Revelation: An Introduction Part I

This week I have started a study on Sunday mornings in the book of Revelation.  For the first few weeks we’ll be examining the overall picture of the book, and covering some introductory themes.  Below is part 1 of that introduction – I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction and Overview to the Book

Why Study Revelation? 

Revelation can be intimidating. It has taken me several years just to get up the courage to study through it and teach it. Many commentators also note in their respective prefaces how difficult it was to get around to doing this study as well. Pastor Voddie Baucham says that when surveyed, a large denomination of Christians said that Revelation was the book they most wanted to hear preached. That same survey found it was the bottom of the list of books Pastors most wanted to preach![i]

The word “Revelation” or “Apocolypse” holds negative, even scary connotations in our society today. As Warren Wiersbe writes:

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse which, unfortunately, is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. The verb simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book, the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.[ii]

But I have found that in my studies thus far, it is a book that provides great blessing and perspective which can enable a Christian to persevere, and adore Christ above all other things. In fact, those are the two things that I believe makeup the two main themes of the book: Christ’s reign and ultimate victory, and our ultimate triumph with him. The second part – our eventual triumph – is the reality for which we have been called to endure. Therefore the majestic reign of Christ and the call to persevere under tribulation make up the main nexus of John’s writing.

The majestic reign of Christ and His overall splendor permeates the book. He is the Lord of history, the Lord of man and of all created things. The high Christology of Revelation is evident from the first chapter:

…and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:13-18)

He is the first and the last, and the one who is “alive forevermore.” His power and His majesty are evident to all who read the book. No longer are we limited to the motif of the suffering servant, or the profound teachings of the Great Rabboni. Now we are afforded a peak, a glimpse, a view into the fuller person and majesty of Jesus Christ.

Revelation helps us understand the profundity of His cross work, and finality of His sacrifice. It helps us understand that He is sovereign over all things, including time and creation.

I really like what Warren Wiersbe has to say about the proper approach to the book: “When Daniel and John received God’s revelations of the future, both fell down as dead men (Dan. 10:7-10; Rev. 1:17). They were overwhelmed! We need to approach this book as wonderers and worshippers, not as academic students.”

But it is also a book about the saints who are called to endure. William Hendriksen says, “In the main, the purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the militant Church in its struggle against the forces of evil.”[iii]

Followers of the Lamb are to endure until He comes again – that second coming is our great hope. As Hendriksen so beautifully opines:

As we think of the glorious hope of the second coming, our hearts are filled with joy; our souls are consumed with a breathless impatience; our eyes attempt to pierce the dark clouds which veil the future, hoping that the glorious descent of the Son of man may burst upon the view. It is a longing which gushes into word: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come” (22:17).[iv]

John MacArthur points out that this is the only book in the Bible that begins and ends with a blessing. And Doug Kelley puts his finger on the reason I decided to study this book, namely the blessings/benedictions ascribed to those who would take the time to study it.

Kelly splits these into promises and blessings. The benedictions (blessings):[v]

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) (Revelation 16:15)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)

Here are the promises to the saints that Kelly lists:[vi]

  1. God sees their tears (7:17; 21:4)
  2. Their prayers are heard and used to rule the world (8:3-4)
  3. Their death or suffering leads to glory (14:13; 20:4)
  4. Their final victory is assured (15:2)
  5. Their blood will be avenged (6:9; 8:3)
  6. Their Christ lives and reigns forever and is victorious in time and eternity (5:7-8; 21:22)

Clearly this gives us ample motivation to study this wonderful book!

Who wrote this Book?

Most every scholar and theologian believes that the book was written by the apostle John – the one who wrote the gospel of John, and the three epistles named for him. Some hold that perhaps another John wrote the book – a late 1st century prophet with the same name, perhaps. But G.K. Beale (who believes the apostle John is the likely author) says this, “The issue is not important to settle since it does not affect the message of the book. Regardless of which John wrote, the author of the book identifies himself as a prophet (parenthetical references). Therefore, it is probably that John should be socially identified with a group of early Christian itinerant prophets.”[vii] 

William Hendriksen thinks that the evidence for another John having written this book is particularly weak. For instance, he points out, “Surely the very fact that the author of the Apocalypse merely calls himself John indicates that he was very well known, not only in one particular locality but throughout the churches of Asia.”[viii]

Now, there are certainly different styles of grammar and writing between the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John – some say this is enough to believe another man wrote the book. But conservative scholars are not so sure. There are some differences, but there are also many similarities. Hendriksen says, “The similarities are striking. They are to be found even in peculiar grammatical constructions and in characteristic expressions.” His comparative similarities are as follows (for those who want to look them up):[ix]

John 3:36 and Revelation 22:17
John 10:18 and Revelation 2:27
John 20:12 and Revelation 3:4
John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13
John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6 
 

Some of these comparisons are more obvious, others less so. But there are many other similarities. The gospel calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” and the “Logos” and so does Revelation – these are words and phrases that make John’s gospel unique, and here we find the phrase “Lamb of God” used 29 times in Revelation.

