The churches of today bear no resemblance to the early churches, either in structure or in personal attributes. The first Christians had personal faith, and showed it personally. Because all of them did the same things, their love and devotion to God and others became legend. The idea in modern churches is: ‘Keep away, we are our own people. And if you leave us you are anathema!’
I have heard preachers defensively say that we ought not go back to the early churches for our model. The real reasons they say this is that the early churches made ultimate sacrifices of their own work, wealth, time and belongings! Many of today’s pastors live quite well, often with incomes greater than incomes of their individual fellows who pay them. That is why they do not want to return to early church ways.
Others, with open heart but without working through the ramifications, say we ought to go back to the early model. Are they really prepared to become as everyone else, with the same kind of income and collective belongings? Surely, if they mean it they will already be living like this anyway?
The principles we read of in this chapter are genuine. They are how Christians lived, caring for each other in the best of ways. We see little of this in our own day. Sadly, Christians are willing to give to God and His people, so long as they can keep their bank balances, cars, houses, goods and time. Anything that tends to take away any of these assets is to be ignored! God help us all to go back to the early churches and learn something of true humility and care, whether we are rich or poor, powerful or weak. And that goes for myself, too.
Verses 1 - 4
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
It is likely the disciples were staying at the same house they occupied earlier, belonging to Simon the leper, at Bethany.
It was the day of Pentecost and the disciples were “in one place”, the house. In Judaism Pentecost (shavuot: ‘festival of weeks’; ‘the fiftieth day’) is celebrated on the sixth of Sivan (and also on the seventh day, when outside Israel, to reflect the diaspora). Sivan (Assyrian: ‘to mark’, or ‘to appoint’, sim in Hebrew) is the third Jewish month. In modern times Sivan occurs between May 11th to June 9th, or, at the latest, June 9th to July 8th. A number of anniversaries are held during this period, including Pentecost.
Pentecost has several names: Hag Shavuot (‘Feast of Weeks’, Exodus 34:22); Yom ha-Bikkurim (the ‘Day of the First Fruits’, Numbers 28:26); and Hag ha-Kazir (‘The Harvest Feast’; Exodus 23:16). Rabbis refer to it as Azeret, meaning ‘solemn assembly’. It is regarded as an additional festival day, following on from Passover.
Pentecost was a mid-summer festival, marking the period between the end of the barley harvest and the start of the wheat harvest, when sheafs were waved before the people and before God, as an offering, on the first day after the Sabbath of the Passover. So, Shavuot falls 50 days after this day. For the Sadducees Shavuot always fell on a Sunday. At odds with them, the Pharisees kept the Shavuot on the day of rest, Saturday, the first day of Passover… the 51st day from the first day of Passover. There were other Jewish factions, with their own interpretations! This is given to show that caution should be used when trying to interpret the meaning of ‘sabbath’, in a variety of texts, etc., whenever examining anything with a Jewish connection.
In Jesus’ day two loaves made from the finest wheat were waved before the Lord in the Temple, and the first fruits of produce were taken to the Temple by local farmers and people, who were greeted by Levites singing songs. However, this simple feast was also symbolic, referring to the ‘giving of the Torah’ to the Hebrews after the Exodus. Synagogues and the Temple were adorned with plants and flowers, because, said the Jews, Sinai was a green mountain with trees.
Dairy products were (and still are) eaten to symbolise the Torah as nourishing ‘milk’. Others traditionally eat triangular pancakes, stuffed with cheese or meat, symbolizing ‘the Torah in three parts, given to a people of three parts (Levites, priests and people), on the third month through Moses, the third child of his parents’. As we can see, Judaism is complex and superstitious, with many religious traditions. And our ‘harvest festivals’ are based on these Jewish rites.
“the day of Pentecost was fully come”. This simply means it was now the day of the Pentecost feast. In context, ‘Pentecost’ means ‘the fiftieth day’, complying neither with Sadducees or Pharisees, but with older Jewish tradition. The feast was held annually in Jerusalem, the seventh week after Passover to celebrate the harvest. So we know that the time between Jesus going up into heaven (ascension) was forty days after He arose; and the time between His death and Pentecost was seven weeks.
