter 8: So we see Philip in Samaria, preaching Christ unto them. In other words, that He is The Christ, their Messiah.
“And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.” So you see nothing has changed? No! Miracles are still used to convince the people, Jesus and the Twelve did the same thing. Remember in I Corinthians 1:22:
I Corinthians 1:22
“For the Jews require a sign,…”
And Samaritans are basically more Jew than Gentile. They were half-breeds. They see the miracles and pay attention to Philip.
“For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.”
Here’s something for you to think about. I don’t set these things in concrete. But someone sent me some information the other day about exorcism, casting out demons. I’m not comfortable with it. The reason I’m not comfortable with it is because the Apostle Paul never once gives the Grace-age believer any instruction in dealing with demon possession. That’s just something for you to think about. My own personal belief is that the person must need Salvation, and if we can present them with the plan of Salvation and see them genuinely saved, then I think that will take care of their demon possession. But here Philip has that same power that Jesus had in His earthly ministry.
“And there was great joy in that city.” The next verse starts with “But.” You notice that when everything starts going well, the devil comes in and there is a flip side. We just can’t escape it. He’ll never let us get away with good things very long.
“But there was a certain man called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria giving out that himself was some great one:” Because of the miracles he could perform.
“To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, `This man is the great power of God.'”
Was he? No, but rather the power of Satan. Now never lose sight that this is not new. Remember when Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh, and they did as God instructed. And when they threw their rod on the ground it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing. Fortunately the one serpent from Aaron’s rod swallowed up the other serpents. Which shows us and them that God’s power is greater than Satan’s. But listen, don’t you ever sell Satan short. I can remember missionaries coming back from some of the dark uncivilized tribes of this world back when I was just a kid. And they would rehearse the power of some of those witch doctors and they had great power. It wasn’t a gimmick. It was Satanic. And don’t ever sell it short. And so it was the same way here. Old Simon was performing miracles, and he had the people confused thinking he was some great one. But it wasn’t the power of God, but rather the power of Satan. Read on:
“And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God,…”
Some people will question what the difference is between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven? The Kingdom of God is that whole sphere of God’s influence, which is to the very outer reaches of space, all of Heaven and all of earth. The Kingdom of Heaven is that sphere of influence concerning the earthly Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is within the Kingdom of God like Oklahoma is within the United States of America.