ACTS - CHAPTER 4
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the
temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,”
From the beginning it was
apparent, that with few exceptions, the leaders of the Jews had closed their minds
and hardened their hearts against the truth; and not content with their own rejection
of Christ, neither would they tolerate the preaching of the gospel which declared Him
to be the Savior, not only of the believing Jew, but of the believing Gentile as
Little has changed since
that early day. Now, as then, it is
organized religion which proves itself the implacable foe of the Truth.
“Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the
resurrection from the dead.”
The distinction between
teaching and preaching should be noted, for preaching emphasizes the gospel, while
teaching is related more to sound doctrine. The
one has in view the unconverted; the other, the believer.
The great commission emphasizes this, for in Mk 16:15 the Lord’s command is,
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” but in Mt
28:19 it is, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations... teaching them to observe
all things whatsoever I have commanded you....”
The preaching of the gospel
is largely the work of the evangelists, while teaching is the responsibility of the
elders and teachers.
The truth that so angered
the Jewish leaders was not only that Jesus had risen from among the dead, but that
all who would trust Him as Savior were guaranteed the same resurrection, a
prerequisite of that physical resurrection being the resurrection out of spiritual
death that occurs the moment the sinner puts his trust in Christ.
It is they who have had that spiritual resurrection who are assured of the
physical resurrection should death touch their bodies before the Lord’s return.
“And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it
was now eventide.”
The opposition of the Jewish
leaders wasn’t confined merely to words: they didn’t hesitate to use physical
force on these servants of Christ. And
small wonder. As the Lord Jesus Christ
Himself had declared, “The servant is not greater than his lord” (Jn 13:16).
These same men hadn’t hesitated to lay hands on Christ, to spit upon Him,
pluck the hairs from His cheeks, and crucify Him.
See also John 16:1-4. And the
history of the Church reveals all too clearly that the character of religious
opposition hasn’t changed in two thousand years.
There is a special
significance to the phrase “for it was now eventide.”
A spiritually blind Israel failed to recognize that it was also the
“eventide” of her day of grace. A
patient God had waited long, giving her countless opportunities to repent, but that
sorely tried patience was almost exhausted. It
was soon to be replaced with the outpouring of His wrath which would see rebellious
Israel cut off and scattered among the Gentiles for almost two thousand years.
It is a fearful thing for
either man or nation to exhaust the patience of the Almighty.
“Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the
men was about five thousand.”
The combined power of Satan
and men was powerless against the gospel, for “It is the power of God unto
salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Ro
The word that is translated
“men” is masculine, so that the number of converts, which would include probably
as many women as men, was considerably more than five thousand.
The gospel proved itself to be the power which God has declared it to be.
Gaebelein makes an
interesting comment in connection with the numbering of converts, “This is the last
time that converts are numbered. There
can be no numbering in this church age.... numbering is only on Kingdom ground.”
Those obsessed with numbers today would do well to ponder this observation.
“And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and
“And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as
many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at
To the eye of man this
company, representing all the power of Jewish leadership, was a very imposing body,
and might well have intimidated anyone except those who saw things from the divine
perspective. The resurrection of Christ,
however, had shown how little power that august body had in spite of all its outward
grandeur. The combined might of military
Rome, and religious Israel, as represented by the seal on the door of the tomb, had
been powerless to hold Him Who had declared, “I am the resurrection, and the
life” (Jn 11:25). Those who had been
privileged to see the risen Christ were little impressed by the posturing of men, and
we who have been privileged to see Him by faith, should be equally indifferent to the
vaunted might of mere worms of the dust who receive their breath from the hand they
dared to nail to the cross.
“And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by
what name, have ye done this?”
Like all other natural men,
they understood nothing of spiritual realities, because they didn’t know the Lord
Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (1 Co 2:14). And
so in their blindness they must ask, “By what power, or by what name, have ye done
this?” even though the One Who was both the Power and the Name had walked in their
midst, and validated His claims by the miracles He had performed in front of them,
including the raising of the dead.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the
people, and elders of Israel,”
That same Power by which
Peter confounded the wisdom of the Jewish rulers is available to every believer, but
if that power of the Holy Spirit is to be available to us, He must be unquenched and
ungrieved by being given our total obedience both in regard to what He commands us to
do, and what He forbids us to do.
“If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by
what means he is made whole;”
As those Jewish leaders, in
their haughty ignorance, had dared to sit in judgment upon the Lord, so would they
now pass judgment upon His servants, forgetting that man’s little day is a very
fleeting thing, and that God has appointed a day in which all men will be judged by
that same Christ, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment
unto the Son: that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father....”
