Acts 4

Chapter four introduces the first major pushback since the crucifixion. Naturally, the religious leaders thought they had done away with Jesus for good. However, his followers were still preaching his message with results that made the leaders furious. As Peter and John were speaking to the crowd from chapter three, they were arrested and put in jail overnight. Luke noted that the people had already responded, though. The initial band of “ABOUT THREE THOUSAND PEOPLE” (Acts 2:41) had multiplied between five and ten times to “ABOUT FIVE THOUSAND MEN” (easily 15,000 – 30,000 people including families; Acts 4:1-4).

When Peter and John stood before the ruling council, it must have been surreal to know that Jesus stood there only months before. They certainly must have wondered if they would be crucified next, yet this did not stop them. Two years earlier Jesus had told them, “WHENEVER THEY HAND YOU OVER FOR TRIAL, DO NOT WORRY ABOUT HOW TO SPEAK OR WHAT TO SAY, FOR WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AT THAT TIME. FOR IT IS NOT YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU” (Matthew 10:19-20). On this day Peter was “FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT” and began to preach Jesus to the very ones who had dragged him to Pilate (Acts 4:8-12).

At that point, the religious leaders recognized four things: 1) these were not the same timid men who ran away a few months earlier when Jesus was arrested; 2) they were working under an influence that did not require formal training; 3) the man was undeniably healed; and 4) they had no legitimate case against the apostles. With the influence the apostles were gaining among the people, the leaders must have felt they were experiencing déjà vu (Acts 4:13-22). The only thing they could do was order the apostles to not preach Jesus again. When the apostles replied that was impossible because of the things they had experienced, the leaders could only double down on their insistence.

Upon being reunited, the church celebrated God’s work in and through them. Amazingly, instead of praying for relief from what was certainly going to be growing persecution, they prayed specifically for boldness “TO SPEAK YOUR MESSAGE WITH GREAT COURAGE,” which God granted them (Acts 4:23-31). The unity of the believers during this time was remarkable, especially compared to the petty divisions that would come very soon. They genuinely cared for one another, taking care of each other and submitting to the authority and wisdom of the apostles (Acts 4:32-37).

2 Thessalonians 2

Chapter two contains the largest section of new teaching in this short letter and has generated a great deal of debate in several areas. It seems possible that someone had sent a letter in Paul’s name to Thessalonica, stating that they had missed “the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). One of their fears that prompted the first letter was that the believers who had died would miss the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13), which Paul addressed. However, it seems a “letter allegedly from” Paul and possibly a “spirit or message” claimed that, in fact, they all had missed it and were now living in “the day of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Since Paul had obviously taught them about the terrors of the great Tribulation, they were scared to be in it and wondered how they could have missed the Rapture.

In this chapter, Paul revealed three events that must happen first, before the day of the Lord could commence. The first is called, variously, “the rebellion” (NET, NLT, NIV, ESV); “the apostasy” (NASB, HCSB); and “a falling away” (KJV). There are three views of what this could be. One common view is that, toward the end of the Church Age before the Rapture, there will be an apostasy or falling away within the Church itself. This is prophesied in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, among other places. There will be people within the Church who are either not believers at all or weak, immature Christians who will fall away from the faith. This is the view promoted in Walvoord and Zuck’s Bible Knowledge Commentary. The translation “rebellion” presupposes this view. A second view is that this refers to the Rapture itself. Because the Greek word ἀποστασία (apostasia) simply means “departure,” and since it is prefixed with the definite article (“the departure”), some hold that there is only one specific departure Paul had already taught them about – the departure of the Church from this world, the Rapture. This view is held by Dr. Olander (The Greatness of the Rapture, Tyndale Seminary Press, Hurst, TX). The third view is that this will be a departure from the true faith, after the Rapture, by those who had only professed belief but were not true Christians. Constable promotes this view in his Notes on 2 Thessalonians (soniclight.com). This view seems less likely, because it seems that Paul thought his readers would see the apostasy, which they would not do if they had already been raptured, something he was also certain they would experience.

The second event that must occur before the day of the Lord is that “the man of lawlessness” must be revealed. Interestingly, although it is commonly used in Christian churches and theology books, the term “Antichrist” is never applied by the biblical writers specifically to the coming world ruler. In fact, John referred to anyone who denied the Word made flesh as an antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7). However, Paul used a series of phrases to describe how evil this man will be: “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction…the lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). He will publicly and unashamedly oppose and place himself above all gods, to the point that he will set himself up to be worshiped in God’s Temple in Jerusalem (a fulfillment of Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15). Since his arrival will come “with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders and with every kind of evil deception” and since his revealing must take place before the Day of the Lord and since that had not (and still has not) yet happened, Paul comforted his readers that they had not entered the Day of the Lord.