Of course the similarities don’t stop with grammar and phraseology. The doctrine is the same in both books. The sovereignty of God, the pre-temporal nature of Christ, the conquering power of the blood of Jesus all form major doctrinal similarities between books.

I especially like the way in which John describes Jesus as pre-temporal in both books. Here are a few examples:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:57-58)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13) 

When was this Book Written?

It is hard to overestimate the importance of discerning when this book of Revelation was written. The reason being that if the book was written prior to A.D. 70, then scholars have reason for believing that some of the things written herein refer to the events that occurred in that fateful year when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and the great Herodian (2nd) temple complex.

G.K. Beale has done a nice job compiling the different historical arguments for both viewpoints, and is worth quoting his summation here below:

The difference of dating could alter the interpretation of the book, since the occasion prompting John to write might be different in each case. The early date is especially important for those viewing the main intention of the book as prophecy of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem: interpreters who hold to the early date generally understand the book primarily as a polemic against apostate Jewish faith. And the early date places many of the book’s descriptions of persecution against the background of Nero’s oppression of Christians in 65 (A.D.).

But if the book was written in the nineties, then it was occasioned by the situation of Christians living under the reign of Domitian, a situation that itself is an issue of debate. The majority maintaining a late date have viewed Domitian as a persecutor of Christians, though a few others recently have viewed his reign in more benevolent terms.

One can in fact affirm the early date or the late date without the main interpretative approach being affected. Under either dating position the book could be understood as a polemic against Rome and especially against compromise with ungodly Roman culture. The early date allows for an anti-Jerusalem focus, but does not demand it.

There are no single arguments that point clearly to the early or the late date. The early date could be right, but the cumulative weight of evidence points to the late date.[x]

Those who are partial (or full) preterists rely on the early date because they see these events in 65 and especially in 70 AD as fulfilling the prophecies of John’s apocalypse. Full preterists even believe the Jesus Himself came back in 70 AD!

I believe the latter date is more likely simply from my own study of church history this past year in seminary. The persecution under Nero was very localized to Rome, and the rest of the church really didn’t feel the pressures as much.

Furthermore, as Beale and others point out, when Pliny (a magistrate/governor of Rome) was trying to figure out what to do with Christians in 113 AD he wrote to Emperor Trajan as there seemed to be no previous law code or judicial or military precedent as to how to deal with them.[xi] 

Furthermore, John uses the term “Babylon” throughout the book, and while some see this as a sort of symbolic name for the “apostate Jerusalem”, Beale rightly (I believe) notes, “John’s use of the name may be the strongest internal evidence for a post-70 date. ‘Babylon refers to Rome in Jewish literature after 70 A.D. and roughly contemporary with the Apocalypse. Jewish commentators called Rome ‘Babylon’ because the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., just as Babylon had done in the sixth century B.C. This use of the name probably influenced John, as did other Jewish traditions.”[xii]

Lastly, it is the testimony of very early Christian authors that this book was written at a later date. Irenaeus, Victorinus, Eusebius, Origen, and possibly Clement of Alexandria as well all believed the book to be written post 70 A.D.[xiii]

Irenaeus’ writings are especially important. In discussing the antichrist’s identify he wrote that, “We will not, however incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the Antichrist; if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him (John) who beheld the Apocalypse. For it was seen not very long ago, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign.”

This is very hard to refute for early daters no matter how much they try and re-translate or offer new ideas about what Ireneaus clearly spoke.

Early daters mention a number of arguments in their favor, from the mention of the “seven mountains” in 17:9, which are supposed to be seven kings of Rome, to the calculation of the number 666 as meaning Nero in the gematria, to Babylon (which we’ve already mentioned). Beale goes through each argument (and several more) and I really don’t find the weight of these arguments convincing.

Therefore, while either date might be correct, it seems like the weight of both the historical and internal arguments on behalf of a later date rule the day.

The Importance of Hermeneutics

It is so important that before we begin our study in this book that we have an understanding of how to interpret what we’re reading. The book of Revelation is classified as what theologians call “apocalyptic literature”, which means that the genre of this writing is not poetry, historical narrative, or epistolary – though it has some elements of the latter form.