And Peter reminded them that
they were sitting in judgment upon him for a good deed done, ignorant of the
awful fact that they themselves must stand before Peter’s Lord to be judged for
their evil deeds, the number of those deeds being increased by what they were doing
that very day. But as it was with the
servant, so had it been with the Master: they had judged Him too, not for evil, but
for good, for having confessed Himself to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
“... to the impotent
man.” In our study of chapter three we noted that that man is a double
type, (1) of man in his natural state, (2) of Israel in her unbelief; and as also
noted there, his healing should have reminded them, as it has so many others, of what
was written in their own Scriptures, “Then shall the lame man leap as an
hart....” (Isa 35:6). If we today can
see in the healing of that impotent man a picture of what was available to Israel, if
she would but believe, then they had no excuse, except that of wilful blindness for
their failure to see that picture, and to profit by it that very day.
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name
of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even
by him doth this man stand here before you whole.”
God is here still dealing
exclusively with Israel. She must have
the gospel preached to her first. Peter
began by using the Lord’s human name Jesus meaning Savior, for it is as
Savior that the Jews, and all men, must receive Him.
But added to the human name is the title that specially links Him with the
nation of Israel: He was God’s Anointed, Israel’s Messiah.
He is the Christ. (For the
significance of Nazareth, see comments on 2:22).
It is significant that upon
his return from Egypt, Joseph and his family “came and dwelt in a city called
Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be
called a Nazarene” (Mt 2:23). God
would have His Son linked with Nazareth, and for a very good reason.
He Who is set before us in the OT under the figure of The BRANCH was to live
in the city which has the same meaning, so that Israel might see the connection, and
recognize that He Who came forth out of Nazareth was the long-promised Messiah.
If we today can see the connection between the six OT references to Christ as
The Branch, and the meaning of Nazareth out of which “The Branch” came, then
there was no reason why those Jewish leaders shouldn’t also have seen the same
connection. Blinded eyes, and hardened
hearts, however, will see no truth no matter how clearly declared.
The second meaning of
Nazareth preservation is equally apt, for preservation from hell and the lake
of fire is to be found only in “the man whose name is The BRANCH” (Zec 6:12).
“... whom ye crucified”
settles the question as to the identity of those who were responsible for the
Lord’s death. God holds the Jews
accountable for that crime.
“... whom God raised from
the dead” is more accurately “from among the dead.”
It is not just that Christ has been restored to life: He has been raised from
among the dead to be “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor 15:20), i.e.,
the firstfruits of the great harvest of those who will also be resurrected from among
the unbelieving dead because of their faith in Him as the One “Who was delivered
for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Ro 4:25).
It was through the power of
the resurrected Christ that the once impotent man had received “perfect
soundness” (3:16). His healing went
beyond the physical: he had received also spiritual soundness; and though that healed
body would eventually die, it would be raised again never to die, through the power
of Him Who had Himself “tasted death for every man,” and had then risen again as
Victor over death and hell.
“This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become
the head of the corner.”
The reference here is to Ps
118:22, reminding us, as it should have reminded those Jewish leaders, that the Jesus
they so despised and hated, was indeed the One Whose coming was foretold in
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under
heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
The connection between what
He was, and the meaning of His name is emphasized here, for Jesus, the Greek form of
Joshua, means Jehovah is salvation. That
One they had rejected and crucified, but Whom God had raised again, was their God and
their Savior. And the absolute necessity
of being saved through faith in Him is declared by the imperative “must.”
Salvation is not an option of little consequence.
It saves men from hell and the lake of fire, and fits them for heaven.
The words “given among
men” remind us that He Who was God deigned to become man that He might redeem men,
for there could be no redemption apart from the shedding of blood; but as God, Christ
could not die: He must become man in order to shed that precious atoning blood which
alone could wash away man’s sin.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they
were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that
they had been with Jesus.”
This refutes the erroneous
teaching abroad today that we need educated, polished speakers to minister in the
Church. Those who confounded the wisdom
of the educated Jewish leaders and teachers were “unlearned and ignorant men,”
i.e., as another has put it, “without schooling or skill.” God’s estimate of worldly wisdom is clearly declared in 1 Cor 1
and 2, e.g., “For Christ sent me... to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words,
lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.... For after that in the
wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of
preaching to save them that believe.... For ye see your calling, brethren, how that
not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but
God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.... I came to
you, not with excellency of speech or of wisdom.... For I determined not to know
anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.... My speech and my
preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the
Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in
the power of God.” See also further
the reference to Paul’s appearance and speech, “... his bodily presence is weak,
and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10).
