Saturday, September 17, 2011

Acts 3:1 - 8:2

Why do I have an icon of Joshua as the illustration for a Bible study about Acts?  I learned something new: Twice in the book of Acts, Joshua is described as prefiguring Christ.

In Acts 3:22 Peter quotes Moses, who said “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.” (Quoting Deuteronomy 18:15.) Who was Moses talking about at the time?  Joshua, of course, but it was also a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Stephen quotes the same verse in his defense before the Jews, in Acts 7:37. What we fail to understand is that in the Hebrew language, Joshua and Jesus had the same name.  It was the name “Yeshua,” and it meant God saves.  The great theologian Justin Martyr was the first to write about this connection.  Sadly, it’s one we miss today.

Here are some other interesting tidbits from this passage. In the book of Acts, persecution is almost always followed by church growth.  In chapter 4, Peter and John are arrested and put in prison.  What happens next? Verse 4: “Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” In chapter 6, following some internal struggles with the church, we see verse 7: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  It’s interesting that these were still Jewish priests and Jewish believers.  They continued to worship in the temple in the same manner, but their worship took on a new dimension because they believed Jesus was the Messiah. The new believers also met on the first day of the week for communion and discussions about Jesus, but they also continued their Jewish worship. Finally, in chapter 8, immediately following Stephen’s martyrdom, there arose a great persecution against the church.  What happened? The believers scattered to Judea in Samaria.  Hmmm . . . Sound familiar?  Jesus explicitly told them they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria.  The persecution is what precipitated the Gospel being taught in the places that Jesus predicted.

In chapter 4 and 5, the Sadducees spoke against the apostles.  The Sadducees only accepted the Torah and they did not believe in the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, and they accepted the entire Old Testament as scripture. The Sadducees were the ones who spoke against the apostles.  In chapter 5, a man named Gamaliel speaks to the Sadducees. He tells them to leave the apostles alone and let God sort things out. He concludes, “If this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lets you even be found to fight against God.”  Who was Gamaliel?  He was a Pharisee who was accepted into the council of Sadducees because of his wisdom. He was also Paul’s teacher. According to tradition, Gamaliel later became a Christian and was baptized by Peter and John.
On Chapter 6 the church encounters a problem. The Hellenists complain that their widows are not being taken care of.  Who were the Hellenists? They were Jews who had moved to other areas and spoke Greek.  At the time, there were three types of Jews: those who spoke Aramaic, those who spoke Greek and the proselytes, or people from other countries who converted to Judaism.  The disciples appointed the first deacons to care for the widows.  It’s interesting that the first deacons were Hellenists and even one proselyte.

In this passage we also see the first Christian martyr: St. Stephen.  Stephen knew he was going to be killed. He quoted from Daniel 7:13 when he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!” In this prophecy Daniel was referring to a new kingdom, which is the church.

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