The Daniel Factor, In the Fullness of Time, Part 1, By Dr Bruce Logan

The Daniel Factor – In the Fullness of Time

The bible is unquestionably the most powerful and the most important book that has ever been written.  Every aspect of God’s word was not only divinely inspired, but also had a specific, providential and prophetic significance, implication and purpose.  Yet, there are still certain books in the bible, as well as, certain passages in the bible that have particular significance, depending on the time in human history that the reader happened to have lived or happens to be living.

For example, if I were to ask a classroom of students the question, based on the tumultuous time in world history that we are currently living in, “what are some of the most important or significant passages of scripture in the New Testament,” I would no doubt, get several different answers.  For instance, there would no doubt be those who would say, John 3:16, while others might point to Romans 9:9-10 and so forth.  And in all actuality, none of those answers would be wrong, which shows the awesome uniqueness of the Bible.

However, if I were to personally respond to the question of what are the most significant passages of scripture in the New Testament, especially considering the tumultuous and “perilous time” that we are living in today,  I would argue that at least from a prophetic standpoint, Galatians 4:4-5 and Ephesians 1:10 would be two passages that would be at the top of my list.

The reason why I believe that these two seemingly abstract and often overlooked verses might be two of the most prophetically substantive passages of scripture in the New Testament overall, is the fact that in Galatians 4:4-5 and Ephesians 1:10, Paul essentially encapsulated the prophetic and redemptive history of the world.  A history of redemption that was first promised in Genesis 3:15 with the “seed of the women,” and subsequently officially began with the Abrahamic Covenant.

In essence, when man fell in the Garden of Eden, God could have decided to wipe out Adam and Eve right then and there and start over from scratch.  But instead, God chose to embark upon a plan of redemption and restoration.  A plan that would unfold and develop over thousands of years of human history.  A plan of redemption and restoration in which God Himself, using fallen, flawed, depraved, and sinful human beings, would divinely and providentially oversee and orchestrate in order to restore the world and mankind back to their original perfect state.

In other words, many people mistakenly think that God is just up in heaven, idly watching and reacting as human history unfolds.  However, that notion is contrary to Scripture.  Paul to the contrary, was explaining to those believers in Galatia, that the birth and life of Christ, was not just some random event that just happened at an arbitrary point in time.  But rather, as we will discover in this study, the birth of Christ occurred at a set, predestined, pre-arranged and providentially orchestrated time in human history.  

Along with that, when the student of scripture undertakes an in-depth dive into Ephesians 1:10, and then contrast that verse with Galatians 4:4-5, you will discover two very important prophetic and theological points:  First of all, in his observations that he gave to the Galatians, by using the phrase, “in the fullness of time,” Paul in essence, was encapsulating the previous several thousand years of redemptive history beginning with the call of Abraham to Christ’s first coming.  In other words, Paul was inferring that once all of the historical and prophetic Messianic I’s were dotted and all of the historic and prophetic Messianic T’s were crossed, God in essence said that now the  time is right.

Secondly however, and even more importantly to believers in this age, in Ephesians 1:10, by once again referencing the phrase, “in the fullness of time,” Paul similarly also summarized the past, nearly two-thousand years of prophetic and world history.  Only this time, he was referring to the time that began with the establishment of the Church, to a time that is still yet in the future.  A time, in which Christ will return for the second time and set up His earthly Kingdom.

Simply put, in Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, he was alluding to a pattern of human history in which, God Himself, had been providentially orchestrating and sovereignly overseeing for the purpose of setting the stage for Christ’s first coming.    But what is even more interesting, is the fact that not only did God orchestrate human events in order to “set the stage” for His Son’s first coming, but according to Ephesians 1:10, in order to prepare the world for Christ’s second coming, God has been using the very same model or historical precedent of providentially overseeing human events in order to set the stage for Christ’s second coming.

Specifically, in Ephesus 1:10 Paul writes, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”  If you will notice in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he once again references the phrase, “in the fullness of time.”  This time however,  instead of pointing to the historical and prophetic events that led to Christ’s first coming, Paul here is referring to a time that is yet to be fulfilled sometime in the future. A time when Christ will return and set up His Kingdom here on Earth, and the flow of human history that will precede His return.

To be more specific, in these two passages, Paul was literally referring to the flow of world prophetic and redemptive history that extended from the call of Abraham in Genesis 12, to the birth of Christ.  And then from the establishment of the Church in Acts 2, to Christ’s second coming.  A prophetic, redemptive and providentially orchestrated history that in fact, was recorded and subsequently fulfilled (and much of which is still being fulfilled) in astonishingly specific and historically precise detail in the Book of Daniel.

Perilous Times

To add something else that we as believers should not loose sight of, is the fact that, at least from the standpoint of prophetic and redemptive history, what makes these two passages so significant, is the fact that prophetically speaking, we are currently living in arguably one of the most difficult periods of time in world history since the beginning of the church age.  We are living at a time in which, just in the past year, the world has experienced an unapparelled rapid convergence of prophetic fulfillments happening all at the same time. In fact, Paul warned us of this time in his farewell letter to his young protégé Timothy when he warned:

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-7 nkjv). 

Now of course, because of the fallen state of the human race, there has always been difficult times throughout history.  However, the modern amalgamation of satanic activity in the culture, should serve as signal to believers around the world that Christ’s return is immanent.  Just for starters, consider for example, the fact that just in the past year in America, we have experienced a world wide Covid-19 pandemic, we are experiencing the rise of “woke” culture, the rise and dominance of the LGBT movement which is having the effect of desensitizing an entire generation by normalizing what God has called an abomination. Not only that,  we have been experiencing riots in the streets of America that resulted from s9me highly publicized shootings of African Americans by white police officers.  While at the same time, and even more alarmingly, we are witnessing the decline of the impact and influence of Christianity on society.

On the whole, society is becoming more and antithetical to Christianity. We are seeing steady increases in homosexuality, support for abortion on demand, unwillingness to obey authorities, unwillingness to work, marriage being abandoned, clothing being abandoned, an increase in pornography, and an increase in lawlessness, to name but a few areas.  Christian absolutes have been diluted or removed as the basis of society and replaced with a world view that says, “We do not have to accept that the Christian way of doing things (basing our world and life view on biblical principles) is the only way; we must tolerate all religious beliefs and ways of life.” However, this “tolerance” really means an intolerance of the absolutes of Christianity.

In addition to the proliferation of secularism, and a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 America also experienced one of the most divisive and polarizing Presidential elections in history, or at least since the election of Abraham Lincoln.  And to add to all of that, we are seeing leaders from around the world, including the new US President, strongly advocating for and actually taking steps towards a “Great Reset” of the worlds economies.  A great reset, which of course, is nothing more than a code phrase for establishing a universal economic system.

And when you add this unabashed and unwavering move towards the establishment of a universal economic system, along with the brazen and unapologetic attacks on Christianity and biblical values from every institution of cultural influence in America including the media, pop culture, public schools, academia, big tech, and even from the highest levels of the Federal Government, it should be enough to send shock waves throughout the Christian church all across America, regardless of denomination or race.  And if that is not alarming enough, there is even discussions of developing a “vaccine passport,” in which “no one would be able attend sporting and events, or travel unless they show “the mark” or verification of the vaccine.

Unfortunately however, it would appear that instead of more believers and particularly pastors and other leaders and spokesman sounding the alarm, most instead have gotten caught up in the media and pop culture narrative of race and racism being the primary enemy, and not discerning the signs of the times, or understanding the fact that there are literal unseen forces at work behind the scenes that have been directly responsible for much, if not all, of the dysfunction that we see on the nightly mainstream news.

God’s Prophetic Pattern of the History of Redemption

Now, just to summarize Galatians 4:4-5 and Ephesians 1:10, when the student of scripture does a close examination of the text, you will discover that what is even more significant about these two verses, is the fact that when Paul used the phrase, “In the fullness of time,” in writing to the Galatians, he was actually referencing the prophetic and historic flow of events that led to the birth of Christ.  However, when taking a deeper dive into subsequent world history, beginning with the establishment of the Church up to the present, we can clearly see the same pattern of historical and providential precedence of orchestrating human events, that God established leading to Christ’s first coming.

A prophetic precedent that would seem to point to the fact that, the same pattern or the same historical and prophetic model or template that God used in order to prepare the world or set the stage for Christ’s first coming, is the same providential process that He would use in order to prepare the world or set the stage for Christ’s second coming.  And it is because of this ultimate point of God’s providential and prophetic working through previous human history, along with discerning where we now stand in God’s prophetic calendar, that I believe to be imperative that believers understand and discern as we live and navigate through these difficult and very possibly last days.

And even more significantly, Paul here was referring to the specific period of time in human history, that began officially with the establishment of the Church, and extend to the time that “know one knows the day or the hour,” and that future day and hour that will come “like a thief in the night,” when Christ returns and sets up His Kingdom here on Earth, along with all of the providentially orchestrated human events that will lead up to Christ’s second coming.

The Daniel Factor

How did God bring it all together to accomplish His divine purpose?  While I may have been somewhat redundant in the above discussion of “the fullness of time,” understand that it was an important lead-in to what we are about to study now.  In other words, if Galatians 4:4-5 and Ephesians 1:10 are the most important historically and prophetically all-encompassing passage in the New Testament, then the Book of Daniel is the most historically and prophetically important book (next to the book of Genesis) in the Old Testament.  

In fact, the argument can be made that the book of Daniel represents the single most conclusive and definitive pieces of evidence that the bible is truly the divinely inspired word of God.  Because the precision in which the prophecies in Daniel were so literally, meticulously and precisely fulfilled in real time, that only God could have known.

