Acts 8

Chapter eight introduces the key antagonist of the story. Luke mentioned that Saul was a co-conspirator at Stephen’s murder, albeit not a full participant. The most zealous of his peers (Galatians 1:14), Saul used Stephen’s “blasphemy” as the perfect catalyst to begin an outright war with these Jewish traitors, who blatantly worshiped a criminal instead of God. He made it his personal mission to “DESTROY THE CHURCH” by any means necessary (Acts 8:1-3).

Like the Tower of Babel, however, God used this as the catalyst to scatter the early Christians and spread the gospel. For the first time, Samaritans were presented with the truth, and they accepted it in multitudes (Acts 8:4-8). The miracles Philip performed convinced even a local magician, Simon, that this message was truly from God (Acts 8:9-13). Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem to confirm what was happening, which they saw when the Holy Spirit came on the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17). This impressed the magician who wanted that power as well, offering money to learn their “spell” (Acts 8:18-25). Some have questioned Simon’s salvation because of this, but Peter’s command that he should “REPENT OF THIS WICKEDNESS” and pray for forgiveness seems to indicate that his infant faith was genuine.

Luke recorded one more scenario of the gospel spreading beyond the Jewish people (Acts 8:26-40). Philip received a direct order through an angel to meet with a man on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza, whom he discovered to be an Ethiopian official. Philip caught up with him and got into his chariot, realizing that the man was reading from the prophet Isaiah without understanding it. Philip was able to start from that passage (Isaiah 53:7-8) and point him to Jesus. The Ethiopian believed, and Philip baptized him immediately. The Holy Spirit then “SNATCHED PHILIP AWAY” (the same verb used for the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17) and dropped him in Azotus, where he continued to preach the gospel.

There is a textual note to consider regarding Acts 8:37. Only a handful of Greek manuscripts include this verse, and most of them were copied during the tenth to twelfth centuries (AD 900-1100). Because of their late date and scarcity, it is best to see this verse as a later addition to Acts.

Zechariah 6

Chapter six closes Zechariah’s night with a final vision, this one of “four chariots emerging from between two mountains of bronze” (Zechariah 6:1-8). These chariots were driven by the four horsemen of his first vision (Zechariah 1:8-11). In the first vision they reported to Jehovah that they had settled peace on the earth at that time, probably in reference to Persia’s defeat of Babylon. In this vision they were returning to their jobs, walking the earth to do God’s will.

This chapter and section concludes with a final action Zechariah was to oversee at this time (Zechariah 6:9-15). From the Babylonian exiles, he was to choose four men (none of whom are named elsewhere in Scripture) to craft crowns (plural in Hebrew) for Joshua, the high priest. Astonishingly, this was a royal crown, not the high priest’s turban (mentioned in Zechariah 3:5), meaning that the high priest was also being crowned as king. Since Israel did not have a king during or after this time, and since the king and the high priest were distinct roles, this must be a prophetic illustration to be fulfilled in Messiah, who will serve as both priest and king in his kingdom. This is evident in three ways.

First, we have again the Messianic reference to the Branch of Isaiah 11. Second, in Zechariah 4:7-10 God had promised that Zerubbabel, not Joshua, would rebuild the Temple, yet this king-priest will build it. (This indicates that there would be yet another Temple built after Zerubbabel’s, something that history has proven to be true. 1 ) Third, after their “crowning” of Joshua, the four men were to take the crowns into the Temple “as a memorial,” showing that Joshua himself was not intended to serve as both high priest and king. Zechariah promised that, if they would “completely obey the voice of the LORD your God,” other exiles would come and help rebuild the Temple, “so that you may know that the LORD who rules over all has sent me to you.”

Notes:

  1. Modern Orthodox Jews believe that it will be the true Messiah who builds the Temple in Jerusalem. That is how they think they will finally know who he is. Unfortunately, Daniel 9:27 and later revelation indicate that Antichrist will probably help rebuild a Temple first, securing the loyalty of the Jews early in the Tribulation period, before he violates his covenant with them.

Zechariah 3

Introduction

The book of Zechariah bears the prophet’s name, which means “Jehovah will remember” or “Jehovah remembers.” The book is difficult to date as a whole, because only three of the prophecies are dated. These exceptions are in Zechariah 1:1 (“the eighth month of Darius’ second year,” 520 B.C.), Zechariah 1:7 (“the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in Darius’ second year”), and Zechariah 7:1 (“In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month,” 518 B.C.).