R.C. Sproul explains this very well, and its worth quoting him at length here:

The basic principle of biblical interpretation established by the Reformers was literal interpretation, sensus literalis, which means that responsible interpreters of Scripture always interpret the Bible in the sense in which it was written. Poetic literature should be interpreted as poetry, didactic literature should be interpreted as didactic, and so on. A verb remains a verb, a noun remains a noun, a simile is a simile, and a metaphor is a metaphor.

Conversely, the style of interpretation called “literalism” involves applying a wooden interpretation, which does not work well for poetic literature. For example, when the psalmist says that the rivers clap their hands (98:8), we do not take that to mean that rivers somehow grow hands and begin clapping. We do not interpret such poetic images in an overly literalistic way.

When it comes to interpreting prophetic literature, the question is whether the language is figurative or ordinary prose, and there is widespread disagreement about that. Some believe that we must interpret the prophecies of the future literally in order to be faithful to the Bible, but that can lead us in circles.[xiv]

Revelation is a book will need to be interpreted differently than, say, the book of Genesis. We will encounter all manner of symbols, numbers, and visual descriptions that will leave us in awe – and perhaps a little confused, especially if we take the wrong approach to the book. Dennis Johnson rightly says, “The strength of symbolism is vividness, for often a picture is worth a thousand words. The challenge of symbolism, however, is its ambiguity.”[xv]

…to be continued…

Footnotes

[i] Voddie Baucham: http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/sermons/2012-05-introduction-revelation/

[ii] Warren Wiersbe, Commentary on the New Testament (The David Cook two volume set), Revelation, Pg. 1036.

[iii] William Hendriksen, ‘More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation’, Pg. 7.

[iv] Hendriksen, Pg. 8

[v] Douglas F. Kelly, Revelation, A mentor expository commentary, Pg. 21

[vi] Kelly, Pg. 21

[vii] From G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, Pg.’s 35-36

[viii] Hendriksen, Pg. 12

[ix] Hendriksen, Pg. 12 – carries on the discussion onto page 13 as well, and really provides some helpful comparative verses here. Shockingly, he leaves out John 8 which I cite above (it’s one of my favorite examples of Jesus’ pre-temporal existence).

[x] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, Commentary, Pg. 4

[xi] Beale, Pg. 5

[xii] Beale, Pg.’s 18-19

[xiii] Beale, Pg. 19

[xiv] R.C. Sproul, ‘Everyone’s A Theologian;, Pg.’s 310-311

[xv] Johnson’s commentary on Revelation is called, ‘Triumph of the Lamb’ and this quote is found on page 10.

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Temples of the Living God: Maintaining Sexual Purity

Introduction

Almost as soon as I heard that I would be teaching on this topic, the idea hit me to approach it in a different sort of way. Moral, and indeed sexual purity, is something the church doesn’t like to talk much about because it’s uncomfortable. We like to think of this area as off limits, but we can’t do that. You see we can’t have lives that are compartmentalized in that way. Our lives, and indeed our body (and minds) as we will see today, are to be a fragrant offering to the Lord.

Paul says this:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 ESV)

So today I want to look at two reasons why it is God’s will for us to abstain for sexual immorality, namely, that from His perspective, we are His holy temples, and from our perspective, we shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the pleasure and joy only He can bring!

Therefore, it is crucial for us to understand what it means to be a temple of the living God, and what ramifications this reality holds for our lives as Christians.

Examine Yourself

However, before we look at what it means to be a temple of the living God, I want to first look at an important passage in 1 Corinthians 6 which precedes Paul’s own discussion on the matter. He says:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that if you practice these things over and over again and show no sign of repentance, then you need to ask yourself if you’re even in Christ to begin with.  As he says in another letter to the Corinthians:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6] I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

His point here is that if you are behaving this way continually, and show no guilt, remorse, or desire to change your ways, then it is likely that Jesus Christ is not in you.

Therefore, test yourselves. Examine your life.  Do you constantly desire evil?  Or do you run to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ when you sin. Do you live in order to please Him, or yourselves?

If you can’t answer this question in an affirmative way, then you need to consider the cross and what Christ has done for you.  You need to right now repent of your sins and stop walking in the dark – cast those cares upon Jesus, friend.  He loves you, He cares for you, and He is the only one who can set you free from the chains of sin – those chains will eventually drag you down to death and hell.

Now, let me continue on in our lesson…

1. We are Temples of the Living God

Numerous times throughout the New Testament we have Paul, Peter, and Christ referring to our (or even Jesus’) bodies as temples of the living God.

In the case of the first passage we read from Thessalonians, the authors of our study guide point out that Thessalonica was a place of immorality – as were many other places in the Roman Empire.  Their sexual practices were lewd, and some of the worship to pagan gods involved ritual prostitution.  Their temples were polluted and evil places.  Contrast that with the call to purity that God has commanded, and we see a major difference in how these early Christians were going to have to live.