In other words, God gave Daniel the complete view of the history of the gentile kingdoms starting with Babylon and all the way to the 2nd Coming of Christ. Demonstrating that God is clearly and providentially in control of human events and man’s ultimate destiny.  Furthermore, the Book of Daniel gives startling evidence, that not only does God notice us, but His hand has been steering world history towards one incredible final event.  Proving also, that not only does God know the future, but He has revealed it to us as well.

To be more specific, in the pages of the Book of Daniel, God through a series of some extremely specific dreams and visions, gives Daniel a panoramic view, with remarkable accuracy and precision, of the succeeding several thousand years of human redemptive history. Many of those events in fact are converging upon us at this very moment.  Notice for example, what God reveals to Daniel in Daniel 2:21:And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.”  What God was letting King Nebuchadnezzar know in essence, was the fact that it was the God of Daniel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who was the one true God, and who was literally sitting on high, and providentially orchestrating the rise and fall of Kings and Kingdoms.  Who was providentially manipulating world history and human events for a pre-ordained prophetic and redemptive purpose.

Why is this important?  Because, God is a God who, “knows the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10). In  other words, before the heavens and earth were created, God’s plan to reconcile humanity was already in place.  And we may very well be living in that time when we will see the “consummations of all things.”  And outside of the book of Revelation, no other book in the bible highlights the history of God’s prophetic plan of redemption with more precision and detail than the book of Daniel.  Also, there is no other book in the bible that gives believers today a better understanding of  where we are now on God’s prophetic calendar than a careful examination of the Book of Daniel.

As I pointed out earlier, some people think that God is up in Heaven watching and reacting as human history unfolds, and that Christ’s being born in Bethlehem when He did, was just some random coincidence.  But both of those notions are contrary to Scripture. Paul in fact, was explaining to those believers in Galatia, that the birth and life of Christ, was not just some random event that just happened at an arbitrary point in time.  But rather, the birth of Christ literally occurred at a Divinely and providentially orchestrated, pre-set, and pre-arranged time in human history.

From a big picture perspective, the Scriptures chronicle the working of God’s hand as He sovereignly brings events into alignment with His will. Genesis 3 explains that reconciliation with God was needed because the entire human race has been corrupted by Adam and Eve’s sin. Yet, immediately after confronting them, the Lord promised to bring deliverance through the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15). Then God chose Abraham as the ancestor of the One through whom, He would bless the entire world (Genesis 12:1-3).

From among Israel’s 12 sons, He chose a ruler to come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).  Centuries later, God selected David to be the one through whom a King would arise, whose kingdom would never end (2 Samuel 7:16).  As the time of Christ’s coming drew near, the Lord used a Roman emperor named Caesar Augustus to send Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His prophecy that the King would come from this small town (Micah 5:2).  Then, Jesus arrived in the fullness of time.

However, while it is important that believers understand this essential redemptive narrative, it is in the pages of the Book of Daniel, that we get a much more comprehensive, or big picture historical narrative.  And understanding this more comprehensive narrative, is essential for the believer who desires to be able to “discern the signs of the times” in today’s world.

The Purposes of the Book of Daniel

When looking at the contents of the book of Daniel, as well as observing the historical setting in which this book was written, there are a number of likely reasons why Daniel was guided by the Holy Spirit to write this book:

First, the book certainly must have been written to encourage the nation of Israel. In their Babylonian captivity the great question that weighed heavily on the hearts of these Israelite captives was “is God through with us?” Israel’s disobedience and unbelief had brought the severe discipline of the Lord God on them and it was natural to wonder if God was finished with them. But Daniel, along with his contemporary Ezekiel, was quite clear that God had not set them aside. Because of the grace and faithfulness of God, they did have an amazing future as the events of the future recorded in this book made clear. What an encouragement this would be to the Jews of that time.

A second purpose was to provide a prophetic framework that would be important to the understanding of other prophecies given before Daniel’s time as well as prophecies given centuries later. Daniel’s prophecies would particularly give a framework for that era known as “the times of the gentiles” (Luke 21:24). During this period gentile nations would exercise dominance over Israel culminating in the final seven years of human history commonly known as The Tribulation.  Without Daniel, many prophecies would be quite obscure and we would be forced to speculate about them.

A third purpose for Daniel’s book is to reveal with absolute clarity the sovereignty of God over men and nations. The Lord God of Israel is not simply the God of Israel. He is the sovereign God of all the earth. Several of the Old Testament prophets have sections in their writings where gentile nations are addressed (Isaiah 13; Amos 1).  Although the messages to those gentile nations may not have actually been delivered to them, these messages let Israel know that in spite of the power of these gentile nations, it is the sovereign Lord who has absolute power and authority.

So, in spite of the authority and power of Satan and the armament of nations, the Lord God of Israel is the One who sets kings up and takes them down. Eventually every nation of men as well as the forces of the devil will be forever destroyed. All authority resides in the Lord God of Israel, as Nebuchadnezzar learned firsthand. Every knee will indeed bow before the God of Israel.

A fourth purpose of the book of Daniel is to provide another illustration of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises made with Abraham.  In the Abrahamic Covenant, God had committed Himself to bring blessing to both Israel and the nations. And the Scriptures proclaim that reconciliation and restoration would occur through “the seed of Abraham” that is, the Messiah. The fulfilling of these covenant promises ultimately depended on God’s faithfulness and not on the faithfulness and obedience of Israel.

Daniel joins with many other voices 10 in the Old and New Testament in declaring that God will do what He said He would do in and through Israel. God will be absolutely faithful to His covenant commitments.

The Historical Setting and Timeline for the Book of Daniel:

After Solomon died, the Nation of Israel was divided in two (940 BC):
  • The Northern kingdom was made up of 10 tribes. Schechem was its capital for a time, then Penuel, then Tirzah.
  • The Southern kingdom was made up of two tribes with its capital in Jerusalem.

The two were never reunited and competed for dominance in the region. After the split there was a decline in moral and religious fervor in both kingdoms as periods of high and low fidelity to the Lord followed one upon another.  During Israel’s development from 1400 BC to its divided kingdom in the 9th century, the Assyrian nation dominated the world scene politically and militarily. Their capital was to the north, in Nineveh, and the Jews often had to pay tribute or fight off this strong and wicked neighbor.

In 722 BC the Assyrians attacked and destroyed the Northern kingdom and scattered the people throughout other nations and brought many into exile to Assyria. They also brought foreigners to live in the North and mix with the remaining Jews. The result was that the Northern kingdom’s population was mixed with foreign nations and lost its pure Jewish blood and heritage. These “mixed” Jews were eventually called Samaritans by the Southern kingdom and despised because of their mixed blood, their mixed religion (pagan/Judaism) and their collaboration with enemies against the South in times of war.

Meanwhile, on the world stage, a new power emerged to challenge Assyrian supremacy and in 612 the Babylonians destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, and established themselves as world rulers. In 606 BC the Babylonian army led by future king Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and carried off the main leaders, nobles, and royalty to Babylon where they began 70 years of captivity which was the subject of prophesies made by Jeremiah in 626 (20 years before the fact).

Background and Overview of Daniel

The book of Daniel takes place from B.C. 605 to 530, bridging both the Babylonian and Persian kingdom’s rule over Judea and Jerusalem.  Daniel follows a turbulent and period in Israel’s history.  Israel and Judah were buffer nations between the powerful nations of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. 

Babylon was a once former great kingdom dominated by the Assyrian Empire.  In 621 B.C., Nabopolassar became the king of Babylon. He then challenged Assyrian control.  In 612 B.C., with the aid of the Medes and Scythian hordes, Nabopolassar sacked the Assyrian capital of Nineveh.

Assyria, following the sacking went into a quick decline, the armies of Assyria abandoned the cities of Haran at the approaching Babylonians in 610 B.C. Egypt allied itself with Assyria against Babylon to retake the city.  Pharaoh Neco, (2 Kings 23:28-30) on his way through Israel, was intercepted by the armies of Judah led by Josiah (640-609 B.C.).  Josiah was killed in battle and Assyria become part of the Neo Babylonian Empire. 

Background Scriptures

2 Kings 24:1-20; 2 Kings 25
2 Chronicles 36:1-23
2 Chronicles 35:20-27
2 Kings 22-23
Jeremiah 29, & 46:1-12

CARCHEMISH, PHARAOH NECHO & KING JOSIAH

In the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign (605BCE), the long-awaited conflict between Egypt and Babylon culminated in the Battle of Carchemish. The Egyptians met the full might of the Babylonian and Median army led by Nebuchadnezzar II at Carchemish.

This led to the total destruction of the combined forces of Egypt and Assyria.  Assyria ceased to exist as an independent power. While Egypt retreated, ceasing to be a significant force in the Ancient Near East.

The Battle of Carchemish is one of those battles that changed the course of history. It lies central to the history of Judah and is spoken of in Jeremiah 46:1-12, yet few who read the Bible realize its importance.

This battle saw the final end of the cruel & vicious regime of the Assyrians, the ending of Egypt’s dominance in the Middle East and the rise of Babylon. Babylon, of course, was eventually to take Judah into captivity, for seventy years.  (Jeremiah 29:10 & Daniel 9:1-2)

Egypt’s Pharaoh Necho, was an ally of Assyria and in 609BCE was heading to the Euphrates area to help the remnants of the Neo-Assyrian army. They had been driven out of Assyria when Nineveh fell to a coalition of forces including Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians.  The Assyrian army had taken refuge in Haran but three years later Haran was also captured. Pharaoh Necho had arrived too late to help but kept his troops in the area for the next four years.