In other words, the disciples were taught by Jesus for one month and ten days. After that, they travelled to Jerusalem, probably staying in Bethany; the wait between the ascension and Pentecost being just nine days. This accounts for the disciples travelling time from Galilee, and a short stay at Bethany, just a day or two.
The term “in one place” does not necessarily mean in one house or room. It just means ‘themselves’ (autos) or ‘the same’. Thus ‘Everyone was gathered with one accord’. That is, homothymadon, with one mind and one passion, or ‘to rush along in unison’. In other texts it speaks of the way the Holy Spirit creates one harmonious Church. The disharmony we see amongst us, then, is not reflective of ‘one mind’.
Bear in mind that it is not genuine believers who insist on strict scripture that cause disharmony, but those who place their own interpretations on plain texts and divide because of their false beliefs. As an example, it is not Christians who are at odds with Roman Catholicism - it is the Roman Catholic institution that is at odds with scripture.
Likewise, it is not genuine, critical, Christians who are at odds with charismaticism - it is charismaticism that is divisive and heretical, by ignoring scripture as it is written, and preaching an erroneous false gospel. Those who believe they are saved via Arminianism have believed a false gospel, called ‘anathema’ in scripture. They are not, then, according to that same scripture, born again and Christians. Rather, they are deluded and not brethren; therefore, any argument against them is not divisive or unchristian… division can only be caused between brethren, not between the saved and the unsaved! The unsaved are already and divinely separated from Believers.
We can look upon the phrase “with one accord” in two ways: firstly, the disciples were in Jerusalem (Bethany being just half a mile away) for one reason only – to wait for God to perform upon them a wondrous miracle. Secondly, they were of one mind in the sense of having the same Lord and same purpose. These meanings are unique to their experience. After this, ‘one accord’ generally refers to prayer and mutual aims.
The disciples were awake and waiting, just a day or two after arriving. They did not know how God would come to them, so when God came it was sudden, and the form of contact was unexpected. They were all sitting down, and they heard what sounded like a mighty rush of wind, but not from outside. The sound was inside the room and was evidently perceived to be heavenly, not natural. There was no actual wind, but the whole house was filled with the loud sound. Without doubt, in human terms, it was an anomaly!
Then, phenomena appeared before them, taking the shape of “cloven tongues like as of fire”. Each disciple saw these ‘tongues’ sit on each other’s heads, signifying that God was doing something to each individual. The words “like as” means exactly that – not actual fire, but ‘like’ fire, ‘as it were’, or ‘as though’, or ‘like as’. We may assume that what the disciples saw was ‘symbolic fire’, maybe flickering, being of the same kind as the fire that did not consume the bush in the desert; a signal that the Holy Spirit was present.
In this context, the word ‘tongue’ means something looking like a tongue, not an actual tongue. It was ‘cloven’ or diamerizō – cut in pieces. That is, the shapes were from one source and divided-up, each ‘piece’ coming to rest upon each head.
The tongue-shapes, by sitting on each head, showed everyone in the room that each was being blessed by God. What He blessed them with was Himself, the Holy Spirit. Each was now filled with the Holy Spirit. Before this time, between Christ’s ascension and this day (nine days) the Holy Ghost was not ‘available’ as a personal gift. Now, He entered each of them with divine power.
They were “filled with the Holy Spirit”, or ‘fulfilled’ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, much as the final piece of a jigsaw finalises or completes the whole picture. It was to be the model for all succeeding acts of salvation: after this event, when a person is saved on this earth (being predestinated in heaven), he or she is automatically filled with the Holy Spirit. Or, to put it another way, he or she is divinely fulfilled or completed as a child of God. Salvation equals being filled with the Holy Spirit.
As I have said before, the person may not, then, ‘call down’ the Spirit, for He is already within. To try to ‘call Him down’ is an act of unbelief and lack of knowledge, a sign of being badly taught, or of one’s own sin. Christ is with each of us, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we are in need, we just have to ‘go next door’ to our own souls to speak with the Holy Spirit! He is not somewhere else, needing to be summoned. He is where Christ promised He would be; within and constantly with us.