One very good reference to our bodies being God’s temples comes in the Corinthians passage immediately following the passage we read earlier in chapter six, where Paul says this:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ESV)

Therefore we are temples of God for two reasons.  First, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  God of very God who no longer simply meets the high priest behind the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem.  Now He is filling us, teaching us, guiding us and leading us into all righteousness.

Second (and this is very closely tied to the first) we are God’s temples because we are “in Christ.” The verse above says we are “members of Christ.” Because of His headship, and our being “in Him” as part of the mystical body of the church and bride of Christ, we are part of what He is, and we are joined to Him.

Christ is the Fulfillment of the Temple

Let me also elaborate on a point I just made about us being “in” Christ and that making us temples of God because I think this is a special piece of Christology that we need to treasure in our hearts. Keep that fact of us being “in” Christ in the back of your mind for a moment, and let us go to a passage from John 2, and I think what we will see here is that Jesus considered His own body to be the temple of the living God:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 ESV)

NOTE: There is also a prophetic element in the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 in that when Caiaphas defiled God’s temple (Jesus Christ) the physical temple inevitably had to be torn down. God destroyed the Herodian temple in 70 A.D. 

This is why we are “in Him” and why we are considered temples of God, namely we are temples because HE is a temple.  Our identity is in Him and who He is.  We have been adopted and added to the olive tree (Rom. 11).  We have been joined Christ through His amazing cross work and the Father’s plan of adoption.

Called to be Holy Temples

Now, if we are temples of the living God, does it not shed some light upon why Christ calls us to be holy?  This is a theme in the New Testament – you shall be holy for I am holy.

Notice how Paul connects the two concepts:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)

Peter affirms Paul:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Consequently, when you hear the word “holy”, what do you think about?  In his book ‘The Holiness of God’, R.C. Sproul says that when the word “holy” is used of God it can take on “more than just separateness.” He says, “His holiness is also transcendent. The word transcendence means literally ‘to climb across.’ It is defined as ‘exceeding usual limits.’ To transcend is it so rise above something, to go above and beyond a certain limit. When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness…When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way.”

Where does that leave us earthly beings who are called on by God to be “holy?”  Sproul says this, “In every case the word “holy” is used to express something other than a moral or ethical quality. The things that are holy are things that are set apart, separated from the rest. They have been consecrated to the Lord and to His service.

The temple of the Lord was designed to be a place where purity reigned. Where the sacred was held in honor.  Entering the temple meant leaving the profane and entering into the holy.  And like the temple of old, we are called to be different, holy not profane.  Pure and spotless lambs in the shepherds care.  As members of the church, we are by definition the “called out ones” (ecclesia).  We are to be different than the world.  What is the point of this?  Namely this: that the world is not pure and therefore because we are called to be pure, we will necessarily also be different. We are set apart and therefore our calling is to keep ourselves unstained by the pollution of the sin and sinful ideas of the world (James 1:27)

Driving Out Our Sin

In light of this, it makes sense, does it not, that Christ would drive out the moneychangers from the physical temple in order to cleanse it.  During our study of John we talked about this a little bit, but I want to show Jesus’ temple cleansing in a different light.

Let us go back to that passage in John 2, only this time picking up slightly earlier in the chapter:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)

So we also must drive out the sin from our own temples in order that they be used to glorify God.

Therefore, we need to be extremely mindful of the fact that our bodies are a habitation for very God of God, the holy One, the Spirit of the Living God who created all things and spoke the world into existence.  This is the God who dwells in approachable light!  This is the God who, when Isaiah was called into his presence, curled up in the corner and shielded his eyes and realized the disgust of his mouth.

Why did Isaiah realize this sinfulness about himself?  When he encountered God in His glory he learned more about Isaiah I think, than he learned about God.  He realized that in the presence of God all things were revealed.  Nothing remained hidden!

Jesus said that, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

What Christ said about the final Day of Judgment applies even to us today (a good example of Pauline “already/not yet” theology). We have the Spirit of God within us – we can’t hide anything from Him!  And if we pollute our temple, He is going to be grieved and we will know about it!

Therefore, we need to remember to view our bodies as a habitation of the living God. Think also about what kinds of activities went on in the temple during Bible times. There was reading, prayer, teaching, and sacrifices. Well listen to what Paul says in Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

And..