On his way to help the Assyrians, Pharaoh Necho was stalled at Megiddo by the foolish decision of King Josiah to fight Necho and his army [2 Chronicles 35:20-24].  King Josiah had been a righteous king who had ruled Judah for 31 years, from the age of just eight (2 Chronicles 34:1).

This foolish decision led to Josiah’s death and Pharaoh Neco replacing him with Josiah’s son, Jehoash, as king. Necho only allowed Jehoash II to remain as king for three months, replacing him with his brother, Jehoiakim.

Josiah Dies in Battle (2 Chronicles 35:20-25)

20 After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him. 

21 But he sent messengers to him, saying, “What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I have not come against you this day, but against the house with which I have war; for God commanded me to make haste. Refrain from meddling with God, who is with me, lest He destroy you.” 

22 Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself so that he might fight with him, and did not heed the words of Necho from the mouth of God. So he came to fight in the Valley of Megiddo.

23 And the archers shot King Josiah; and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am severely wounded.” 

24 His servants therefore took him out of that chariot and put him in the second chariot that he had, and they brought him to Jerusalem. So he died, and was buried in one of the tombs of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.

25 Jeremiah also lamented for Josiah. And to this day all the singing men and the singing women speak of Josiah in their lamentations. They made it a custom in Israel; and indeed, they are written in the Laments.

Among the leaders and young nobles carried off at this time was a young man named Daniel who would grow in importance and prestige in the foreign king’s court because of his ability to interpret dreams and prophesy. Also taken away at this time was Ezekiel the prophet. God allowed His people to be taken away into exile but He provided for their spiritual needs: Daniel in the palace was influencing the king with his special gifts, Ezekiel lived among the people and ministered to them with his teaching and his prophecies.

Twenty years later, in 586 BC, after the king who had been left in charge of the Southern kingdom by the Babylonians rebelled (Zedekiah), the Babylonians returned to Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and the city and carried off even more Jews into captivity. The Babylonian system was to carry off the leaders and retrain them in Babylonian culture, religion and politics, and return these people (after 20-30 years) to their homelands to rule under their administration.

In 539 BC, the Medes conquered the Babylonians and the new world leader was a man called Cyrus who became king in 536 BC. In that same period this king released the Jews to return to their homeland and provided them with help to begin rebuilding the temple and the city. During this time (534 BC) Daniel died while in captivity in Babylon, now controlled by the Medes. From about 500 to 332 BC, the Medes shared world power with another mighty nation, Persia (Medo-Persian Empire).

It is during the reign of the Persian kings that the city of Jerusalem was completed, the temple was rebuilt, Ezra reestablished the Law, Malachi prophesied to the people who had resettled in Jerusalem, and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the wall (486-400 BC).

Quick outline of Daniel

  • Author is Daniel (Daniel 8:15, 27; 9:2; 10:2,7; 12:4-5)
  • Written between 535 and 530 B.C.
  • Purpose is to encourage the exiled Jews by revealing God’s program for them both during and after the time of Gentile Power.
  • It presents God’s plan for the future of Israel and traces the course of Gentile world powers from his exile days in Babylon to the Second Coming of Christ.
  1. Daniel’s story (1–6)
    • Daniel is taken to Babylon (1)
    • Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an image (2)
    • Daniel’s friends survive the fiery furnace (3)
    • Nebuchadnezzar is humbled (4)
    • Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall (5)
    • Daniel survives the lions’ den (6)
  2. Daniel’s visions (7–12)
    • Vision of the four beasts (7)
    • Vision of the ram and goat (8)
    • Prayer and vision of 70 weeks (9)
    • Vision of kings yet to come (10–12)
Brief Summary: 
Introduction
The Book of Daniel naturally divides itself into two parts:
  1. God’s providence in history [Daniel 1:1 – 6:28] and
  2. God’s purpose in history [Daniel 7:1 thru 12:13].                                            

The second half of the book, contains four visions seen by Daniel that expands upon and gives more elaborate details to the prophecy in chapter 2:

  1. The Vision of the Four Beast [Daniel 7:1-28].
  2. The Vision of the Ram and the Goat [Daniel 8:1-27].
  3. The Vision of the Seventy Weeks [Daniel 9:1-27].
  4. The Vision of the Time of the End [Daniel 10:1 thru 12:13].          
In the last section, God reveals to Daniel, things about His purpose and plan in history, regarding the Nation of Israel and the coming “Everlasting Kingdom.”

Chapter 1 describes the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Along with many others, Daniel and his three friends were deported to Babylon and because of their courage and the obvious blessings of God upon them, they were “promoted” in the king’s service (Daniel 1:1-20; 2 Kings 24 & 25).

Chapters 2-4 record Nebuchadnezzar having a dream that only Daniel could correctly interpret. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great statue represented the kingdoms that would arise in the future. Nebuchadnezzar made a great statue of himself and forced everyone to worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused and were miraculously spared by God despite being thrown into a fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar is judged by God for his pride, but later restored once he recognized and admitted God’s sovereignty.

Daniel chapter 5 records Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar misusing the items taken from the Temple in Jerusalem and receiving a message from God, written into the wall, in response. Only Daniel could interpret the writing, a message of coming judgment from God. Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den for refusing to pray to the emperor, but was miraculously spared.

In chapter 7, God gave Daniel a vision of four beasts. The four beasts represented the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

Chapters 8-12 contain a vision involving a ram, a goat, and several horns – also referring to future kingdoms and their rulers. Daniel chapter 9 records Daniel’s “seventy weeks” prophecy. God gave Daniel the precise timeline of when the Messiah would come and be cut off. The prophecy also mentions a future ruler who will make a seven-year covenant with Israel and break it after three and a half years, followed shortly thereafter by the great judgment and consummation of all things. Daniel is visited and strengthened by an angel after this great vision, and the angel explains the vision to Daniel in great detail.

Dreams and Visions

When most Christians, (and even many non-believers) think about the Book of Daniel, generally speaking, often will automatically default back to their Sunday School days and the lessons about Daniel in the Lion’s Den and the Three Hebrew Boys in the fiery furnace.  And while these encounters hold some obvious and very significant life lessons for us, the true meat or the primary significance of the book of Daniel, is the series of prophetic dreams and visions that covered the future rise and fall of world empires or kingdoms, and Christ’s ultimate and final Kingdom, will never be destroyed, and  that will come and destroy all earthly kingdoms.

The first of these prophecies is recorded in Daniel Chapter 2.  King Nebuchadnezzar had been greatly disturbed by a series of disturbing dreams.  He called for all of his wise men and magicians to come and interpret the dream for him.  But in this particular case, he threw in a huge curve ball.  He demanded that not only they give him the dreams interpretation, but he demanded that they also tell him the dream.  He further laid on the pressure, by telling them that if they can’t tell him the dream, that they would all be executed.

(2:2-9) Nebuchadnezzar demands to know the dream and its interpretation from his wise men.

Then the king gave the command to call the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream.” Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will give the interpretation.” The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “My decision is firm: if you do not make known the dream to me, and its interpretation, you shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made an ash heap. However, if you tell the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts, rewards, and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.” They answered again and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will give its interpretation.” The king answered and said, “I know for certain that you would gain time, because you see that my decision is firm: if you do not make known the dream to me, there is only one decree for you! For you have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the time has changed. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.”

(2:12-13) After they attempted to stall for time, a furious Nebuchadnezzar sentences all his wise men to death.

“For this reason the king was angry and very furious, and gave a command to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. So the decree went out, and they began killing the wise men; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.”

(2:14-16) Daniel reacts to Nebuchadnezzar’s decree by asking for a brief extension.

Then with counsel and wisdom Daniel answered Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon; he answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, “Why is the decree from the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the decision known to Daniel. So Daniel went in and asked the king to give him time, that he might tell the king the interpretation.

(2:24-30) God reveals to Daniel the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation.

Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; take me before the king, and I will tell the king the interpretation.” Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king, and said thus to him, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation.” The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?” Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, “The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these: As for you, O king, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed, about what would come to pass after this; and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be. But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but for our sakes who make known the interpretation to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart.

1. Arioch tried to glorify himself and Daniel for the answer to the king’s dream. But Daniel refused to take credit, recognizing that the credit went to God, who revealed this dream to Daniel.

2. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream didn’t just concern himself for his kingdom, but the whole span of the future – which was to Nebuchadnezzar the latter days.

(2:31-35) Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and reveals God’s redemptive providence over human history.

“You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”

1. Daniel’s description was clear. This was a massive and spectacular image made of different materials (fine gold… silver… bronze… iron… partly of iron and partly of clay).
2. The materials descended in value from top to bottom, with gold at the top and iron mixed with clay at the bottom.
3. This spectacular image was destroyed by a stone made without hands, and what remained of it was blown away like worthless chaff, while the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
(2:36-45) The interpretation of the dream.

“This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all; you are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”

That Daniel was indeed a prophet is well substantiated.  He accurately prophesied the rise of the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires even at a time when the Babylonian Empire, which preceded them all, was at its height. He accurately predicted the fortunes, conflicts, wars and conspiracies of the two kingdoms of Syria and Egypt between the fracturing of the Greek Empire and the conquest by Rome.