However, the book can be easily divided into two major sections, chapters 1-8 and 9-14, based on the content of the prophecies. The first section deals primarily with God’s messages to Judah as they worked to rebuild the Temple (similar to Haggai’s prophecies of the same time). The second section deals more with eschatological events, particularly the future Messianic kingdom. The reference to “that day” is found 17 times in chapters 9-14 but only once in the first section (Zechariah 3:10).

Because of this distinction, and due to the fact that Greece is mentioned by name as a considerable force (which it was not in the early sixth century), some scholars contend that the second section was written much later and appended to Zechariah. However, Archer points out that by 480 B.C. (only 40 years later), Greece was already pushing back against Persian expansion, which would have given the entire region pause. 1 A span of 40-50 years would not have been too long for Zechariah to minister in Judah, especially since he was considered to be a “young man” at the beginning (Zechariah 2:4), so it is a strong possibility that the sections were written at different times, albeit by the same man and for different purposes.

Much like the Revelation, Zechariah is full of odd visions and illustrations – horsemen, olive trees, a flying scroll – so it is notoriously difficult to interpret without a basic understanding of Israel’s past, present, and future from Zechariah’s standpoint. However, since most of the symbols are explained to some extent, a grasp of the historical context does resolve some of the confusion.

Chapter three records Zechariah’s fourth vision in one night. He “saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zechariah 3:1). There is significance to the fact that “the angel of the LORD” in Zechariah 3:1 is called “the LORD” in Zechariah 3:2, who yet refers to “the LORD” as a distinct person. This is an obvious reference to the deity of the pre-incarnate Christ (the Eternal Son of God), who is wholly God yet a distinct person from the Father.

Like Michael in Jude 9, the angel of the LORD did not rebuke Satan at this time, but left that in the hands of Jehovah (Zechariah 3:2), who considered Joshua as one saved from fire. In Zechariah’s vision Joshua was wearing dirty clothes, a symbol of the uncleanness of Israel and her priesthood (Zechariah 3:3-5; compare to Haggai 2:10-14). The clean clothes represent God’s forgiveness of sin, including the high priest’s turban, which Joshua received at Zechariah’s prompting (cf. Exodus 28:36-39).

Finally, the angel of the LORD commissioned Joshua, promising that he would stand and serve in the Temple, if he would continue to be faithful in his life and service to God (Zechariah 3:6-7). Joshua and his fellow priests would serve as pictures of the coming Servant-Branch (both references to the Messiah; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1). Zechariah 3:10 includes the first use of the eschatological phrase “in [or on] that day” in Zechariah, a common phrase to reference Messiah’s coming and kingdom. When that day comes, “the iniquity of this land” will be removed, peaceful fellowship will be restored, and Jehovah will act with omniscience over the world (symbolized by the “seven eyes,” explained in Zechariah 4:10). Even the stone itself probably refers to Messiah, “the cornerstone and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over” (1 Peter 2:7-8).

Notes:

  1. “As far as the situation in Zechariah’s own time was concerned, the defeats recently administered by the Greeks to Xerxes…in 480-479 would furnish ample cause to bring them to the attention of all the inhabitants of the Persian empire.” (Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised and Expanded [Chicago: Moody Press, 1994], 475.)

Mark 4

Chapter four contains one of the longest sections in Mark dedicated to Jesus’ teaching, apart from Passion Week. Even then, except for the last few verses, chapter four contains just four parables and the explanation of the purpose of Jesus’ parables. The purpose, first mentioned in Isaiah 6:9-10, was so that believers would receive new truths, while unbelievers would not be able to understand them, keeping them from heaping additional judgment upon themselves for rejecting it. From this point on, Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds but explained them to the disciples (Mark 4:10-12, 33-34).

First is the parable of the sower and the seed (Mark 4:1-9, 13-20). One of the few parables that Jesus explained in detail, he illustrated how the word is spread out to people, like seed is scattered in a field. People respond differently, depending on their life circumstances. From some, Satan steals it away immediately (see 2 Corinthians 4:4). Others receive it but quickly turn away because of personal persecution or other priorities. Some do receive the word, let it grow in them, and produce a varied harvest for God.