There is no more deadly
teaching than that which insists upon the need of educated ministers.
It was that same pernicious teaching early in the history of the Church, which
produced what has been the bane of the Church: the clerical system.
What is desperately needed
today is not educated ministers, trained in the Bible schools and seminaries, but men
like Peter and John - men who have been with Jesus.
“And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say
nothing against it.”
Evidence which made verbal
denial impossible, failed, however, to produce any change in those hardened
unbelieving hearts, reminding us that what comes from the lips isn’t necessarily
the expression of what is in the heart. In
spite of their inability to verbally deny the miracle, those Jewish leaders in their
hearts refused the evidence of the power of God at work in their midst. Nor has anything changed. The
world’s leaders, religious and political, still refuse the incontrovertible
evidence of God’s existence, and of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they
conferred among themselves,”
Treating God’s servants
like criminals, though they themselves were the real offenders, the Jewish leaders
ignored the miracle they couldn’t deny, and sought how they might punish those who
had been simply instruments in the hand of God.
There are no eyes as blind as those which will not see; no ears as deaf as
those which will not hear; nor understanding as dull as that which will not
A practical lesson we
shouldn’t miss is conveyed by the words “standing with them.”
The healed man stood with those who had been the instruments of his healing.
We should stand with those who have been our spiritual benefactors: those who
presented us with the gospel, and those who have nurtured our souls.
“Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle
hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot
How much wiser they would
have been to simply ask, as did those addressed by Peter in 2:37, “What shall we
do?” But hearts hardened against the gospel - and therefore blind to
the fact that the road they travel leads to destruction - focus in their folly upon
how they may destroy those who would warn them to flee from the wrath to come.
Those Jewish leaders pronounced their own condemnation by acknowledging their
frustration at being unable to deny that a notable miracle had been done.
They would, if they could, have denied that miracle.
“But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten
them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.”
Those Jewish leaders
continued to exhibit the same perverse spirit that called forth the Lord’s scathing
rebuke, “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the
kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye
them that are entering to go in” (Mt 23:13). And
such has been the attitude of godless religion up to the present day, for it has been
from organized religion that the most venomous persecution of the Church has come,
and continues to come.
The importance of the name
of Jesus may be gathered from the fact that their prohibition was against preaching
in that name which is above every other.
“And they called them, and commanded
them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”
The “speaking” refers to
the preaching of the gospel, while the “teaching” relates to the instruction of
converts. Believers are responsible to
do both, for in Mk 16:15 the command is to preach the gospel; but in Mt 28:19-29 it
is to also baptize and teach.
“But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the
sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”
This sets in proper
perspective the command of Paul in Ro 13:1-7 relative to the believer’s
responsibility under human government. We
are to obey government, but not beyond the point where that obedience would make us
disobedient to God.
“For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
This goes beyond the mere
fact of their being under obligation to obey the Lord’s command to preach the
gospel: it announces rather an inward compulsion which it was impossible for them to
resist. The Word was in them, as the
Lord Himself had said it would be in every believer, “as a well of water springing
up into everlasting life” (Jn 4:14). Just
as in a spring well, the water bubbles up by an unseen force, so does the Word bubble
up by the Spirit’s power in every obedient believer, so that it is impossible for
him not to preach the gospel. He
who has no desire to spread the gospel should examine himself as to whether he has
indeed ever drunk of that living water.
“So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing
how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that
which was done.”
Were it not that it is
recorded in Scripture, it would be impossible to believe that there could be such
response, not to some evil act, but to the healing of a crippled man.
The true state of the natural heart is disclosed in the reluctance with which
they let the disciples go, and the frustration they felt at their failure to find
some excuse to punish them. The common
people clearly possessed more wisdom than their leaders, for they “glorified God
for that which was done.”
“For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was
Whether multiplied to forty,
four hundred, etc., the number four is the Biblical number of testing, so that the
reference to the man’s age reminds us that the nation of which he was a type, was
being tested by the gospel. Had they but
exercised the same faith as he, they too would have been given the same perfect
The gospel is the touchstone
that tests the human race, for by their acceptance or rejection of it, men fit
themselves either for the eternal happiness of heaven, or the eternal horror of the
lake of fire.
“And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the
chief priests and elders had said unto them.”