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 ESV)

In other words, “wake up and realize that God is using your mind and your body for His service!”  You were created for God. Augustine said, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you…The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

2. The Motivation to be Holy and Pure

During the Jewish feast of the tabernacles each year, the people would celebrate with joy and march from the poll of Siloam to the temple where they would carry water and pour out the water (and sometimes wine) before the alter into (I believe) other basins there.  On the way, they would sing Psalms and celebrate in gladness.  The temple was a place of joy and celebration, and in many ways it symbolized the peak of intimacy with God here on earth.  It was His dwelling place with man.  So being fulfilled as a human being meant to be in and around the presence of God – around His temple. Worshiping, singing, praying, learning and so on. Being at the temple was a little piece of heaven here on earth: A shallow glimpse of the eternal and the transcendent.

Therefore, we are called to be pure and holy and to treat our bodies as temples of the living God, first because God commands it, and second, because when we devote mind, body and emotions to God as living sacrifices we are joyful and fulfilled. God’s commands are for our joy!

Too often we settle for much less than we were meant for in this world – and the same goes with sexual purity, and sinful rebellion.  We drink of the pleasures of this world and are not satisfied because we are eating poison!

The Psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

John Piper puts it this way:

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

And C.S. Lewis famously said:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

And in our book this week, Randy Alcorn says this:

“I must choose between sexual fantasies and intimacy with God. I cannot have both. When I see that God offers me joys and pleasures that sexual fantasies don’t, this is a breakthrough. But that breakthrough will come only when I pursue God, making Him the object of my quest – and when I realize that fantasies are only a cheap God-substitute. Running to them is running from God.”

And this really is the conclusion of the matter. God has made us to be like His Son.  We bear His image, and therefore it makes all the sense in the world that because we are “in” Him we are also to be temples of the living God. Temples are places of holiness, of otherness, of worship and sacrifice unto God. And finally, we are not going to fully realize what it is to be fully satisfied with God until we give up the paltry things of this world, until we exchange our mud pies for a holiday at the ocean. We need to see God for who He is, our living Head, and we need to see ourselves as His members: mind, body, and soul. Therefore let us act in such a manner that is pleasing to Him, and joyful for us.

Introduction to Acts

This past Thursday our small group began a study on the book of Acts.  Derek Stone, Parris Payden, and myself (PJ Wenzel) will be teaching through the book verse by verse over the course of the next 10-12 months.  I’m thrilled to be starting this study, and look forward to many wonderful months of in-depth learning and growth for everyone.

In that spirit, I wanted to post my introductory notes for week one.  Enjoy!

Introduction to Acts

The Author

Very few people contend that Luke was not the author of this book.  His detailed account of things, and his reference to Theophilus early on in the both books are just two of the internal evidences that show he was the author Acts.

One of the internal evidences that Luke wrote this book and was actually a traveling companion of Paul can be found in the “we” passages of the book (16:10-17; 20:2-21:18; 27:1-28:16) where MacArthur notes that “the writer switches to the first person plural, showing he was present.”

In addition to being a follower of Christ, and one of Paul’s travel companions, Luke was also a doctor, and a man of education.  His Greek is some of the most eloquent that we find in the New Testament, and his precision when it comes to details has earned this book praise – even among critical secular scholars.

Both MacArthur and Sproul tell of the account of British Archeologist William Ramsay, who was a doubter of Christianity and decided to retrace the accounts of Luke step by step to show his inaccuracies.  What started as a de-bunking mission, ended up being a verification process of all that Luke had written.  Here’s what Ramsay said, “It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth” (cf. MacArthur’s commentary, pg. 5).

MacArthur notes further, “…he was a remarkably accurate historian. Acts shows familiarity with Roman law and the privileges of Roman citizens, gives the correct titles of various provincial rulers, and accurately describes various geographical locations.”

Luke also was very thorough in his research.  “According to tradition, Luke personally interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus, to get her perspective on all the events surrounding the annunciation and the Nativity” (Sproul, pg. 20).

The Context

The first thing we must realize from a contextual perspective, is that Acts is really the second volume of a two-volume set written by Luke.

F.F. Bruce explains, “The Acts of the Apostles is the name given since the second century A.D. to the second volume of a History of Christian Origins composed by a first century Christian and dedicated to a certain Theophilus.  The earlier volume of this History is also extant as one of the 27 documents ultimately included in the New Testament canon: it is the work ordinarily known to us as the Gospel according to Luke.

Because of this, we need to realize that the introduction to the Gospel of Luke is really the introduction to both books (such was the custom in the ancient world).  John Stott comments, “it was the custom in antiquity, whenever it work was divided into more than one volume, to prefix to the first a preface for the whole.”  Therefore, it is important to first examine the beginning of Luke’s Gospel which states the following:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Sproul and MacArthur say much the same thing.  Sproul comments, “In antiquity, that standard length of a book written in this manner (scrolls) was about 35 feet long. The scrolls were then rolled up and carefully preserved as they were read and passed from church to church. Initially Luke penned two volumes on separate scolls, on, the gospel account of Christ, and the second, which was carried along with the first, the book of Acts.