There can be no ‘second blessing’, for the first blessing is sufficient. All that remains is that we know Him truly and accept His indwelling. The Holy Spirit cannot be within and also ‘called down’ to enter us again! This indwelling is similar to the words used by Christ on the cross: “It is finished” or “It is accomplished”! The indwelling of the Spirit is the final act of earthly salvation and completes it.
Being thus ‘filled’ we have the power and authority of Christ in our own persons. It does not belong to us and cannot be used randomly or when we feel like it. Such power rests with the Holy Ghost and not in us. We can have this power at designated times according to God’s will, but it does not belong to us, nor are we the source of the power. When we do God’s will, then, we also have His power. The ‘authority’ also rests in Him, not us. In practical terms our authority is in scripture. When we move outside scripture we have no authority. Pastorally, it means that when scripture is applied to a situation or person, they must comply immediately with God.
Once they were ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit, the disciples (all 120) received gifts of tongues. “other tongues” simply means foreign languages, as the context amply proves. When angels visited earth they spoke as men, not with an indescribable language only found in Heaven! Clearly, the context refers to foreign languages and not a special ‘heavenly language’ (see notes elsewhere on this topic).
Note, too, that the disciples did not ask for these tongues, or demand them. The tongues, like all spiritual gifts, were given, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The ‘utterance’, from God, is always dignified and of a higher nature, a pronouncement from God Himself, through the tongue-speaker. Immediately, this proves that the so-called ‘tongues’ of charismatic leaders of the Toronto Blessing movement (and therefore of all subsequent movements) were/are satanic and not divine. Many of their ‘utterances’ are on video and tape, and are obscene, unbiblical, or just childish, and not dignified or on a higher-plane.
As with any use of spiritual tongues/foreign languages, the person using them has never learnt the languages, and cannot normally speak them. The language is only given by God when He wishes us to use them with a person who needs salvation, warning, or instruction, and cannot be used at any other time. The supposed ‘heavenly language’ found so readily on the lips of charismatics is either Satan-inspired obscure foreign languages used to curse God, or gobbledygook and gibberish. I repeat: “as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
This first occurrence of ‘filling’ by the Holy Spirit should not be taken as a model for today. The incident was unique. God can move as He wishes, but He does not give us a formula. It is our duty to obey; He comes upon us as He wishes. The first time, as if to prove the source, disciples had a physical sign of a spiritual act. Today, God ‘fills’ us when we are saved on this earth; like salvation, it is instant. At the same time He often gives spiritual gifts. Or, He gives them later, as He wishes, and when they are to be used. Nothing is from our own power, but is delegated.
Verses 5 - 13
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
The Passover had come and gone, along with Christ’s murder on the cross. Now, fifty days later, Jerusalem was celebrating Pentecost. Perhaps there were fewer non-Jebusites on this occasion, but it was still considered a major feast, so many thousands of outsiders were in the city, and staying in nearby villages. The markets were doing well with a big influx of visitors and their money, and the whole city was alive with different foreign languages… though Jews, most spoke the languages of their home country as well as Hebrew. The Jews from abroad were ‘devout’, and that is why they were in Jerusalem.
Though the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Bethany, outside the city, news of what happened spread fast into Jerusalem, and the crowds gathered to talk about it. They were perplexed! What on earth had happened? Here they were from foreign lands, and yet they heard simple Galileans speaking in their home language! How was it possible? Meanwhile, the disciples had walked into Jerusalem. The foreigners were amazed and asked how Galileans could speak to them so fluently. No doubt the disciples were just as amazed and perplexed!!
A short list is given, of some of the foreigners; Parthians (Asia), Medes (Asia), Elamites (southern Persia), Mesopotamians(far-Middle East), Judaeans, Cappadocians (Asia Minor), Pontusians (Asia Minor), Asians (all Asia/Turkey), Phrygians (Asia Minor), Pamphylians (Asia minor), Egyptians, Libyans from Cyrene (North Africa), Romans (Rome and Roman provinces), Cretians, Arabs (all of Arabia), and other foreign Jews and men who had joined Judaism from other lands. You might think their languages were the same, but they were all different.