Released from the company of
their enemies, they hurried back to the company of those with whom they were united
through the common bond of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the marks of a genuine believer is that he seeks the company of those
who are also of the household of faith. A
believer’s enjoyment of the company of the unconverted indicates a carnal
“And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one
accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all that in them is:”
They were quick to see the
overruling of God, their reference to Him as the Creator being the confession of
their belief that all things were under His control.
What peace attends the faith which believes implicitly that, “All
things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28)! This is the living faith that banishes every anxious thought, and
enables the believer to walk amid every earthly circumstance, in the enjoyment of
that peace spoken of in Php 4:6-7, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by
prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts
and minds through Christ Jesus.”
“Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage,
and the people imagine vain things?”
The reference is to Psalm 2,
and their quoting that portion of Scripture reminds us that for us, as for them, the
basis of our faith is what God has written. In
neglecting the study of Scripture we impoverish ourselves, for it is there we find
the promises which nurture faith.
The Lord’s resurrection
exposed the futility of all human anger and schemes.
The God with Whom man has to do is the God of resurrection, Whose power is far
above that of puny man.
“The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together
against the Lord, and against his Christ.”
The reference to God as the
Creator sets everything in perspective, for whether the rebellion be that of Satan or
man, it is the rebellion of the creature against the Creator, and therefore futile.
“His Christ” is
literally “His Anointed.” It is a
title rather than a name; and the unity of the Father and the Son is declared by the
fact that what the rulers and kings had done to Christ was done against God, though
the rebels in their blindness were ignorant of that fact.
The same indissoluble unity
linking the Lord and His redeemed is declared in His own words, “Inasmuch as ye
have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”
(Mt 25:40), and is announced again in the Lord’s words to Saul in Ac 9:4 relative
to his persecution of believers, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
We comprehend but little what a privileged place we occupy as members of that
mystical body of which He is the Head.
“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both
Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered
The reference here, and in
verse 30, to Christ as “thy holy child Jesus,” is unusual, and may be designed to
remind us that apart from His willing assumption of humanity, the Lord Jesus Christ
was beyond the power of man to touch. It
was only as man that He could die.
It is to be noted, however,
that God is careful to preserve the distinction between the Man Jesus and all other
men. He alone was holy, for He was
begotten by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was born without the sinful nature with
which all others come into this world. His
was no acquired holiness. It was
inherent. As an infant in Mary’s arms,
He was as holy as was the Man of Whom God testified twice from an opened heaven,
“This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17; 17:5).
The inherent hatred of
man’s corrupt nature against that holiness is universal.
It is in the heart of the Gentile as well as the Jew, and the reference to
both Herod and Pilate reminds us that its murderous energy was directed as much
against Jesus the child as it was against Jesus the man, for in essence it is hatred
of God, and Jesus as man never ceased to be also God.
Paul declares the innate character of human nature, “... the carnal mind is
enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”
(Ro 8:7). It would, if it could, destroy
“For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be
This may not be taken to
imply that what men do is predestinated, for nothing could be clearer than that man
has a free will, e.g., “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (Jn
5:40). God’s sovereignty and man’s
free will are reconciled when we recognize that there are two parts to the divine
will: one, directive; the other, permissive, and when we take account of His
foreknowledge, for Scripture teaches that God does foreknow (a fact which itself
implies man’s freedom of choice). If
God has predestinated everything, then clearly foreknowledge is irrelevant.
Two Scriptures will suffice
to prove that God does foreknow, and that His foreknowledge and His predestination of
certain events, are two separate things, “For whom he did foreknow, he also
did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Ro 8:29); “Elect
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pe 1:2).
All difficulty disappears
when we understand that man has freedom of choice only within the sphere of God’s permissive
will. Such is the divine power, however,
that He can give man that freedom, and yet, within the sphere of His directive
will, order all things so that His own eternal purposes are accomplished.
It was by the operation of
His foreknowledge, and His giving man freedom of choice within the limits of His permissive
will, that God accomplished at Calvary what He had predestinated, that predestination
coming within the purview of His directive will.
“... thy hand and thy
counsel” are literally “thy power and wisdom.”
The wisdom of man could not have conceived the plan of salvation; nor, even
had he conceived it, did man possess the power to execute it, for an essential part
of it was the resurrection of the One Who would become man’s Substitute.
Only God possesses that power!