Second is the parable of the lamp (Mark 4:21-25), which illustrates that the things we have from God are not to be hidden away but rather used. Some rewards and blessings may be directly tied to the service people perform in obedience to God.
The third and fourth parables refer to the kingdom of God. In one, the kingdom is like sown seed, growing regularly, without the farmer understanding how (Mark 4:26-29). In the other, the kingdom is like a mustard seed. Even though it starts small, it grows into a massive tree, offering refuge for all the birds around it (Mark 4:30-32).

The single non-parable in this chapter recounts one of many times Jesus demonstrated his authority over creation. When the disciples were stuck in a massive storm on the Sea of Galilee, they woke him from a nap in the back of the boat (Mark 4:35-41). Their fear for their safety caused them to doubt his care for them. When he calmed the storm, their fear changed to awe as they began to realize even more what his claims really meant.

Isaiah 35

Chapter thirty-five concludes this section with further description of the changes Messiah will make during his reign. In what Jesus called “the regeneration” (Matthew 19:28), the curse of “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18) will be lifted from the land, and it will produce all kinds of vegetation unhindered, the way God intended in the original creation (Isaiah 35:1-2, 7). People will have no need to fear, because of God’s personal protection (Isaiah 35:3-4). Sickness and disease will be eradicated (Isaiah 35:5-6). 1 It seems there will be a new road leading into Jerusalem, where Jesus’ throne and Temple will be (Isaiah 35:8-10). Isaiah warned that only those who are righteous will be able to access it, and (unlike the roads in his day) no one will be accosted along the way, by animal or human. 2

Notes:

  1. This was an important part of Jesus’ early ministry when he was still offering himself and his kingdom to the Jewish people. The miracles that he did were primarily those that the prophets (especially Isaiah) said Messiah would do. Thus, Jesus used his miracles to prove that he was the one Isaiah foretold and the people were looking for.
  2. It could also be that this represents that only the righteous will be able to enter the kingdom.

Isaiah 33

Chapter thirty-three continues Isaiah’s description of the Messianic Kingdom, when Jehovah himself is ruling from Jerusalem. The beginning is addressed to the “destroyer” and “deceiver” who had not yet been destroyed or deceived (Isaiah 33:1). In Isaiah’s day, Israel feared destruction coming from Assyria, so this may be the reference. Isaiah asked for God’s mercy on Israel, as the only one who could deliver them from their distress, warning their enemies that is exactly what God would do (Isaiah 33:2-4). Even though the streets were empty, Isaiah knew that God would exalt himself, proving himself to be faithful to his promises and people (Isaiah 33:5-10).

Everything that the nations did that they thought provided them with power was nothing but “straw” and “chaff” (Isaiah 33:11-12). In fact, God would burn them to ashes as they breathed fire on everyone else. When this happened in Assyria (and will again in the future), the nations will finally realize that they cannot stand before Jehovah (Isaiah 33:13-14). God will reward those who obey his law (Isaiah 33:15-24). Israel will no longer be defiant against him, instead celebrating the festivals with pure hearts. Although they were at that time caught in the current headed for destruction, God would restore them after their punishment and make them strong and secure again, under his personal leadership. In that day both physical and spiritual sickness will be eradicated.

Isaiah 32

Chapter thirty-two describes in more detail the restoration benefits of Messiah’s reign. As opposed to the Jewish, Egyptian, and Assyrian rulers, Messiah will reign with “fairness” and “justice” (Isaiah 32:1-8). 1 Fools will be seen for what they really are, because people will be able to discern foolishness from wisdom. Eyes and ears will be opened (physically and figuratively) to the truth of God and his law.

In the meantime, Isaiah called on the people to mourn because of the judgment they deserved (Isaiah 32:9-14). Their crops would fail, and their cities would become desolate. This judgment will not last forever, though (Isaiah 32:15-20). Their empty fields will once again flourish, their cities will bustle, and they will live in peace and security.

Notes:

  1. This is part of his “rod” in Isaiah 11:4 (Revelation 19:15). Ironically, many people think God is unfair. Fairness and justice go hand-in-hand, something that people either forget or do not understand.