The glorified outward appearance of the image depicts the power and character of world powers; however, their ultimate destruction demonstrates the lifeless and weak formation of any world governments. Being established on the dangerous foundation of clay and iron, the image does not have any strength or stability. This further depicts the weak establishments of world governments and the tendency for it tumble against stronger forces. Although individual materials of the image hold value, they cannot be mixed together to create coherence. Upon studying past kingdoms and present democratic governments, it can be said with certainty that political tension and a lack of unity is a critical fault in present world powers.

Daniel further explains the meaning of the four parts of the image:

The Golden Head represents the first established world power: the Babylon empire. Ancient Babylon can into being after the fall of Israel and its glory lasted 70 years from B.C. 606 – 536. The attractive and precious gold points to the splendor and wealth of Babylon accumulated by its great ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon as a powerful autocrat for 44 years till B.C. 562. His successors were weak and led lives of pleasure which ultimately led to their demise. Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, was killed in the midst of a boisterous and drunken gathering in the palace when the Medo-Persian Kings came and took over the land.

The Chest and Arms of Silver illustrates the Medo-Persian empire which became powerful after the fall the of Babylonian empire. This empire lasted more than 200 years from B.C. 536 till 330. As silver is inferior to gold, Medo-Persian kings had less prosperity and splendor than the Babylonians, but they lasted longer and controlled more areas. Furthermore, gold symbolizes the authority of kings while silver represents the power of princes. The Medo-Persian empire was governed by coherent rule of assigned princes with a king as an overseer.

The picture of two hands depicts the joint authority of Medes and Persia. When Cyrus and the Persian king Darius (Cyrus’s father-in-law) conquered Babylon in B.C. 536, they consented upon joint rule. However, as Cyrus became increasingly engaged with matters of war, he appointed Darius to be governor of Babylon. Two years later, when his father, Cambyses, died, Cyrus took over control of the total empire. Cyrus was succeeded by 9 kings and the empire faded away with its last king: Darius III.

The Belly and Thighs of Bronze points to the Greek empire which became powerful from B.C. 331 to B.C. 63. In B.C. 331, Alexander the Great, a valiant man of war, conquered the Medo-Persian empire and established his kingdom. He became a feared and powerful emperor as he was able to conquer Persia, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Bactria, and the Punjab within a very short span of time. However, he greatly favored his subjects, displaying great leniency towards the Jews. He built cities in all lands that he conquered and tried to teach Greek language to all people. When he died unexpectedly in B.C. 323, the kingdom as divided into four. Nevertheless, they stood strong as the most dominant powers of the world politically, socially, and culturally until the roman empire gained power.

The Iron Legs represent the Roman empire which became powerful around B.C. 63. Rulers were all autocratic men from noble families who conducting strict administration without any leniency towards anyone. Rome was original known as ‘Roma’, a city founded by an Italian named Romulus in B.C. 758 on the banks of the Tyber River. As the city rulers became very powerful, they conquered more land and formed an empire. An army general named Pompey, who ruled from B.C. 86 to 48, subdued rebels and pirates and conquered Syria, Palestine and other middle eastern nations.

Pompey was killed in B.C. 48 and Julius Caesar became the ruler. Julius Caesar was killed by Brutus in B.C. 44. Then Octavius (Caesar’s son-in-law), Mark Antony, and Lepidus ruled the empire together. Later, in B.C. 30, Octavius took the name of Augustus Caesar and assumed charge as the first emperor of Rome. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Augustus. In A.D. 364, as depicted by the two legs of the image, Rome was divided into Western and Eastern empires.

The Feet of Mixed Iron and Clay depict the democratic governments which come up after the fall of the Roman empire. Currently we are in this stage of world governance, as many countries around the world our adopting the democratic system.

A Stone Untouched by Hand proceeds out of the mountains and smashes the image. According to the interpretation of Daniel, the stone represents Jesus Christ who is to appear in the end times. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ goes beyond the understandings of human intellect; therefore, His return will also be of similar fashion. All world powers will come to an end at the coming of Christ and He will establish His glorious kingdom in which we are the honourable members.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” (Daniel 2:45 NIV)

The reason why the book of Daniel is so interesting is due to the parallel evidence we can draw from proved historical events. It is quite mesmerizing to unravel the depth of meaning hidden in the scriptures and come to understand that the recorded events continue to be fulfilled in this day and time.

Certainly, every book in the Bible has an important contribution to make to our understanding of God and His ways. However, Daniel makes its important contribution in a number of unique ways:

First, the Book of Daniel provides a comprehensive view of the movement of the history of gentile nations through the lens of the nation of Israel. After the fall of man (Genesis 3), instead of destroying man and the universe and starting over again, God chose to embark on the course of reconciliation and restoration.

The key to this reconciliation would be the “seed of the woman”. This broad concept was later narrowed down to the “seed of Abraham”; that is, the nation of Israel. It would be through the nation of Israel that God would accomplish His purposes. And the Book of Daniel makes a major contribution to understanding the course of Israel’s history as it relates to gentile nations.

Second, the Book of Daniel gives many key elements essential to an understanding of prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments. Daniel’s revelations of the coming kingdom, of the future tribulation, of the “abomination of desolation” and of the coming Antichrist are built upon by the Apostles and Jesus Himself. And Daniel’s “seventy weeks” prophecy is the foundation for Revelation 6-19 and other prophetic portions of scripture.

Third, the Book of Daniel gives some insight into the Israelites’ experience during their captivity in Babylon. While this is not a book of history per se, it does give some snapshots of the nation in that land in the years between the Old Testament books of 2 Kings and Ezra. The book does make it clear that God is not done with His disobedient nation and that there is hope and that they do have a future.

Fourth, in a practical way, the book shows that God does honor those who honor Him (1 Sam. 2:30). Daniel is an example of such a person. The book reveals many of the ways that Daniel honored God and how God, in turn, honored Daniel. God declares that Daniel was a “highly esteemed” man (cf. 9:23; 10:11, 19). The book provides us with an outstanding model of living godly and righteously in a world that is not conducive to such a lifestyle.

An Historical Analysis of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream:

An Synopsis of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

1.  Now we will tell the interpretation: Daniel first accurately reported the content of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. This gave Daniel credibility when explaining what the dream meantthe interpretation.

2.  Three dominating empires came after Babylon: Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The nature of these empires was accurately reflected by the nature of the image Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream.

3.  The empires succeeding Babylon were inferior to Nebuchadnezzar’s head of gold in the sense of their centralization of absolute power. Nebuchadnezzar was an absolute monarch, and the succeeding empires were progressively less so. They were larger and lasted longer than Babylon, but none held as much centralized power as Nebuchadnezzar did.

4.  The third kingdom of bronze was the one which shall rule over all the earth. Indeed, Alexander’s Grecian Empire was the largest among those compared in the image (except the final government of the Messiah).

5.  In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: This described the fulfillment of this prophecy in the future. The stone cut without hands. shatters a confederation of kings, represented by the feet of the image, and then God’s Kingdom will dominate the earth.

6.  Since Roman history provides no fulfillment of this federation of kings (which seems to number ten, because of the number of toes, and passages like Daniel 7:24 and Revelation 17:12) this prophecy must still be future.

7.  Since the fall of the Roman Empire, there has never been a world-dominating empire equal to Rome. Many have tried – the Huns, Islam, the so-called Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin – but none have succeeded. Each of these had amazing power and influence, but nothing compared to that of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, in some form or another, will be revived under the leadership of the final fallen dictator, the Antichrist.

8.  It broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold: This described a single, decisive event that shattered the image representing the glory of man’s rule on earth. Since the Church or the Gospel have not, in a single decisive event, shattered the reign of human kingdoms, this event is still in the future.

9.  This stone cut without hands is the Messiah, not the Church. Psalm 118:22Isaiah 8:14Isaiah 28:16, and Zechariah 3:9 also refer to Jesus as a stone.

10. Therefore, the final superpower of the world is thought to be a revival of the Roman Empire, a continuation of this image. This will be the final world empire that the returning Jesus will conquer over.

11. Some 40 years from this, Daniel had a vision describing the same succession of empires. Daniel saw it from God’s perspective, and Nebuchadnezzar saw it from man’s perspective. Nebuchadnezzar saw these empires as an impressive image; Daniel saw them as fierce beasts.

12. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure: Daniel didn’t guess or analyze. Through him God announced the future. The only reason that God can predict history is because he can control it.

Old Testament history ends in 400 BC with the work of the prophet Malachi. There are two other historic events that take place that have great significance for the world and also for the coming of Jesus and the spread of the gospel.

  1. Alexander the Great conquers Persia in 331 BC and Greece becomes the new world power. Alexander dies soon after (323 BC) in Babylon with a broken heart because there are no other nations to conquer.
  2. In 146 BC Rome destroys Carthage and puts an end to Greek dominance and will become the new world power for the next 500 years.
It is important to understand that there is a story within a story going on here:
  1. There is the story of the Jews: their kingdoms being destroyed by foreign armies, their people being carried off and two of their people (Ezekiel and Daniel) writing about the experience.
  2. There is the story of world kingdoms: through the Bible accounts of the experiences of the Jews we can trace the rise and fall of five world powers (which historical records confirm): Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, Roman.
The significance of this is important for several reasons:
  1. Much of Daniel’s visions, dream interpretations and prophecy will chronicle the rise and fall of these world powers and the eventual coming of the Christian age at its proper point in history. Exact historical prophecy that can be verified through history books is one of the strongest proofs for the inspiration of Scripture. In 605 BC Daniel begins to predict the rise and fall of 4 world powers into the next 600 years.
  2. The language, symbols and prophecy are directly related to the meaning and interpretation of the book of Revelation.
 (2:46-49) Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to Daniel’s reporting of the dream and its interpretation.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

a. Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face: This great king was obviously impressed. He wasn’t in the habit of showing such respect to anyone, especially a foreign slave who was about to be executed with the rest of the wise men. This confirmed that Daniel accurately reported the dream and skillfully explained its meaning.

b. Your God is the God of gods: Nebuchadnezzar knew that it wasn’t Daniel himself that revealed these things, but Daniel’s God revealed it through Daniel. Daniel wanted the glory to go to God, and it did.

c. The king promoted Daniel: Daniel not only had his life spared, but he was promoted to high office – and he made sure his friends were also promoted. It was fitting that Daniel’s friends got to share in his advancement, because they accomplished much of the victory through their prayers.