In the UK, before the 10th century, people spoke a variety of languages in different kingdoms. Though one language slowly emerged later, add to this broad dialects and accents, and a man from the south, for example, could not understand a man from the north. Even today, this is the case in Britain, where there are at least four different Gaelic languages plus English. In days of limited transport and communication, this was even more pronounced at the time of the disciples.
All heard the disciples speak to them in their own languages and were dumfounded. They even recognized that the disciples were talking to them of the “wonderful works of God”. But, they asked each other how it was possible, and doubted the disciples were genuine. And some scorned the disciples, saying they must be drunk after drinking too much new-harvest wine. Of course, even if drunk, they could not have known all the languages of all the visitors to Jerusalem!
It is the same today. If a man or woman expresses things by the Holy Spirit, Christians, hog-tied by their own ignorance or unbelief, think they must be fakes. They speak against them. All these few Christians need to do is speak the truth from scripture; they do not need to display miracles or tongues, just ordinary but powerful truth! It is enough to be castigated or shunned, or treated abysmally. Today’s Christians are that far from God and that ignorant of the workings of the Holy Spirit!
Verses 14 - 21
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Peter, hearing the comments coming from everyone, spoke out loud, calling on everyone to listen to what he had to say. Gone was the man afraid to be associated with Jesus. Peter was a new man: he had witnessed the risen Christ, heard His teachings, saw Him ascend into Heaven, and was now emboldened by the Holy Spirit. He could now speak with power and authority, as can all Christians who give their lives totally to the Lord.
These disciples are not drunk, as you think. After all, it is only the third hour! (About nine in the morning). You are hearing what the prophet Joel said; that God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh in the last days. Your sons and daughters will prophesy and see visions; old men will have visions, and God will do these things to those who follow Him. There will be miracles in heaven and on earth; blood, fire and smoke. The sun shall become dark and the moon will turn red, before Christ comes the second time. But whatever happens those who are His will be saved.
You will note that Peter said when the Holy Spirit came, it was in the last days. We are, then, in the same last days, and see many of the things Peter spoke of. Some occurred in his own day. Be certain of this: everything Peter spoke of will come to pass, no matter how frightening or sudden.
Verses 22 - 28
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.
Peter then called upon the Jews to listen carefully. He reminded them that most had seen and heard Jesus of Nazareth. They witnessed His power, authority and miracle-working, as One from God. Peter told them what they already knew: they killed Jesus wickedly, but they were only doing what God had already planned. However, it did not remove their guilt. God then resurrected the Christ from death, because death could not hold God.
Peter quoted David’s prophecy: ‘I always see God before me, on my right hand, making my position firm. My heart rejoiced and I sang His praises; my hope for the future healing of my body is sure, because you will not allow me to enter hell, or let the grave corrupt my body. You have given me life, and I shall rejoice to see your smile’.
The Father was pleased by His Son’s sacrifice, and smiled in acceptance. Because of this we can be assured of our own position before God.
Verses 29 - 31
Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.
Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;
He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
Peter then spoke to them of David, who is dead and buried; his tomb could be seen by everyone. He was a prophet called by God, Who promised that the Christ would come through his royal line. The same Christ would have His throne in heaven, this referring to Christ’s resurrection and ascension, so that He was not kept in the grave.
Peter was, then, stamping his Gospel message with holy writ and prophecy, which were both known to the Jews. True Gospel preaching is not about jokes, or making speech seem vibrant. It is about ‘telling it as it is’, straight from scripture. It is the power of God and the authority of His word that makes believers, not our human marketing ideas (for that is what much so-called ‘gospel’ preaching really is)!
Verses 32 - 36
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
The same Jesus you killed, said Peter, was raised up by God. We saw Him ascend into Heaven. He is now at the right hand of God (signifying power), and sent us the Holy Ghost, the results of which you now see and hear. David did not ascend into the heavens; he said himself that the Father said to the Son, ‘sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ So, let all Jews know that the Jesus you crucified is Lord and Messiah.
How often do we hear mockers and scorners laugh not just at us, but at Christ, and God? Tell them, without wavering, that the same God they mock is the God Who will declare them unfit to enter Heaven, and send them to perpetual hell, if they remain unsaved. Forget being ‘balanced’ or being ‘sensitive’. Tell people straight that unless they repent, they are dead already to God. Yes, you can be gentle about it, but the essential message of the cross is not fashionable and does not have willing hearers. Do not use stories or catchy words. Just preach scripture.