The Timeframe

There are basically two schools of thought on when this book was written.  Some say that it was written during the end of Paul’s lifetime, while others say that it was written after the fall of Jerusalem (70AD).  John MacArthur lays out some great reasons to believe this book was written before Paul died, and before 70AD:

  1. It best explains the abrupt ending for the book of acts.  The book ends by saying, “He lived there (Rome) two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Luke doesn’t talk about Paul’s death, something that I think would have been important to note.
  2. The Roman officials in Acts were friendly, if not favorable, to Christians.  This wasn’t the case later on.
  3. Luke doesn’t talk about the violent persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero.  Given the other persecution that Luke mentions (like the stoning of Stephen), it would not have made sense to leave such an important thing out.
  4. There’s not mention of the fall of Jerusalem.  Given all the disputes about Judaizers, and the way Luke documented the Council of Jerusalem, surely he would have written about a momentous event like the fall of the temple, and the city.  The temple was central in the life of Jews until 70AD, and Christ’s coming signaled the end of its physical significance.
  5. The subject mater of Acts is really more focused on early church disputes about the new covenant, and how to deal with the law, and the dietary elements of the law etc.  Whereas later in the first century, most of the debate turned to more theological matters.
  6. Acts doesn’t reflect any theological familiarity with Paul’s epistles.
  7. There’s not one mention of Paul’s travels after his second imprisonment, even though Luke was with him during this time.  If the book was written later, it would have made no sense to leave out those other great ministry stories from Paul’s travels.

The Purpose of the Book

I think we find this laid out in Luke’s preface to his gospel, which states, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”  So I think we see here that first of all, Luke wanted to put together an “orderly account” of what had happened.

The second, and more central purpose is what he says to Theophilus “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

MacArthur comments, “…Luke’s primary purpose is to show the spread of Christianity empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit, throughout the Roman world (1:8).”

Sproul comments, “Luke’s agenda was not only to verify that Paul was obedient to the heavenly vision but to remind his readers of the commandments that Jesus gave just before he ascended. What follows is the rest of Acts is a drama of the highest magnitude – the drama of the obedience of the early church to the mission that Christ had given to it.”

The Meta-Narrative – The Kingdom of God has “come upon you”

R.C. Sproul ends the first chapter of his commentary on Acts this way:

A whole new chapter of world history began with the ministry of Christ and with his ascension to the right hand of the father, where He is enthroned as the King. One of the worst distortions of theology that plagues the Evangelical world is the idea that the kingdom of God is something completely future. That view completely destroys the biblical testimony of the breakthrough of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus, especially in his ascension. Yes, the consummation of the kingdom is still in the future, but the reality of the kingdom is now. The mission of the early church was to bear witness to the reality of that kingdom in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.

The grand scope of redemptive history has seen an ushering in of a new chapter – an entirely new epic is birthed in the book of Acts.  This book was written to remind us to, and bear witness to itself, the fact that Jesus had ushered in the Kingdom of God.

For thousands of years mankind had been living in darkness.  We had gone astray, we had failed to keep the law of God.  We had failed to live in love toward each other, and we had failed to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and minds.

The time for a rescuer had come.  The long-appointed time for the recue plan had finally arrived, and Jesus had been victorious over even death itself.  Now, as He was wrapping up His earthly ministry, He wanted to ensure that we had closely understood all that He had come to teach us.  We were to be His witnesses to the entire world.  What were we bearing witness to?  Answer: To the reality of His kingdom.

Jesus is reigning in glory now, and has left us to carry on the work of expanding His kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to be obedient to that calling as Paul was – and the book of Acts tells us how this began.  That is why Acts is an important book.  It is showing us how the early church took on the mission that we carry out to this day.

In order to understand the importance of this book, we need to understand the historical importance of the time in which it was written.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is like a mile marker that divides all of human history.  By His birth we even measure time to this day.  So when we read through the book of Acts, keep in mind that reality, and the fact that this was really the beginning of an entirely new epoch in history, as well as an entirely new spiritual reality in that Jesus had ushered in His spiritual kingdom.

Lastly, we need to remember as we read this book that so much of what is written in here emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Both Sproul and MacArthur rightly comment that the book of Acts could rightly be called “Acts of the Holy Spirit through His Apostles.”  The Spirit is mentioned over 50 times in this book, and its clear that the events in this book were guided by Him.  Also, since He is the writer of all sacred scripture, we must realize that as we study this book, what is included in these pages is not a comprehensive history, but rather what God wanted us to know about this time.  It is quite literally God’s own commentary on the events as they unfolded in the early days of the church.