“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that
will all boldness they may speak thy word,”
Having witnessed God’s
omnipotence in the resurrection of Christ, those early believers were little
impressed with man’s imagined power; nor would they allow men’s threats to divert
them from their God-appointed work: the proclamation of the gospel.
They would leave with God the matter of their own protection from the schemes
of the Jewish rulers. Their concern was
that they might be given the courage and the power to so preach Christ crucified and
risen again, that men would trust Him as Savior.
“By stretching forth thine hand to heal: and that signs and wonders may be
done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.”
Having seen the great number
of converts (verse 4) that had resulted from the healing of the lame man, they prayed
that God would perform similar miracles, so that more might be saved; and we cannot
but sense the reality of their concern. Theirs
was no halfhearted prayer. They meant
what they said. They wanted above all
else what they asked for.
Only when the same sincerity
marks our prayers will there be the same response from heaven, for we deceive
ourselves if we imagine that God is impressed with the parroted phrases that pass for
prayers at the average prayer meeting. One
of the evidences of genuine concern for men’s souls, is our willingness to bring
them the gospel. By that standard it is
clear that we have but little concern.
It is to be noted that
miraculous manifestation was for the early Apostolic age only, and should not be
expected today. Then God was still
dealing with Israel, and signs and wonders are for Israel, not for the Church. Israel was still being offered the millennial kingdom, and had she
been willing to accept the resurrected Christ as her Savior Messiah, the now
still-future seven year Tribulation era would have come then, to be ended by the
return of Christ in power and glory to establish the Kingdom - and the eternal state
would have begun a thousand years ago. It was her unbelief as a nation that interrupted the continuity of
God’s program for Israel, and resulted in the bringing in of the Church age as a
parenthesis. Following the now imminent
rapture of the Church, however, God will begin again to deal with Israel, Daniel’s
seventieth week being the coming Tribulation era which will end with the return of
Christ to judge the nations, and establish His millennial kingdom.
Scripture leaves no doubt
that miraculous manifestation will be resumed in the coming Tribulation era, and the
reason is clear: those seven years will bring the conclusion of what began on the day
of Pentecost, but which was aborted by Israel’s unbelief, and the resultant end of
Jewish autonomy in AD 70. As noted
already, what has proved to be the beginning of the Church, would have been the
beginning of Israel’s millennial blessing, had she been obedient; and to ignore
this is to make meaningless the Lord’s offer of the Kingdom to Israel two thousand
“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled
together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of
God with boldness.”
The response to their prayer
was dramatic and immediate, and while certainly this may have been due to their
sincerity, it is clear that this is not by any means the normal response to prayer.
Scripture reveals that God, in His wisdom, sometimes delays His answers, and
not always for reasons we can discern, though some reasons are apparent, e.g., (1)He
would test our faith, and also the reality of our concern, (2) it is not the proper
time for the granting of the request (His time is best), (3) we ask according to an
imperfect understanding of what is best; and sometimes we ask amiss, but His answers
are given according to perfect wisdom and perfect love.
Sometimes He must say No.
Having regard to the fact
that they had already been filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we
learn from their now being filled again, not that there is what some insist upon: a
second and permanent filling of the Spirit, but that while the indwelling of
the Spirit is permanent, and common to all believers, the filling of the
Spirit is fluctuating, and dependent upon the measure of our obedience.
“... and they spake the
word of God with boldness.” Their
prayer was answered, for this was exactly what they had asked for (v. 29); and it is
to be noted that they had asked, not for temporal blessings for themselves, but for
that which would glorify God and benefit others.
One reason so many of our prayers go unanswered is that, as James declares,
“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your
lusts” (Jas 4:3).
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul:
neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but
they had all things common”
The unity of those early
believers was no mere outward form. They
loved the Lord, and they loved one another, and lived in the daily expectation of His
return, an event which, as already noted, could have taken place in but seven years,
for the Tribulation, still future, could have occurred then. It is significant that as the world stage was set then, so will it
be again following the rapture of the Church. Israel was in the land, under the dominion of the Romans, as she
will be again, under the dominion of the Roman empire revived.
The expectation of the
Lord’s imminent return, however, is a hope entertained by relatively few Christians
today; and the result is that instead of living for the things of the heaven we are
soon to enter, we live for the things of this present evil world.
Likewise in regard to
possessions: they remembered that all they had, had been given by God, and belonged
to him, they being simply stewards entrusted with the use of what He had committed to
their charge. They lived in the light of
the knowledge that at His return they would be required to give an account of their
stewardship. Both facts have been
largely lost sight of by the vast majority of present-day Christians.