Verses 37 - 40
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
The hearers were “pricked in their heart”; their innermost being was pierced, their minds were agitated and they felt deep sorrow. They called out to Peter and the other apostles – “What shall we do?” Peter gave the only answer: repent and be baptized; then you will receive the Holy Ghost.
Note the following: this reception of the Spirit was by way of a gift; they could not request or demand it. Also, the baptism followed salvation and was not part of that salvation. Baptism is a sign that a person has already been saved. In this case the hearers were all in Jerusalem and rivers were outside the city, so it would have taken many hours to begin baptising them.
Peter told the people they could rely on what he said because God had previously promised them, as a nation, that they and their children would be welcomed by God. See, too, who would be saved: “as many as the Lord our God shall call”. In other words, not everyone, but only those (‘whosoever’) who were predestinated. Those who were thus chosen had to take themselves out of the milling sinful crowd and obey God. The word “call”, an, has no English equivalent but refers to something that occurs only under certain conditions… in this text, predestination, as John 3:16 proves.
You will note that Peter’s speech did not last long. Time it for yourself. Yet, it had a powerful effect on the huge crowds. How was this possible? After all, he told them things they preferred not to listen to. It was possible because God prompted him to preach. And when he did, the Holy Spirit used words that drove home the guilt of his audience. It was the Holy Spirit Who spoke directly to each Jew who was to be saved. That is how a very short message brought salvation to thousands. It is not about being a gifted speaker, or a clever theologian, or someone who can ‘hold a crowd’. God causes people to listen and causes some to repent. That is how the Gospel works. Peter spoke “many other words” in addition to the message recorded in this chapter, but the people responded on the strength of those we have read.
Thousands are deluded today into using a series of courses as a substitute for genuine preaching. It is all to no avail. We cannot ‘teach’ people to ‘become interested in Christianity’! If you just give facts about Christianity you will merely produce Arminian believers in the religion, rather than personal followers of Jesus Christ.
The aim should be to just talk openly and honestly to the unsaved, telling them they are hell-bound unless they repent. Do not try to scare them into submitting, or give them a Hollywood glimpse of a glitzy belief system. Tell them of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, and that they, as sinners, must repent or be judged. That is all you must do. Everything else is just oration.
When I first started to preach from a reformed background I tried my very best to emulate my peers. That meant having no more than three main points, and following a Geneva pulpit style. It did not work! I just came over as useless and without a proper message. It was only when I waited on God and said what he wanted me to say, that preaching became a joy with godly effect. I got rid of technique, and just spoke.
The falsity of modern preaching is obvious, when preachers stick to the same particular length of ‘sermon’ and touch on the same traditional topics. We see it in the way congregations keep looking at their watches, or when secretaries tell the preacher to finish by a certain time because members have meat cooking in the oven! In this chapter we see Peter delivering a powerful message in just a few minutes.
Verses 41 - 47
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
When Peter finished, three thousand people were saved! A few minutes direct from God, speaking only what the Holy Spirit gave, brought all these people into the kingdom of God. They “that gladly received his word” were baptized, not all of them. Unlike the spoof souls ‘saved’ in big campaigns with emotional songs and music and marketing-words, these three thousand were truly saved and none were lost. This is because “once saved, always saved”.
They “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship”. This involves not just repentance and learning what God said through Jesus by rote, passed on by the apostles. It meant growing inwardly in their own spirits, and understanding what was said to them, as they applied every teaching to their daily lives. Application is proof of their genuine status They also took communion together and prayed. There is no proof in this text that prayer meant ‘corporate prayer’. However, even if it means praying together, it would not mean regular prayer meetings as we know them today. They would have been ad hoc and for a special purpose.
Most Christians today sit in a pew and listen passively. Then they shake hands with the preacher at the door, thanking him for his message. But, how much do they remember? How much will they instantly apply to their souls and lives? Jesus’ proof of following is simple – if you love me, do what I say! So, what does it mean if you hear what He says and do not put it into action?