Overview of Each Chapter

Chapter 1

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, remains with the disciples for 40 days, and ascends into heaven.  Then the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas as the 12th apostle.

Chapter 2

The Holy Spirit is given by God at the first Pentecost (there are four in the book of Acts), Peter gives a bold sermon that leads thousands to give their lives to Christ, and Luke details for us the harmony of the early church.

Chapter 3

Peter and John heal a lame man in the temple and give a rousing testament to the live and death of Jesus Christ, boldly sharing the gospel in the middle of the temple in Solomon’s Portico.

Chapter 4

Peter and John go before the council and speak with such bold clarity that the Sanhedrin are completely stumped and decided to chide them and release them.  Once released the church prayed for even more boldness and the entire building was shaken.  Luke tells us that they had “all things in common.”

Chapter 5

Ananias and Saphira die for lying to the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are arrested and speak before the council, but the council decides to let them go again because, under the Gamaliel, they thought it better to let the political situation play out…and they didn’t want to be “caught” on the wrong side of what God might be doing…they never thought about testing what the disciples of Christ were actually saying against what Scripture attested to.

Chapter 6

The apostles and early church members were getting overrun with work, and some were being neglected, so 7 men were chosen to lead a special service effort – similar to what our church deacons do today.  One of the seven men was a man named Stephen.  Stephen was especially bold in his preaching and was a man “full of the Holy Spirit.” Because of this, the Pharisees brought him before the council under arrest.

Chapter 7

Stephen details the historical meta-narrative of Scripture leading up to Jesus Christ.  The end of his testimony concludes with a stinging rebuke against the Pharisees for putting the “Lord of Glory” to death.  This is one of the richest historical narratives in Acts.  The chapter ends with Stephen being stoned to death and Saul standing by approving of the execution.

Chapter 8

Saul ravages the church and drags many to jail. Meanwhile, Phillip is evangelizing from city to city and having great success.  Here we learn about a false convert named Simon, and the end of the chapter details how Phillip shared the gospel with an important officer from Ethiopia. So the gospel is now going to go south to Africa!

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 details the dramatic Damascus road conversion of Paul where he is struck blind from a light from heaven.  Later we learn that Paul immediately proclaims the name of Jesus and is baptized, and even has to escape from Damascus in a basket. After a period of about 3 years, Luke tells us that Paul went back to Jerusalem to meet up with the apostles.  Meanwhile, amazing miracles were still going on. Peter healed a blind man and even raised a lady, Dorcus, to life again.  Amazing stuff.

Chapter 10

Then Luke goes back to focusing on Peter and details how Peter was given a vision from God that related to the kinds of food that Jews were used to eating – specifically God was explaining the end of the ceremonial law to Peter. The famous line from this section is that “what God has made clean, do not call common.”  At the end of this important chapter, the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles in an amazing show of grace from God to those outside of the physical Jewish heritage.

Chapter 11

Peter describes everything that happened in chapter ten to the Christians in Jerusalem, and Luke details how the church has been spreading abroad because of the persecution and martyrdom of Stephen.  Luke also tells us of a thriving early church in Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.”

Chapter 12

Then Luke turns to the dramatic rescue of Peter, and the death of James.  Peter was imprisoned and freed by an angel.  God is glorified by this amazing rescue, and counter to what most would think Peter would do after this, he obeys God and goes right back to the temple the next day and begins to preach the gospel. At the end of the chapter we learn of the death of Herod.  So time is moving right along here.

Chapter 13

A major shift occurs in chapter 13.  Luke is now going to focus mostly on the mission of Paul, who, along with Barnabas, is sent off on his first missionary journey by the Holy Spirit.  This chapter also details for us Paul’s first preaching in public, and like Stephen, he makes an appeal to history, and to Scripture and shares the gospel with boldness.

Chapter 14

Paul then moves on to Iconium and Lystra and ends up facing many hurdles – the end of the chapter concludes with Paul nearly dying by getting stoned by the people in Lystra! After that they returned to Antioch and shared about how God had opened a door to the gentile world for the gospel.

Chapter 15

This chapter is details the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem where the issue of the Judaizers needed to be dealt with – men who said that the gentile believers needed to adhere to the dietary restrictions of the OT and also be circumcised.  The council finds this to be incorrect, and sends a letter of clarification to the gentile churches.  Unfortunately the chapter also ends with a dispute between Barnabas and Paul, which leads them to separate and go different paths.