The third event that will precede the Day of the Lord is that “the one who holds him back will [be]…taken out of the way” before he is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Again, there has been great debate over who or what restrains the lawless one. The two most common views are that the Church or the Holy Spirit is restraining him. Those who believe the Church to be the restrainer say that the Rapture will release Antichrist to begin his campaign, since there will be no godly influence in his way. However, the Church is not more powerful than Satan, except through the power of God, so even that view unintentionally bows to the second. Only the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to stay Satan’s work in this world. After the Rapture, when the Church is removed from Satan’s attacks and God’s coming wrath, will the Holy Spirit release his hold on “the hidden power of lawlessness [which] is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

The chapter ends with Paul’s word of thanks, again, that his readers would not have to go through that time and an encouragement to hold fast to what he had already taught them on this subject, rather than being tossed around by false teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

1 Corinthians 7

Chapter seven introduces a new section of this letter in which Paul answered some specific questions from the church – marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7); Christian freedom (ch. 8-10); spiritual gifts (ch. 12-14); and the resurrection of the dead (ch. 15).

Regarding marriage and sexuality, Paul made four specific clarifications. First, sexual relations are to be maintained as a normal part of a Christian marriage, and this is the limit of sexual activity for a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:1-7). Within marriage, sex is not to be used as a way to manipulate one’s spouse, but each spouse is to consider his or her body the other’s. If a couple is to go without sex for a long period of time, it should be by mutual consent with a plan to resume as soon as possible. 1 He did note that this was a personal concession of his. It seems he was not married and thought celibacy to be a perfectly good option (and possibly even a spiritual gift).

Second, for Christians who are not married, Paul recommended that they remain unmarried like he was (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). However, if they simply could not contain their sexual desires, then they should get married, so they would not fall into sexual sin.

Third, for Christians who are married, Paul had nothing more to say than what Jesus had already taught, namely, they should remain married and not get divorced (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). The occasion of adultery was Jesus’ sole exception (Matthew 19:9). If a Christian couple were to divorce (except because of unfaithfulness), they must remain unmarried or be reconciled to each other.

Fourth, in the case of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, Paul was more lenient in matters of divorce and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). His one rule was that the believer should not file for divorce. However, if the unbeliever files, the believer is to let the unbeliever go, and then the believer is free to remarry. 2 The reason that the believer should not leave is because of the testimony he or she can have with the unbelieving spouse and children (see also 1 Peter 3:1-6).

The problem is that marriage is a lifetime commitment, often entered into too young and immature. Over time, people think the grass is greener somewhere else, so they look for reasons to escape. Paul said that should not be. With the few exceptions just mentioned, believers should remain in whatever state they find themselves (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

Because of the expected persecution that was coming, Paul thought it wise to avoid marriage altogether (1 Corinthians 7:25-40). This is not because he disliked marriage (as he is often charged) but because marriage takes commitment and time, both of which could be used to further the Church if people did not marry. However, for those who choose to marry, they should do so knowing that would become their top priority. At the end he also mentioned that widows are free to remarry as well, as long as they do so “in the Lord.”

Notes:

  1. Paul’s mention of prayer shows that this is can be considered a type of fasting. However, medical issues and other reasons may also require periods without sexual activity.
  2. While this sounds as if it should be simple, divorce cases almost never are. I have written at length about this in my book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Fresh Help and Hope from the Bible (Xulon Press, 2007).

1 Corinthians 3

Chapter three provides our first look at the spiritual level of these believers. In chapter one Paul said that they were divided rather than united, but 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 finally reveals why. For Paul, all people can be classified into three spiritual states. First are the “unregenerate,” those who have not believed in Christ for salvation. Their lives are driven by their sinful natures. Second are the “carnal” or “fleshly,” those who have believed in Christ for salvation (truly saved) but are still driven by their sinful natures, like the unregenerate. Paul also refers to these as “infants in Christ.” A bystander may not be able to tell the difference between an unregenerate person and a carnal Christian. 1 Third are the “spiritual,” those who have believed in Christ for salvation and are driven by the Holy Spirit. Continuing the infant analogy, Paul said that they had been saved long enough to be able to handle “solid food” (probably “the deep things of God” in 1 Corinthians 2:10), but instead they were still dependent on “milk.”