Key Verses:

Daniel 1:19-20, “The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”

Daniel 2:31, “You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue – an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.”

Daniel 3:17-18, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 4:34-35, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 9:25-27, “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ’sevens,’ and sixty-two ’sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ’sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ’seven.’ In the middle of the ’seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

In summary, the book of Daniel this book is key to understanding end times prophecy. The Book of Daniel contains some remarkable prophecies concerning how history will come to a climax. God gave Daniel the complete view of the history of the gentile kingdoms starting with Babylon and all the way to the 2nd Coming of Christ. Demonstrating that God is clearly and providentially in control of human events and man’s ultimate destiny.

Finally, the Book of Daniel gives startling evidence, that not only does God notice us, but His hand has been steering world history towards one incredible final event. Proving also, that not only does God know the future, but He has revealed it to us as well.

Foreshadowing

Daniel’s vision of the end times depicts Israel’s Messiah by whom many will be made pure and holy (Daniel 12:10). He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30) by whom our sins, though blood-red, will be washed away and we will be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

Recommended Resource: Daniel: The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentary by Walvoord & Dyer.
Daniel, NIV Application Commentary by Tremper Longman III.
Daniel, Holman Old Testament Commentary by Kenneth Gangel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning the World Upside Down, Exploring the Book of Acts Part 5, By Dr Bruce Logan

The period of consolidation

This final historical period of the book of Acts, actually follows the conclusion of Luke’s historical record that makes up the book of Acts. The dates for this period would be approximately AD 67 to AD 97 concluding when John received the Revelation on the Isle of Patmos.  Luke abruptly terminates The Book of the Acts with Paul’s final imprisonment.  Yet, we know from church history that this new sect of Christ followers known as Christians, continued to grow and expand throughout the empire after the death of Paul.  And the more that the Church grew the more structure and organization was needed.

And the more organized and influential the Church became, the more external, as well as, internal threats and challenges arose that they had to overcome.  In addition to the records that we have from other historical resources outside of the bible, the Holy Spirit also inspired biblical writers (except the book of James which was written back during the period of extension) following the execution of Paul, to pen additional letters to the Churches which are referred to as the “general epistles.”

These general epistles (not including James) were: First and Second Peter, First, Second and Third John, Hebrews, Jude and the Book of Revelation which by the way, is a fitting conclusion to the New Testament.

 

The book of Revelation, was written by John under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives us a panoramic view of the return of Christ, the establishment of God’s Kingdom, and the culmination of God’s wonderful and merciful plan of redemption for the human race who had originally fell in the Garden of Eden.  The Book of Revelation assures us of a future that is better than the past or the present.  God has a glorious plan for His people.  And those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, will enjoy life forever in a place called Heaven.   It will be life eternal with Christ in a matter and a state that will actually be incomprehensible to our current natural human understanding.

Imperial Persecutions

The story of the early church is the story of God working in incredible ways through a group of people known as his apostles. These are the people he had specially chosen and called to serve as his emissaries, to take the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ all through the known world.  Again and again we read about these apostles in the book of Acts and in the various epistles, but what happened to all of those characters once the book of Acts was complete and the biblical canon was closed?  A generation after the death of Christ, Christianity had reached Rome in the form of an obscure offshoot of Judaism popular among the city’s poor and destitute. Members of this religious sect spoke of the coming of a new kingdom and a new king. These views provoked suspicion among the Jewish authorities who rejected the group and fear among the Roman authorities who perceived these sentiments as a threat to the Empire.

 Tradition declares that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome by Nero, along with thousands of other Christians being burned, impaled, crucified or fed to the lions in the Coliseum. In AD 64 the city of Rome is in flames and Nero blames the Christians to justify a mass slaughter. One thing is certain; the Acts of the Apostles does not tell the whole story. There are hints in Paul’s epistles that the gospel had a much wider proclamation than that describe by Luke. He states that the gospel had been “preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Col. 1:23); that the faith of the Roman church was “spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom 1:8); that the faith of the Thessalonian believers “has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thess 1:8).

Now, during this period of consolidation, the church was confronted by two primary dangers which were: physical persecution and heresy by false teachers and false doctrine.  Now, you can think of these two threats as having two components:  External and Internal.  Persecution which was external and false teaching which was internal.  Now if you examine the epistles that were written during this period, they were written for the purpose of strengthening believers who were either suffering persecution or mislead, confused and being deceived by false teaching.  Therefore, these general epistles were written to not only strengthen believers who were suffering physical persecution, but also to clarify truth so they could avoid doctrinal error and personal sin.

It is also important to point out that these epistles are referred to as “general epistles” because in contrast to Paul’s letters that were addressed to specific churches or specific individuals, the general epistles were addressed to all of the churches generally.  Consider for example the epistles of Peter.  First Peter was written to strengthen believers who were suffering, and Second Peter was written to warn about false teachers.  Notice for example, Peter’s opening greeting in his first epistle:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:1-8).

1 Peter is a letter from Peter to the believers who had been “dispersed” throughout the ancient world and were under intense persecution. You’ll notice in Peter’s opening greeting in his first epistle, that the letter is being addressed to “the Pilgrims of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”  (Vs 1).  If anyone understood persecution, it was Peter. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to endure without bitterness, without losing hope and in great faith living an obedient, victorious life. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus  was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow.

Notice in verse 6, Peter continues his encouragement by letting them know that, “though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.”  In other words, Peter’s first letter was written to persecuted believers who where essentially refugees who had fled their homes in order to escape the terrible persecution that Christians were being subjected to.

In contrast however, in Peter’s second letter, he informs them of his anticipation of death, and then gives them a warning against false teachers:

Peter’s Approaching Death

12 For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. 13 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, 14 knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. 15 Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” (2 Peter 1:12-15).

Destructive Doctrines

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

Doom of False Teachers

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)—then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, 11 whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.

Depravity of False Teachers

12 But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.  17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

Deceptions of False Teachers

18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:1-22).

Peter knows that he will die for the Lord, and that his time was drawing near.  But there is so much the church needs to know and remember! False teachers are everywhere, causing divisions in the body of Christ. People will mock the promise of Christ’s return. There are those who twist the Old Testament, and even Paul’s letters.  The church needs to remember the Scriptures: the words of the Old Testament prophets and the words of Jesus that the apostles had passed on. Peter is an undisputed authority in the church, and so before he gives up his life, he writes one last letter.

Second Peter is a last attempt to help the global church by reminding them of the truth. Peter explains several things that Christians will need to remember after he’s gone:

  1. Godly living is the evidence of salvation (2 Peter 1:10). If the Christians really believe what they say they believe, they will display moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love.

  2. Scriptural truth and prophecy are from God, not man. Peter and the rest of the apostles would die, but the word would remain forever (1 Peter 1:25). Furthermore, the teaching that Peter and the apostles had passed on wasn’t just something they’d dreamed up; they were eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16-18).  And all those Old Testament prophets? They were under the influence of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

  3. False teachers will try to deceive the church. They’ll introduce divisive teachings that encourage people to indulge in the sins of the world: a twisted, disgusting take on Jesus’ grace.

  4. Mockers will discount the idea of Jesus’ return. Peter doesn’t know when Jesus was coming back; he just knew better than to doubt Him. Peter assures the church that Jesus is indeed returning, and His church should behave accordingly (2 Peter 3:14).

  5. Peter had urged the church to stand firm in his first letter, but there will be no more letters from Peter. There will be no more sermons and no more miracles from the disciple who lead the church for over 30 years.  Second Peter urges the church to stand firm, because even when Peter is gone, the church must carry on.

In other words, if you were to encapsulate and summarize the messages in Peters two letters, you can clearly see that the two most existential threats that the church faced as the church continued to grow and expand after the closing of the book of Acts and the death of the Apostles, was physical persecution and the proliferation of false teachers and false doctrines.

Similarly, Jude was also written to warn about false teaching:

Jude, Warning About the Ungodly Men

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).

The Book of Hebrews ironically, were written to believers who were second guessing their conversion to Christianity because of the false teachers who were proclaiming the law of Moses was superior to Christianity.  The author of Hebrews sets out to address these doubts by making a compelling argument that Christianity is the true successor to Judaism.  He does so by using the Old Testament scriptures and imagery in order to demonstrate to them the true supremacy and sufficiency of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4, 8:1-13, 9:1-28).

The following is just a brief summary of the general epistles:

  • Hebrews – The purpose of this letter is to reassure these second-generation Jewish Christians of Jesus as the Messiah. It is written during times of social and physical persecution and while some were considering a return to Judaism. They had come from a wonderful traditional and faithful heritage so they were cautious about accepting the Gospel. This letter is to show the continuation and fulfillment of a better (new) covenant from God.  The author warned them of drifting away and told them to look forward to Christ’s return. They were also urged to pattern their lives after Christ and assured of Jesus’ complete sacrifice for sin. One of the most outstanding verses in this letter addresses faith saying “Now faith is the assurance that what we hope for will come about and the certainty that what we cannot see exists” (Hebrews 11:1).