Interestingly, this all-out following of Christ resulted in fear: “And fear came upon every soul”. I have heard many sermons in which this fear was diluted to mean respect or love for the Lord. But, the word means what it says, phobos; turning-to-jelly fear; shaking-with-terror fear. This is because they had been spoken to by God Almighty; they knew their sinfulness and knew only Jesus could save them. It is right and proper to fear the Lord Who created the universe! He is not our ‘Dad’, but royal Father, King and Lord! We are saved and yet we should fear what He can do to those who continually sin.
During this early time, the apostles did many miracles and powerful things. Again, in this text, it does not mean we will necessarily do the same (which is why we are told they were done by the apostles). This text is historical narrative; doctrinal issues are secondary unless specifically stated. However, miracles are promised in other texts, which do apply to us all.
The early church believed and tended to live together, having “all things in common”… food, clothing, money, work, housing, etc. Maybe not in full commune-fashion but certainly as whole sectors of cities and rural areas. So, they literally looked after each other and encouraged each other. Can you imagine today’s affluent Christians sharing what they have to this extent? Can you imagine them accepting that what they had was not their own, but belonged to God? It rarely, if ever, happens! They want their own space, their own belongings, their own houses, and what they work for is their own! These very actions show that they do not understand the concept of being pilgrims in this world, whose very existence can disappear as a puff of smoke at any time.
As I have said many times before, most Christians give to others only out of their excess, not out of the fullness of their hearts or money, etc. The widow gave literally everything, whilst the rich man only gave a small percentage. Which was the true sacrifice? Who had the real heart of God?
These early Christians did what their love for Christ led to; they sold everything they had and gave to those who were in need. In effect, they did not leave poor Christians in their poverty, but made sure that the blessings they had were given to those who really needed them. They saw something fundamental: how could they live in comfort, with extra ‘put away’ when their fellow believers were daily struggling, unable to make ends meet. They did what their truly Christian souls demanded; they sold what they had and took away the poverty of others. Only then could they live without anxiety; only then could everyone live as equals.
No doubt, those with the skills later accrued the rewards for their hard work, but any excess was not considered to be their own property, but common goods. It does not mean we must always give away everything we own or earn. It just means that they are always ready to give, because God gave everything, and everything belongs to Him. What is the point of secreting away our extras when we may die tomorrow? (On a practical level, if one or two are wealthy and the rest are poor, the poor are unable to contribute to the common purse. But, if the rich alleviated the poor of their poverty, the poor then become relieved, and can start to contribute, if not create new jobs. The text is not about supporting those who are lazy).
The new converts continued daily in their devotion to God. Intriguingly, they also continued to meet in the Temple. Possibly, this means they could not enter the synagogues, the only ‘churches’ in existence at that time, so they met in a more generalised atmosphere, the Temple. On the other hand, we know that Paul later had to deal with a Judaistic form of Christianity, to remove Jewish rites and customs from the converted Jews. We cannot tell from this text why they met in the Temple, so we will not give a firm answer to it. At any rate, Luke does not berate them for it.
They all had communion from house to house, which makes it far more personal. Maybe this was to escape notice of the judgmental Pharisees and enemies of Christ. We do not know. They had meals together and separately, and were always thankful for whatever they had, showing a singleness of heart. That is, they believed and lived the same things, with joy. ‘Singleness’ means simplicity, or as some commentators have put it, “an unalloyed benevolence expressed in actions”; an “unworldly simplicity”. Not the rites and traditions that clutter up so many churches and their sinful denominations, or the invented rules they insist on applying with their own authority!
They praised God all the time, keeping no praise for their own efforts. If they did good and even if they gave away everything they owned, it was seen as the least they could do, when Christ gave His all on the cross. Because of this love for each other and simple living, the new Christians found favour in the eyes of those who watched them like hawks. Even enemies must marvel at Christ-like behaviour, though they might kill those they marvel at.
We have another definite, concrete statement of predestination in verse 47: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Note this: “such as should be saved”! Not “Such as wanted to be saved”. God chooses who will be saved, and they will be saved, no matter what. That is why those who are saved must signify their privilege by showing great mercy and love towards others, and towards God.
© April 2008
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