Chapter 16

In chapter 16 Timothy joins Paul and Paul receives the call to the people in Macedonia.  Whereupon he sails immediately to that region and begins to preach the gospel.  But they encounter resistance and are jailed.  During their stay in jail they began singing hymns and songs of praise to God and the entire jail is shaken by an earthquake that unleashes their bonds.  But they don’t leave, instead witnessing to the Jailer in charge of their protection.  This man is saved and the leaders of the city let them go (once they learn of Paul’s roman citizenship).

Chapter 17

Next Paul goes to Thessalonica and his teaching persuades some but other form a mob against them uttering the famous words, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” They escape to Berea, and find a lot more willingness among these people to learn and seach out what the Scriptures have to say about the Christ. Then they go to Athens where Paul addresses the city in the Areopagus and gives his gospel message using the reasoning style and citations of the Greeks.

Chapter 18

Next Paul went to Corinth and where we meet Pricilla and Aquila who were Jews scattered by the Diaspora (the Jewish dispersion). The local Jews in Corinth were so reviling in their reception of Paul that he said “from now on I will go to the Gentiles”, signifying a significant shift in his strategy for sharing the gospel.  The local Jews are so violent that they bring Paul before the roman proconsul who dismisses their charges out of pettiness.  So Paul returns to Antioch and Luke concludes the chapter by introducing us to a man named Apollos who was a great speaker and a great witness for Christ.

Chapter 19

Paul then goes to Ephesus and finds disciples who have not yet received the Spirit, and Luke details yet another Pentecost for these god fearing men and women who received the Spirit and were believers. Luke also takes time to tell us of the amazing miracles that Paul was working – even allowing people to take his handkerchief to the sick to be cured.  The amazing chapter ends with Luke telling of a riot in Ephesus over the preaching of the gospel.  The entire town – led by the silversmiths who made gods for a living – was in an uproar and a mob formed to deal with these Christians.  Fortunately, the town leaders dismissed the gathering and no one was hurt ad Paul was able to leave in safety.

Chapter 20

Paul then leaves Ephesus for Macedonia again, but the Jews plot his demise, so he sailed to Troas and preached there for 7 days during which he raised a young man from the dead who had fallen out of a window during his preaching.  Then Luke tells us that Paul sent for the Ephesian church elders and had them meet him so he could give them some last instructions before he went down to Jerusalem again.

Chapter 21-22

Luke details Paul’s trip to Jerusalem and his meeting with James where he gave a report of all that had been accomplished among the gentiles.  Then Paul went to the temple but was mobbed and for his own safety was detained by the roman tribune who allowed him to give his defense to the people – which they rejected.  The Tribune wasn’t going to keep a roman citizen bound in detention so he called for the Jewish Sanhedrin council to meet and hear Paul’s matter from there.

Chapter 23

Paul gives his testimony before the Jewish council and because of their dissension the Romans keep him in custody for his own safety.  During this time some Jews hatch a plot to kill Paul but its found out and they end up moving him to the care and protection of Felix the Governor of the area until a safe court date can be set with Paul’s Jewish accusers coming before Felix as well.

Chapter 24

Paul’s accusers arrive and lay their case before Felix who Luke tells us has a “Rather accurate knowledge/understanding of the Way” – probably because his wife was Jewish – and so Felix put them off and said he’d decide the case later.  But eventually two years passed and he did nothing until Festus succeeded him.  Festus left Paul in prison for the meantime to do the Jews a political favor.

Chapter 25

In chapter 25 we see more court maneuvering by the Romans.  Now Paul is sent to Caesarea and appears before Festus and the Jewish leaders as well as before Agrippa the king and his wife Bernice. They heart initial statements and concluded that Paul couldn’t have done anything to deserve death.  But Paul had made an appeal to the Caesar – which he was lawfully allowed to do due to his Roman citizenship, so the leadership locally couldn’t simply dismiss him now.

Chapter 26

In chapter 26 Paul gives his defense and testimony before Agrippa and it’s an amazing recounting of what we heard about in Acts 9.  Paul’s testimony is so powerful that Agrippa asked Paul if “in such a short time” he would have him become a Christian.  Paul’s answer is great: “And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.’” At the end of the defense all the authorities agreed that Paul seemed innocent enough to them, but they were forced to send him to Rome.

Chapter 27-28

So Paul is put with a bunch of other prisoners and sets sail for Rome.  In the middle of the trip they encounter a storm at sea and are shipwrecked but swim to safety on the Island of Malta where Paul is bitten by a snake with no affect on him, and then goes on to heal many of sickness and disease.

After three months of sailing and being shipwrecked, they finally arrive in Rome where Paul is greeted by other believers and placed under house arrest.  Paul preached the gospel to the Jewish leaders in Rome right after he arrived.  Luke ends the book by saying that “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”