This book follows on from the close of Luke. We find the disciples acting in the intelligence of the scriptures, though not yet having been given the power of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles embraces the revelation of the gift of the Holy Spirit and His workings: first, at Jerusalem, where He is rejected by Israel; next, in His free operation outside Israel; and, lastly, in Paul, connected with the revelation of the church among the Gentiles at large, closing with his being delivered by the Jews to the Gentiles and his being sent a prisoner to Rome.
The coming of the Holy Spirit, overleaps Babel in grace by the gift of tongues: the first sign of His presence. We see the moral effects of His presence in devotedness and unity, and, forming the assembly, the remnant in Israel are added to it. “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” But He still proposes to Israel the return of Christ (founded on Christ’s intercession on the cross) upon their repentance; while declaring that the heavens must receive Him till the times when all that the prophets had said should be established. But Israel rejects His testimony. Christ is exalted and the Holy Spirit comes down. The disciples pursue their testimony in patience in spite of Israel’s opposition, and are confirmed in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is manifested in power, as God’s presence in the assembly on earth, searching the hearts of men. He ministers to unity and order even in temporal things, acting now in liberty according to faith and faithfulness in instruments of His own choice.
This free action of the Holy Spirit calls out the final judgment of Israel, on every principle of relationship of God with man, but their conduct is characterised throughout by resistance to the Holy Spirit. This is accompanied by the opening of heaven to Stephen, who was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave the testimony that they now resisted. His thorough likeness to Christ, through seeing Him in glory, is beautifully brought out; his death on the earth, and his being received into heaven. The making good church blessings in connection with Israel plainly becomes impossible. Here it is that Saul, the enemy, first comes in.
And now, before turning to any more positive facts, you get the free action of the Holy Spirit extending the gospel outside Jerusalem, consequent on persecution. Next, we find Saul, the apostle of enmity against Christ, broken and brought down by Christ, revealed in supreme heavenly glory, but identifying all Christians with Himself, as being Himself, “why persecutest thou me?”
Peter’s testimony to Christ has been that the Messiah, the Prince of life, whom they had rejected, had been exalted by God. Paul immediately preached that He is the Son of God. Peter never preached Him as Son of God. Paul’s preaching consequently embraces heavenly glory and the unity of the saints with Christ.
But Saul, while owned of the disciples, is laid aside for a time. Peter’s ministry continues; and the first Gentile is added to the church, whilst maintaining its constituted unity. The previous free action of the Holy Spirit outside Jerusalem at Samaria had been connected with it by Peter and John going down, and the disciples’ receiving the Holy Spirit by the laying on of their hands.
We now find the same free action of the Holy Spirit going to mere Gentiles in the great Grecian capital, Antioch. The connection with Jerusalem is still kept up by the apostles sending Barnabas there. He goes and fetches Saul. We have then the testimony through prophets (another sign of the Holy Spirit), this same connection being maintained in another way, The prophets come from Jerusalem, and in result they of Antioch send help to those in Judea. We have then the proof of the service of angels to the church. This closes this part of the Acts.
We now have Paul’s ministry. The Holy Spirit now calls, separating Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them, and they are sent forth by the Holy Spirit. It is a new kind of apostle. The first thing we find is a figure of the total blinding of the Jews who resist the Holy Spirit, and the eyes of Gentiles opened to believe. Notwithstanding this, Paul (for he is now called Paul) according to the Lord’s mind always goes first to the Jews, and afterwards to the Greeks. John Mark leaves them. After having preached round, they choose elders for the churches. It is only among the Gentiles that we read of this. He then returns to Antioch, and there we find what the result of the laying on of their hands had been. They had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they had now fulfilled. “And there they abode long time with the disciples.”
The church having now been freely established on heavenly principles outside Jerusalem, Satan seeks to introduce confusion by bringing in the law. ; God, to maintain unity, causes the matter to be referred to Jerusalem, so that the apostles there, and the church, should themselves declare the Gentiles free. The points to which they were subjected were not introduced by the law, but expressed the title of God in Himself and to all life, and the maintenance of the original purity in which God had originally constituted man upon earth. I see authority here within the church in the apostles. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,” with perfect liberty of ministry.
They dismiss Judas and Silas; and then we get another thing: Paul gathers fellow-labourers round himself: first Silas, then Timothy, whom he circumcises. T his was completely illegal. He never rose more above the law than here. Now, we get the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit in the carrying out of his ministry; but he had to be guided by divine intimations. Then we have Paul pursuing his ministry – kept of God everywhere – the very demons forced to own him – and as competent as the other apostles to confer the Holy Spirit: free ministry, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, still going on.
As Paul, returns to Jerusalem, he intimates that it was the close of his ministry in those parts to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus. He predicted the efforts of Satan, and calling upon them to watch and labour with the same earnestness and energy as had marked his own labours amongst them. He expected the elders to maintain themselves. He now returns to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit warning him, and the disciples telling him by the Spirit, not to go up. On the suggestion of the elders at Jerusalem, he accommodates himself to Jewish ceremonies, the believers at Jerusalem being all zealous of the law. This brings him into captivity; but the effect of the captivity is to bring him into the place of testimony before the Jews, who refuse grace to the Gentiles, and then before Lysias, Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Nero. But he is a prisoner all the time, and as such he worked at Rome. This closes the testimony to the Jews; and thus the history of the dissemination of the gospel in apostolic times.
Originally by JND. Lightly edited by Sosthenes, September 2014
– Se A Brief Outline of the Books of the Bible for the original