These people were so wrapped up in individual accomplishments and recognition that they had turned the church of God into personality cults behind the apostles (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Could they not see that Paul and Apollos and the others were simply servants carrying out God’s work? One of the greatest principles any church leader or member must hold to is that, no matter who “planted” or “watered…God caused it to grow.” Those who faithfully carry out the planting and watering will receive rewards based on their work, but no one can grow the church of God except God himself. 2 We simply have the privilege of working alongside him.

Quickly changing analogies, Paul shifted from a field to a building (1 Corinthians 3:9-15). 3 Now he was a builder, laying the foundation for the Corinthians upon which they could build their lives and church. Paul reminded them that nothing is worth building if not built on Jesus; he is the only solid foundation (see Psalm 127:1 and Matthew 7:24-27 for similar concepts). However, it is left to each Christian how he or she will build on that foundation. Some will build with high quality materials (“gold, silver, precious stones”) while others will use low quality materials (“wood, hay, or straw”). These materials are the works that we accomplish in this life. 4 On “the Day” (the Judgment Seat of Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:10) those works will be tested by God’s judgment fire. Those buildings that survive the judgment will bring reward; those that do not survive will reveal only loss. However, Paul was quick to add that reward was the only loss, never salvation itself.

Because of the coming judgment of our works and lives, Paul closed this chapter with a warning (1 Corinthians 3:16-23). We must be mindful that God’s Holy Spirit indwells us, so we should manage our lives well. We must intentionally trade in worldly wisdom, which is not wisdom at all, for godly wisdom which will benefit us eternally. We must give up our silly factions and temporal desires, remembering that we can inherit all things with Christ, if we would remain faithful to him, as he remained faithful to God.

Notes:

  1. This is one of the most devastating passages for proponents of Lordship Salvation, who teach that a Christian cannot live extended periods of time in sin. Whereas they would question the person’s salvation, Paul questioned only their maturity, while still acknowledging they were truly “in Christ.” While a Christian should not live like this, it is biblically wrong to say that he or she cannot live like this.
  2. Jesus plainly declared, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
  3. Much has been written about Paul’s liberal use of mixed metaphors throughout his writing. One has to pay attention or risk getting lost as he tended to jump from one illustration to another with no warning, as shown in 1 Corinthians 3:9.
  4. Paul’s word selection in 2 Corinthians 5:10 when referring to the same judgment shows that he meant the quality of our works, probably based on our hearts and motives, not just the quantity.

Zechariah 9

Chapter nine begins the second major section of this book. Whereas the first section has time pointers (Zechariah 1:1, 7; 7:1), chapters 9-14 are not dated at all. Additionally, whereas the first section was primarily focused on Israel in Zechariah’s time with mentions of Messiah’s kingdom, these final chapters almost exclusively point to the kingdom with mentions of Zechariah’s day.

This chapter begins as if it were an oracle or prophecy against the regions and cities named: Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, Sidon, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashdod (Zechariah 9:1-7). Instead, it is primarily a prophecy for Israel, which will affect those places, and the rest of the chapter explains the prophecy’s promise, method, and result.

The promise is that God himself would surround his Temple and protect it from any further attacks from the nations (Zechariah 9:8). The method he will use will be the coming of Israel’s promised King (Zechariah 9:9-10). Riding a donkey instead of a war horse symbolized peace, and God promised that Messiah himself will finally bring peace to Israel. Jesus fulfilled the first part of this when he entered into his Temple after riding a donkey into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-13). He will fulfill the second part when he rides his horse out of heaven and defeats all of Israel’s enemies (Revelation 19:11-21), establishing “his dominion…from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.” The result will be that prisoners would be released, and the people would rise up again (Zechariah 9:11-17). They will enjoy God’s blessings of food and drink, joy and revelry, and new generations of God’s people.

Mark 16

Chapter sixteen requires some examination. Due to a series of variants between Greek manuscripts, this chapter could end with verse eight, verse eight plus a closing tag, or include all twenty verses. Most conservative scholarship agrees that Mark 16:9-20 were not included in Mark’s original writing. This causes concern for some, though, because, while the first eight verses do record Jesus’ resurrection and the angelic appearance, none of the detail in the other gospels is included, and verse eight ends in fear, not what the resurrection was meant to convey.