  • James – Teaching Christian behavior and exposing dishonorable Christian behaviors, James identifies that many times Christians may profess their faith but often their actions do not. His concerns were for these Jewish Christians to turn from evil desires, watch their speech, and to obey God. He asked them to be patient, pray for one another, and remain faithful to God.  A key passage is James 2:18-20, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, but I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…Faith without works is dead” (NKJV). Back in James 1:22 we are told that we must not just ‘hear’ the word of God, but we also must ‘do’ what it says.

  • 1 Peter – The Christians had been beaten, persecuted, dispersed, and even put to death. Peter’s letter was addressed to those scattered throughout Asia Minor and to all believers who would read this epistle. He starts his letter by giving thanks for salvation and how it had been made known through Jesus.  Peter too experienced imprisonment and encouraged others to still be loving and honest. He reminded them of their role in society, being above reproach. Then he gives instruction to the elders to lead, to younger men to follow, and that all should trust and follow God.

  • 2 Peter – In this letter, Peter warns about falling prey to false teachers whom God predicted would come. He stresses to only trust godly authority of experienced and faithful apostles. His warning included guarding against being prideful, bragging, and doing whatever they pleased.  Peter knew his time was limited; he was martyred for his faith shortly after writing this letter. In it, he wanted to stress faithfulness to Christ and offer comfort in the midst of suffering and persecution.

  • 1 John – This letter was not written to a particular church, but written in general and passed on to several congregations. John felt protective over his readers so he was warning against false teachers.  John authoritatively writes to offer confidence in having a relationship with God. He says if we know God, and believe in the Son, Jesus, we can have eternal life. John 14:14 that if we have that confidence and ask anything according to God’s will, He will hear our prayers and answer what we ask of Him. Praying according to God’s will is key.

  • 2 John – In this brief epistle, John emphasizes the foundation of following Christ Jesus and highlighting truth and love. His letter is written to a woman (or possibly a church) and her children. He once again warns to be sure to walk in truth and to not follow after false teachers who seek to deceive. Transgressors who will not confess Jesus as the Son of God who died for our sins are false teachers bringing false doctrines.

  • 3 John – This epistle is only 1 brief chapter. John is thanking a man named Gaius for his hospitality to missionaries and traveling teachers of the gospel. It is a letter of gratefulness and encouragement to another believer whom John loves. John recognizes the gift of charity in this man and wishes him blessings and prosperity.

  • Jude – Reminding the church of their need to stay strong in the faith and to remain vigilant is this epistle’s purpose. Jude was Jesus’ half-brother and the brother of James. His commitment to the lordship of Christ brings him also to warn of false doctrines and teachers. He beseeches them to be careful of falling away from their faith and to remember that rebellion against God will bring punishment.

 

Lastly, the Book of Revelation was written sometime around 96 CE in Asia Minor.  The author was John who at the time was the Bishop of the church in Ephesus.  Ephesus was both the capital of the Roman province of Asia and one of the earliest centers of Christianity.  According to the Book, John was on the island of Patmos, not far from the coast of Asia Minor, “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1.10). This has traditionally been taken to mean that he had been exiled there as a martyr for his Christian faith.  Next, the author says, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (Rev. 1.11), and this voice tells him to write what he is about to see.  This begins the “revelatory” vision that is at the center of the book.

John, the Disciple of Jesus, was banished to Patmos during the latter years of his life. When Rome had exiled John to Patmos, he was the last remaining member of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus Christ. John was born 6 A.D.  Some parts of John’s life are not clear and historical sources claim that he was a leader of the church at Ephesus. Eventually, he was captured in a persecution campaign by the Roman Emperor Domitian. John was ultimately sentenced to Patmos (Revelation 1:9). Patmos was a small, rocky and barren area where many criminals of Rome were sent to serve out their prison terms in harsh conditions. There were mines on the island that the criminals were forced to work. John was sent to the island for the same reasons because the early Christians were considered a strange cult group who were known for causing trouble within the Empire. After John had arrived, he began to have visions that were written into the Book of Revelation of the Bible.

The book next contains seven short letters of exhortation to the Christian churches in the seven leading cities of Asia Minor:  Ephesus (2.1-7, Smyrna (2.9-11), Pergamon (2.12-17) , Thyatira (2.18-29). Sardis (3.1-6), Philadelphia (3.7-13). and Laodicea (3.14-22).  This region would become a key area for the expansion of Christianity into the Roman empire.

The book of Revelation represents the culmination of God’s ultimate plan of man’s redemption and restoration that He first promised in the Garden of Eden after the fall of man (Genesis 3:15), and His subsequent orchestration of human history in order to bring that promise to pass.  A plan that He began to providentially orchestrate with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12.

Finally, by the 400’s AD, a large Christian church network existed.  The followers of Jesus had now grown from a persecuted minority, to being acceptable members of the mandated religion of the State following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine and the subsequent edict by Emperor Theodosius.  Christianity was now, not only socially accepted, but even more significantly, it was no politically accepted.

Summary

Acts begins with Jesus’s charge to the Twelve Apostles to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Peter serves as the leader of the apostles and the small congregation of the faithful in Jerusalem. Their first order of business is to elect Matthias as the twelfth apostle, replacing the traitor Judas Iscariot. During the year of Jesus’s death and resurrection, the disciples are gathered for Pentecost, a religious holiday celebrating the grain harvest. The Holy Spirit descends upon them. As a result of the Holy Spirit’s presence, they begin speaking other languages.

Peter delivers a sermon explaining the miracle. He says that the gift of tongues is given to prophets. Peter summarizes the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. He gives scriptural proof that Jesus is the Messiah, the savior whom God promises in the Old Testament to send to save Jews from their adversity. Responding to Peter’s sermon, 3,000 people are baptized into the Christian community—an idealized, thriving community characterized by prayer, brotherhood, common ownership, and sharing.

The church divides into two groups. One group is the Hellenists, Christians who were born Jewish but who have a Greek cultural background. The other group is the Hebrews, the Christians who, like the apostles, were born into Jewish cultural backgrounds. The Hellenists feel discriminated against, so in response, the community of disciples elects seven leaders to account for the needs of the Hellenists. Foremost among these Christian Hellenist leaders is Stephen.

A controversy ensues between Stephen and some Jews, who accuse him of heresy before the Sanhedrin. Stephen’s accusers testify that “[t]his man never stops saying things against the holy place and the law” (7:13). In front of the Sanhedrin, Stephen delivers a long speech detailing the history of Jewish leadership in the Bible, concluding with a damning accusation: “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands. You stiff-necked people, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do” (7:4851).

Stephen is stoned to death, with the approval of a young man named Saul of Damascus, a vigorous persecutor of the Christians. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, a person who is killed as a result of defending the church. Saul is a Jewish leader who has been trying to wipe out the new community of Christians because he believes that they are trying to dismantle Jewish law. While traveling to persecute Christians, Saul is blinded by a light and hears the voice of Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul then sets out to become the most relentless, brilliant, and bold missionary of Christianity that the church has ever known. He travels to the coast, performs miracles, preaches the Gospel, and converts Gentiles.
Barnabas and Saul, who is renamed Paul, depart on a missionary journey. In Cyprus, Paul blinds a magician, Elymas, who tries to prevent Paul from teaching. At Antioch in Pisidia, a central region in modern-day Turkey, Paul preaches to a Jewish congregation, telling his listeners about forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus as the resurrected Messiah. Many listeners become converts, but many also contradict Paul, and the missionaries are expelled from the territory.
At Iconium, too, they have some success until nonbelievers, including both Jews and Gentiles, drive them from town. At Lycaonia, Paul cures a cripple, and the local Gentiles take them for the pagan gods Zeus and Hermes before Paul is able to convince them otherwise. As usual, however, the missionaries are chased from town, and Paul is nearly stoned to death. The two make their way back to Antioch in Syria, preaching the whole way. A controversy arises as a result of their missionary activities among the Gentiles, and Paul and Barnabas journey to Jerusalem for a debate of church leaders.

Paul is eventually tried before the new governor, Festus. Paul appeals to Caesar’s judgment, and Festus, who does not believe Paul guilty, but who wants to appease the Jews calling for his execution—resolves to send him to Caesar, in Rome. First, however, Paul is brought before Herod Agrippa, the Jewish puppet-king of Palestine. Again, Paul recounts the story of his vision of Jesus and conversion to Christianity, and argues that his missionary activity is merely a fulfillment of Jewish hopes and Old Testament prophecies. King Herod Agrippa is impressed, but Paul is sent to Rome. On the way to Rome, Paul’s ship is wrecked, and through a series of sailing mishaps it takes months to arrive at Rome. Awaiting his hearing at Rome, Paul begins to spread the Gospel to the Roman Jews, who disbelieve him. He turns his emphasis again toward the Gentiles, and as Acts ends, Paul is in Rome, “teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31).

Analysis

Acts of the Apostles demonstrates the importance of missionary work in the early church and how the dedication, courage and passion of those early Apostles can be an example for the Church today. The book begins with the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples, who are anxious for the final redemption. The apostles demand of Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6).

Jesus responds by charging them to concern themselves not with the Apocalypse, but with spreading the Gospel on Earth: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:78). It is through Paul, the great early missionary of the church, that Acts dramatizes the fulfillment of Jesus’s command, the spreading of the Gospel across the known world.