This idyllic lifestyle was
short lived, however. It is one thing to
hold lightly, and esteem as of little value, what we expect to leave in a relatively
short time, but as the prospect of exchanging earth for heaven began to fade, so did
their estimate of the value of earthly possessions also change.
Many insist that the
lifestyle of the early Church should be ours also in every detail, but let’s take a
moment to examine whether this is God’s intention, for there is much in Scripture
to indicate otherwise.
First of all, the time would
have come inevitably when all the possessions would have been sold, leaving
what each man earned as the only source from which to minister to the needs of
others. But this would have required all to work, Paul himself commanding
them, “that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes 3:10), and
verse 11 makes it clear that there were those who simply refused to work, and
depended on the generosity of others for their support.
What God went along with
wasn’t necessarily what He ordained. The
system lent itself to abuse, and clearly was never intended by God to continue.
His order for the life of believers is plainly declared throughout the NT.
As the Lord Himself said, “For ye have the poor with you always, and
whenever ye will ye may do them good” (Mk 14:7).
There is no recorded command from God to believers to sell their possessions,
but rather, instruction to rich and poor alike as to how to conduct themselves in
their relations with one another. Even
in regard to slavery, no master was bidden to free his slaves, but rather master and
slave alike were instructed as to their dealings with one another.
There is no Scriptural
warrant for the communal lifestyle which some insist upon .
“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the
Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
The power of course was that
of an ungrieved and unquenched Holy Spirit, the same power that is available today,
but on the same conditions: He must be ungrieved and unquenched, the lack of that
power being itself the measure of our disobedience.
It is to be noted also that
the emphasis is placed upon the Lord’s resurrection, a theme little spoken about
today, and for an obvious reason. A
skeptical world is little interested in resurrection, and tends to mock even the
thought of such a thing, the result being that believers, afraid of the world’s
ridicule, don’t mention His resurrection. God,
however, would remind us of the importance of that miracle, for it is the proof that
that sacrifice offered at Calvary has been accepted by the Father, His acceptance of
the offering being also the sign of His acceptance of the offerer, i.e., those who
trust in Christ as savior. It is the
proof that as Christ has been raised from among the dead to die no more, so has every
believer been raised from spiritual death, placed forever beyond its power, so that
the believer’s departure from this life is spoken of, not as dying, but as
God would have us preach,
not only that Christ has been “delivered for our offenses,” but that he has also,
“been raised again for our justification” (Ro 4:25).
“... and great grace was
upon them all.” Grace is the bestowal
of undeserved blessing. The obedience of
those early believers made it possible for God to bestow great blessing upon them.
The same avenue of blessing is available to every believer today.
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were
possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that
Since we have already
discussed this in our study of verse 32 there is no need to dwell further on it here,
except to note again that it was largely the imminence of the Lord’s return that
impelled such willing sacrifice.
“And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto
every man according as he had need.”
As is made clear in chapter
five in connection with Annias and Sapphira, the Apostles were endowed with
supernatural knowledge which precluded the possibility of their being deceived in
regard to the genuineness of each man’s need.
That knowledge, however, was not possessed by others, for as noted already,
Paul later had to give commandment that each one, who was able, was to work in order
to support himself. Further legislation
in regard to the support of widows was also given, see 1 Tim 5:3-16.
“And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being
interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,”
“Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’
Joses is the Greek form of
Josiah, meaning he will be sustained of Jehovah; and Barnabas means son of
prophecy: son of consolation, and it is generally accepted that he is the same
Barnabas who is mentioned as being Paul’s companion until the sad split between
them recorded in 15:39.
There is special
significance in this mention of Joses Barnabas, for clearly he was not the only one
who sold land, and brought the price to the Apostles, see verse 34.
Inasmuch as he was a Levite he ought not to have possessed land, for in Josh
13:14 it is written “Only unto the tribe of Levi he gave none inheritance; the
sacrifices of the Lord God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as he said
unto them.” As a Levite he should have
demonstrated the significance of his name he will be sustained of Jehovah.
His sale of this land
therefore may perhaps indicate, not only his generosity, but also his obedience in
returning to the position which God had originally assigned to the Levites, for the
word used here for land indicates a whole farm or estate, rather than just a field.
With Joses Barnabas Christianity was no mere shibboleth: his conduct confirmed
his confession. His faith transformed his life.
Was it perhaps, not only his
kindness, but also his obedience that led the apostles to bestow the surname Barnabas
the son of consolation?