However, that is not to say that the other verses are not authentic. The writing style does not match the rest of Mark, but it is possible that Mark wrote the ending later. This would account for some manuscripts having the ending. However, another explanation is possible as well. It may be that someone, with or without Mark’s approval, compiled a few “good” events to finish the story with a happier ending.

Although the final verses were definitely not written at the same time as the rest, and it is impossible to know for sure if they are authentic, a quick look over them reveals nothing that contradicts the rest of Scripture. Mark 16:9-11 records the unbelief of the disciples upon receiving word of Jesus’ resurrection, as attested in the other gospels. Mark 16:12-14 match Luke’s account (24:13-43) of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus and his subsequent appearance to the Eleven. The commission in Mark 16:15 is similar to Matthew 28:19. Mark 16:19-20 records his ascension and the disciples’ obedience in preaching the gospel.

Only Mark 16:16-18 is specifically unaccounted for, and they have caused a great deal of debate over the centuries. However, if we approach them in their context, without the need to build entire doctrines out of them, they still do not contradict clear Scripture. In Mark 16:16 it sounds as if baptism is necessary for salvation along with belief. However, even the verse itself singles out faith alone in the second half. Additionally, the apostles preached the importance of baptism alongside salvation (though not for salvation) throughout the early years of the Church, especially to the Jewish people. A comparison of Mark 16:16 with Acts 2:38-41 could show Peter’s influence on the later addition.

Even Mark 16:17-18 does not contradict other revealed Scripture. The fact that we do not have record of Jesus saying these things elsewhere does not mean that he did not. In fact, in the Upper Room he told the Eleven that they would continue to perform miracles (John 14:12), and throughout the Apostolic Age of the Church, some people did do miracles under the direction of the apostles. Although these verses should not be used to say that these miracles would continue indefinitely, it is true that they did happen for several decades.

The final point of note in this chapter is the singular mention of one apostle, Peter (Mark 16:7). Mark alone records the angel saying, “Go, tell his disciples, even Peter.” It is impossible to know if the women told him this privately, but Peter certainly held dearly the knowledge that Jesus called him back by name. That the Holy Spirit allowed Peter’s apprentice, Mark, to record this forever was an act of extraordinary grace.

Mark 10

Chapter ten contains a series of final encounters and teachings that Mark considered important leading up to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Although Mark recorded that Jesus was teaching the crowds, he did not say what the topic was. However, since the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”, it is possible that Jesus was teaching about marriage (Mark 10:1-12). Jesus countered their trap with the simple teaching of Scripture, that divorce was a divine concession, but God’s plan is always a permanent union between a man and woman. Adultery was the only legitimately grounds for divorce Jesus gave that still fit within the Mosaic Law. (See my book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage for more on this topic.)

Later, a man came to Jesus; Mark is the only writer to note that he was running (Mark 10:17-22). Although he was very careful to obey the Law, he knew that there must be something more. His question about eternal life was not about salvation in the Christian sense; he wanted to be sure that he was good enough to enter Messiah’s kingdom (see Matthew 5:20). Knowing the man’s heart, Jesus revealed that his money was his god, and that he would not part with it, even to get into the kingdom. Rather than seeing wealth as an automatic indication of God’s favor, Jesus noted that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom, because money and God require exclusive allegiance (Matthew 6:24). Peter must have thought that they would receive special reward for giving up their possessions to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28-31), but if that was the basic expectation, what would they gain? Jesus assured him that they would gain far more following him than they could ever give up.

Following another prophecy of his own death and resurrection (Mark 10:32-34), James and John approached Jesus to make a specific request about their kingdom inheritance; namely, they wanted the positions of power right next to him (Mark 10:35-45). Although this angered the other disciples, Jesus was more concerned with their lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation. Promising him they could handle anything they faced, they did not expect Jesus’ answer. Yes, they would face great suffering, but he could not promise them anything in the kingdom beyond what he had told them previously (Matthew 19:28). This led to yet another discussion on the link between greatness and service.

As his final miracle, literally on his way to present himself in Jerusalem, Jesus healed a blind beggar identified as Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). He had obviously been waiting for Jesus to come that way again and would not accept the crowd’s rejection until he could meet Jesus personally. When Jesus demanded that they let him come, Bartimaeus’ request was simple: “Rabbi, let me see again.” This simple faith was enough for Jesus. He healed him immediately, and Bartimaeus followed Jesus into Jerusalem.