Paul dominates the second half of Acts and, more than any other figure, dictates the trajectory of the church’s rise. Acts begins with Peter and the apostles in Jerusalem; it ends, years later, with Paul in Rome. Paul’s final words are an apt summary of the direction in which he leads the missionary church in the vital first decades of its existence: “Let it be known to you then,” he says to the Jews of Rome, “that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (28:28).

The early church controversy between the Hellenists and the Hebrews introduces the first dissent within the church itself. The Hellenists are Jewish adherents to Jesus who were born into a Greek cultural background. They feel that the Hebrews, Jewish Christians who were born into a Jewish cultural background and who adhere strictly to Jewish law, are discriminating against them. The apostles and disciples decide that unity is more important than conformity, and they accept the position of the Hellenists, even appointing Stephen and six others to minister to the Hellenists in the church. When Stephen breaks with Jewish tradition, however, he shows how Christianity is becoming increasingly incompatible with Judaism. Although Stephen is stoned to death, the Hellenists continue to move away from the Jewish focus of the church, baptizing Samaritans and an Ethiopian.

A turning point for the church occurs when Peter himself receives a message from God: “God has shown me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean” (10:28). The message challenges one of the fundamental aspects of Judaism, the idea that Jews are a special population chosen by God. But God’s message to Peter indicates that Gentiles are no less clean than Jews, and therefore that “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (11:18).

The church in Antioch is founded immediately after the Jerusalem elders accept Peter’s rationale for baptizing a Gentile, thus laying the foundation for the Antioch church to become dominated by Gentile Christians. It also indicates the increasing degree to which followers of Jesus Christ are non-Jewish. The acceptance of Gentiles gives impetus to the move away from Jewish law and Judaism, and it signals the beginning of the move away from Jerusalem. In fact, at Antioch the disciples are first called Christians rather than Jews. Paul becomes the great Christian missionary to the Gentiles, traveling throughout Greece and Asia Minor and, while receiving little welcome from the Jews, recruiting many Gentiles to the church. Paul and Barnabus say, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles” (13:46).

The ending of Acts in Rome foreshadows the eventual transition of the church to that city. Acts is the story of the church’s turn away from Jerusalem and toward Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. Acts is filled with stories and speeches, but the dramatic arc that connects all of Acts of the Apostles is the church’s move, driven by Paul, toward a split with Judaism and an emphasis on converting Gentiles. It is in that move that Christianity becomes its own distinct religion. Jesus and his followers consider themselves Jews, and Jesus’s message and teachings are the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies. It is evident from the first chapters of Acts that, in the first years after Jesus’s ascension, the apostles and their followers continued to consider themselves Jews, and to follow Jewish law. Peter and John, both of whom consider Jews the chosen people of God, are on their way to worship in the Jewish temple when they encounter the cripple. “You are the descendants of the prophets,” Peter tells a Jewish audience, “and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors. When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you” (3:2526).

In conclusion, as believers, it is important that we keep in mind that the books of the New Testament are not just merely books of history.  These 27 books are God’s inspired word, that He has given to us so that we might now the way to God.  And even more than that, so that we may enjoy relationship with Him for all eternity.

The Book of Acts is a powerful and rewarding study. The New Testament tells us of Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf and what our response should be to His death. The New Testament focuses on giving solid Christian teaching along with the practical results that should follow that teaching. A New Testament Survey shows the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, judgment, and rewards. God sent Jesus in human form to provide a way of reconciliation to Himself. Christ took on the sins of the world so that the debt for your sin and mine is paid in full by Him.  All of mankind has sinned (defied or rejected God), and has need of repentance and forgiveness.

The New Testament illustrates the blueprint for living a righteous life pleasing to the Lord and the provision He has offered us to achieve it. Only through Jesus Christ we are given the opportunity to accept the way to reunion with God for eternity.  If you have never explored the New Testament, please search it for yourself.  The Lord says we are to get understanding; pray for it, and He will give it.

Turning the World Upside Down, Exploring the Book of Acts Part 4, By Dr Bruce Logan

The period of rapid expansion

In this big picture look at the book of Acts, I have been examining the book by dividing it up into the above four historical periods.  This next historical period that we will consider, is the period of Rapid Expansion.  This period extends from Acts 9:32 through the end of the book of Acts 28:31.  In the previous section (The Period of Extension), Luke records for us that the Church had spread  or “extended” beyond Jerusalem to the areas of Judea and Samaria, as a result of fear of persecution following the stoning death of Stephen.

It is during this very crucial third period of rapid expansion, that Luke gives us more expanded details on just how a small group of Jesus followers went from a small, confused and frightened group of disciples in the upper room, to in just a little over 35 years, become the universal Church that “turned the world upside down.” The Church  was “established” in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, yet by the time we get to the end of the book of Acts, the Church had expanded all the way in Rome, the capitol of the empire.

Additionally, it is also during this period of rapid expansion that we get specifics on precisely how the Church went from being strictly Jewish, to becoming the universal Church.  Initially, there were only 120 followers of Christ who were all Jewish, but by the time we get to Acts 28, the Church had become universal and consisted of both Jews and gentiles.

From this point, Luke records how the gospel began to spread, or “expand” from the areas of Samaria and Judea, and rapidly began to increase and impact citizens throughout the Roman Empire.  Now, as we will see, a significant part of this continuous expansion of the Church, was the result of the Apostle Paul’s three missionary journeys.  And while he was on these missionary journeys, he wrote epistles to strengthen and instruct those new Churches.

God’s providence on display

Now, as I begin to examine this important period in the growth of the Church, it is important that I briefly review something that I talked about in the my previous post regarding God’s selection of Paul to be His apostle to the gentiles.  As I stated, the selection of Paul was absolutely no coincidence.  In fact, by selecting Paul, God had chosen someone who was extremely and uniquely qualified to be God’s gentile spokesman in this heavily pagan Greek and Roman world like not many others in his time.

First of all, in addition to being a legal Roman Citizen which allowed Paul to have unencumbered travel access throughout the Roman world, Paul was also a “Jew from the tribe of Benjamin.”  But in addition, Paul was also an elite level Jewish scholar, who was not only fluent in the Old Testament scriptures, but was also fluent in Greek language, culture and philosophy.  In fact, Paul was so fluent in Greek literature, that he was able to recite Greek poems and philosophies when he was debating with the Greeks during his evangelistic journeys.

Furthermore, in addition the being relentless and completely committed, Paul had the unique ability and philosophy to meet and relate to people where they were or on their own level.  In other words, he was able to be “all things to all people.”  When he was around the Jews for example, he would keep their dietary laws, and when he was around the Greeks, he could recite their poems and their philosophies.  And his deep understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, allowed him to be able to argue with the Judaizers and demonstrate to them using the Old Testament Scriptures themselves, that Christianity was not a perversion of Judaism, but was to the contrary, the literal fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Paul was also able to explain to the Jews that the New Testament was actually a completion to God’s salvation story.  Paul uniquely understood that it was part two of God’s two-part story of His redemption historical narrative.  In other words, Paul was able to persuade many, that Christ did not come to destroy the Law, but instead, He came to complete or fulfill the law.  Because of Paul’s intimate understanding of the Old Testament, he was able to argue the case that Christ was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophets, and that He was Israel’s true Messiah.

Now, it is important that we also consider the fact, that at the time, because of the combination of Paul’s brilliant analytical mind and the combination of his Jewish lineage and his Roman citizenship, there was arguably no other person better and more uniquely qualified to make those arguments to both Jewish audiences and Greek audiences than Paul.  And of course, it is important to point out, that God’s selection of Paul, also demonstrates just another example of the amazing providence of God in orchestrating the affairs of history in order to facilitate His ultimate plan of redemption.

Subsequently, when you consider the fact, that not only did God divinely and providentially orchestrated world history in order the “prepare the way,” or set the stage for His son to be born in Bethlehem (see: Galatians 4:4-5), He also divinely and providentially selected and prepare this uniquely qualified and anointed individual to be the one who would boldly take the gospel to a pagan gentile world and to turn that world “upside down”, in addition to writing nearly two-thirds of the New Testament Canon.

The Gospel to the Ends of the Earth (acts 13–28):

The Journeys of Paul

Now as I alluded to above, this third major chronological section of Acts, which is by far the longest period, concerns the three missionary journeys of Paul and his arrest and journey to Rome.  Luke’s primary purposes in spending so much time on Paul are to show that:
(1) Paul is not a traitor to his Jewish religion, but is faithful to his Jewish heritage through his allegiance to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
(2) the Gentile mission was all along part of God’s plan for Israel and was initiated by God himself, not by any human being. 
(3) Christians are good citizens and are no threat to Roman authority.

First Journey: The Gospel to Cyprus and Galatia (acts 13:1–14:20).

Paul’s first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 13 and 14.  After Paul witnessed the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), he was confronted and converted by Jesus (Acts 9), and visited Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–30), the church leadership tucked him safely away in his home town of Tarsus on the southeastern coast of modern Turkey. Meanwhile, the persecution in Jerusalem grew, and believers fled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch, which wasn’t too far from Tarsus (Acts 11:19–30). The dispersed Christians brought the gospel with them, and when the leaders in Jerusalem learned how quickly the church was growing, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to verify what was happening.

