Just finished a Crossway Bible Guide to the Book of Acts and decided to share some thoughts.
The reason Luke lists so many different places from which Jews had come for the Day of Pentecost is to provide a record of all the areas where the Gospel went immediately.
Verse 38 makes clear baptism is necessary for salvation; not merely a public confession of faith.
Herod was keeping them in jail until he had celebrated Easter. Herod was pagan and Easter is a pagan holiday.
It wasn’t that the apostles were being falsely accused of saying Christians should overthrow the government. Rather, the apostles were truly preaching obeying God rather than Caesar. What the authorities found so displeasing about early Christianity was precisely that there were people saying there was an authority higher than them.
A verse in this chapter is often used to try to prove the day of worship was changed from the Sabbath to Sunday by the early Christians. No such thing was ever done. This is truly a case of “where too much is proven, nothing is proven.” Just because there was a meeting in Troas on the first day of the week to fellowship and break bread does not indicate the changing of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. Luke is simply telling us the day on which the subsequent events took place.
The early church, except for the Alexandrians, continued to observe the Saturday Sabbath throughout the first century.
The thing I was most curious about, Paul’s behavior toward Ananias after being struck, was not explained in this section of “Discovering Acts”, although it could have been a cultural thing. Paul well knew he was under the new covenant but as a Jew he still had respect for the cultural institution of the old covenant high priest.
Ananias’ charges against Paul are excellent proof of the saying “the Jew cries out as he strikes you.”
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
So what, exactly, went wrong? How did we get from the early church lead by the apostles to, 2000 years later, having over 43 thousand different denominations in Christendom. Granted, the church that existed at the time the events in the Book of Acts occurred had its fair share of problems, too. There is no perfect church and there is always going to be some division among those who call themselves believers. However, I would like to offer the main theories concerning what I believe happened to bring us from there to here, so to speak.
Firstly, the pagans were let in the church. Emperor Constantine, realizing persecution of the church was only causing it to grow, changed tactics. He pretended to convert to Christ, then offered to have buildings constructed for the believers who had previously met in house churches. In exchange, all the believers had to do were things like observe pagan festivals, albeit attaching a Christian meaning to them, among other things. This has led to such practices as the observance of Christmas and Easter and worship on the first day of the week.
Secondly, the Nicolaitanes were let into the church. This group, mentioned in Revelation 2 6, believed it was permissible to do whatever one wanted. This has led to such teachings as “There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more”, “the Law has been done away with” or “you don’t have to do anything as a Christian; our salvation is not of works.”
Thirdly, the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees were let into the church. These people, commonly called legalists, have introduced a whole bunch of extra-Biblical rules to church life over the centuries and have caused individual churches to place emphasis on things about which the Bible has relatively little to say or which aren’t among the weightier matters. Most people reading this probably know the kind of people to whom I am referring so there’s no need to further elaborate on this point.
Fourthly, we have let the physical descendants of the Pharisees, the people we call Jews today (though not every single person called a Jew is necessarily among this group), into the church. Jews, by and large, follow the teachings of the Babylonian Talmud and the Qabala, which twist all the Old Testament laws to the point where, like the Nicolaitanes, everything is permissible. These modern-day Pharisees have had great influence in the Christian world, particularly in the seminaries.
Fifthly, most churches today don’t tell unbelievers how to get saved. Nowhere does the Bible say “accept Jesus Christ as you’re personal savior.” Neither does someone get saved by blindly repeating the prayer of a televangelist, or by any of the other multiple ways sinners are told to become Christians these days. Acts 2 38 is quite clear about what one has to do to become a Christian.
Sixthly, most Christians these days don’t reach out to their own culture before reaching out to another. The apostles preached in the synagogues and among the Jews before going to the Gentiles of a particular city, not only because the Gospel is “to the Jew first and also the Greek”, (although this was of course the most important reason), but because the apostles were of that selfsame culture so they understood how to present the Gospel to the Jewish people (those of the tribe of Judah) better than they would have understood how to present to any other group. Today, a lot of Christians get saved and they immediately want to go on the mission field to Africa or India or some other far off land. However, they haven’t taken that vital step in fulfilling the great commission which is to present it to the people they’re most familiar with and with whom they associate before taking it to another kind of people.
Seventhly, of course, is the reason that you can’t very effectively reach your culture if you don’t understand it. Most Christians these days, particularly of course the “churched” believers, don’t understand the mindset of our society because they’ve most often grown up around other church kids. They don’t understand how the world thinks and acts, not least the kind of people who are around them, to say nothing of Hindus, Moslems, Pantheists, and the like.