Barnabas confirmed that the gospel was spreading and that the church in Syrian Antioch was indeed a work of God (Acts 11:23). Barnabas then went to Tarsus to collect Paul, whom he had earlier mentored in Jerusalem. Paul returned to Antioch with Barnabas to provide leadership for the fledgling church. After about a year, the prophet Abagus foretold a great famine. The believers in Antioch raised support for the church in Judea and sent it to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:19–30). After delivering the gift, Barnabas and Paul traveled back to Antioch with John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (verse 25). While the church in Antioch was worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to a special work in spreading the gospel (Acts 13:2). After more fasting and prayer, the church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them off with John Mark (verse 3). Thus began the first missionary journey, led by the Holy Spirit (verse 4).

Paul and Barnabas first sailed to the island of Cyprus, which was Barnabas’ home territory. They arrived at Salamis and taught in the synagogues along with John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. The three continued preaching across the whole island and finally arrived at Paphos on the opposite side. In Paphos, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, summoned Paul and Barnabas because he “sought to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:7). However, a Jewish false prophet and magician named Elymas, tried to prevent the proconsul from coming to faith. Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” struck Elymas blind thus performing his first miracle (Acts 13:9–11).  Upon witnessing this miracle, the proconsul believed.  Paul and Barnabas then set sail from Paphos to go into modern-day Turkey while John Mark set sail to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

In Turkey, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Antioch (the one in Turkey rather than the Antioch in Syria from whence they had come) where they taught in the synagogue and many believed. However, the following week when nearly the entire city gathered to hear their preaching, some Jews began contradicting them and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas. After this rejection of the gospel from the Jews, Paul said, “we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46)Acts 13:48 records that “when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

Eventually being driven out of Antioch by the Jews, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium and taught in the synagogue there. Many believed, and Paul and Barnabas performed signs and wonders during their stay in Iconium. Over time however, the city became divided between those who followed the Jews and those who sided with the apostles. When Paul and Barnabas learned that their opposition was planning to stone them, they fled to Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding area (Acts 14:5–6).

Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark walked to Seleucia on the coast, then sailed southwest to Salamis on the island of Cyprus, where Barnabas was from. They preached in the synagogue there and traveled the whole island, apparently without seeing much fruit, until they arrived at the city of Paphos in the southwest. The island’s Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, summoned the missionaries to listen to their message. Unfortunately, the proconsul’s associate, Bar-Jesus (aka Elymas), was a magician and Jewish false prophet who contradicted the gospel message and tried to keep Sergius Paulus from converting. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Paul made Bar-Jesus go blind, and Sergius Paulus believed in Christ (Acts 13:4–12).

Paul, Barnabas, and John-Mark sailed from Paphos to Perga in the region of Pamphylia in south-central Asia Minor. For reasons the Bible does not detail, John Mark left the other two missionaries and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). It doesn’t seem Paul and Barnabas spent much time in Perga but headed north to Pisidian Antioch and preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In his sermon, Paul, a credentialed Pharisee, gave a synopsis of the Israelites’ exile in Egypt, the judges, Kings Saul and David, and John the Baptist. He showed the Jews in Antioch how only Jesus, who died and rose again, fulfilled the Jewish prophecies. Many believed, and they asked Paul and Barnabas to return the next Sabbath. The next week, almost the entire city showed up, but the Jewish leadership was jealous of the crowds and tried to silence their message with abusive language. Paul and Barnabas pointed out that the Jews had had their chance and had rejected Jesus, so Jesus’ message was going to be brought to the Gentiles. The gospel spread through the whole region, but, eventually, despite the new converts’ enthusiasm, the Jews in Pisidian Antioch stirred up persecution of the missionaries, and Paul and Barnabas traveled east to Iconium in Galatia (Acts 13:14–52).

Paul and Barnabas stayed quite a while in the city of Iconium, preaching boldly and performing miracles. Many Jews and Greeks believed, but many didn’t. The missionaries caught word that the unbelieving Jews, Gentiles, and city leadership were planning on stoning them, so they fled to the nearby cities of Lystra and Derbe in Lycia (Acts 14:1–7).

Paul’s message in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (13:13–52) is particularly important, illustrating the kind of message Paul brought to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue. He traces God’s covenants with Israel from the patriarchs to the coming of the Messiah. The passage also establishes a pattern of response by Jews and Gentiles. After an initial positive response, most of the Jews reject the message (13:44–45) and Paul turns to the Gentiles (13:46–48). This pattern will be repeated throughout Acts. While a remnant of Jews responds favorably, the majority reject the gospel, and many Gentiles accept it.

After returning to appoint elders in the churches they have established, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch in Syria, reporting success: God has “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (acts 14:27).

The Council of Jerusalem (acts 15:1–35).

After their return, a crisis occurs in the church at Antioch. Some Jewish Christians come from Jerusalem claiming, “Unless you are circumcised (referring to these new gentile converts), according to custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (acts 15:1). This question of whether Gentiles need to become Jews in order to be saved was one of the most challenging issues facing the early church.  In what has been called the “Council of Jerusalem,” the leaders conclude that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised or keep Israel’s ritual laws to be saved, since both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith alone.  At the same time, they encourage Gentile Christians to abstain from certain practices highly offensive to Jews (15:19–21, 28–29).

Slotting Paul’s Epistles Chronologically

Now again, it is import that I continue to emphasize that I am overviewing the big picture of the New Testament from a chronological perspective as opposed to the traditional canonical standpoint.  And chronologically speaking, the easiest way to slot each of Paul’s epistles in their actual chronological order, or in the order in which they were actually written, is to slot the books in conjunction with Paul’s three missionary Journeys.

So, for example, Paul left for his first missionary journey from Antioch and traveled to the region of Galatia and then he back to Antioch.  And upon his return to Antioch, Paul wrote one epistle which was addressed to those new converts in Galatia.  Which means that from a historical and chronological standpoint, the first epistle after the book of James, was the book of Galatians.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey 

Later, after the dispute with the Jerusalem council, Paul puts together a second missionary expedition where he travels through Asia and Macedonia.  Paul’s plan was to return to the cities and churches that they visited in Asia Minor on their first missionary journey (Acts 15:36). Barnabas agreed, but he wanted to take his cousin, John Mark who had abandoned them shortly into that first trip (verses 37–38). Paul refused to take Mark with them, so Barnabas took Mark and set sail for Cyprus (verse 39). Paul took Silas, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church who had accompanied Paul to Antioch (verse 40).

Instead of sailing, Paul started the second missionary journey overland, crossing one mountain range to Tarsus, then another to Derbe and Lystra as he and Silas moved west. In the area of Derbe and Lystra, Paul met up with Timothy again, whom Paul had mentored on his first trip. Timothy joined Paul and Silas as a ministry partner. Then Paul did something curious. Despite the fact that Timothy’s father was Greek and the church in Jerusalem had just decreed that Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised, Paul circumcised Timothy. Orthodox Judaism still holds that Jewishness comes from the mother’s line, and Timothy’s mother was Jewish. As far as the Jews in Asia Minor were concerned, Timothy was a Jew who did not respect his Jewish heritage. “Because of the Jews,” Paul made sure Timothy was in a position to receive respect as a Jewish believer (Acts 16:9).


Although Paul had planned on spending some time in the cities where he had earlier planted churches, the Holy Spirit guided him through Asia Minor quickly. On this second missionary journey, the Spirit forbade Paul to speak in the province of Asia, kept them out of Bithynia near the Black Sea, and led them directly to Troas, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. While in Troas, Paul received a vision of a man in Macedonia (in northern Greece) asking Paul to come and help them. Apparently, Luke joined the team at this point because he reports that “immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). The use of first-person pronouns indicates that Luke was at that point a fellow traveler.

Paul’s second missionary journey continued as the group sailed from Troas to the small island of Samothrace, then to the city of Neapolis on the Greek coast. They quickly made their way to the Roman colony of Philippi and stayed for a while (Acts 16:11–12). On the Sabbath, they went to the riverside where they supposed the Jews would gather and found a group of women who had come to pray. One of the women there was a merchant named Lydia.  She and her household were converted and baptized, and she compelled the missionaries to stay in her home (Acts 16:13–15). Lydia thus became the first convert to Christianity on European soil.

Sometime later, while going to a place of prayer, the missionaries were accosted by a slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination. The girl followed them, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:16–17), and after several days Paul commanded the demon to leave her (verse 18). When the slave girl’s owners found that their source of income was destroyed, they brought Paul and Silas to the magistrate and incited the crowd against them. The missionaries were stripped, beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison, and their feet were placed in stocks (verses 19–24). All of this was highly illegal, since Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and had the right to a trial.

Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns when an earthquake shook the prison, opening the prison doors and loosening the chains of all the prisoners (Acts 16:26). When the jailor found the doors open, he drew his sword to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had fled and he would be held responsible (verse 27). But then he heard the voice of Paul telling him all the prisoners were still there. The jailor immediately asked how to be saved (verse 30), and Paul and Silas answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (verse 31). The jailor took Paul and Silas to his home, where he fed them and bandaged their wounds. He and his household believed and were baptized that same night (verses 32–34).

The next morning, when the jailor received word from the magistrate that Paul and Silas were to be released, he told them they were free to leave Philippi (Acts 16:35–36). They refused. As Roman citizens, Paul and Silas had been treated in violation of Roman law, and they demanded a public apology. The authorities were alarmed and came to the prison to personally escort Paul and Silas out (verses 37–39). The missionaries left Philippi after visiting Lydia and the Christians there (verse 40).


From Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia before reaching Thessalonica. (It seems that Luke remained in Philippi.) Paul spent three Sabbaths in the synagogue, reasoning with the Jewish men (Acts 17:1–2). Some were persuaded, but some were not. When Paul found a following of Gentiles and leading women, the Jewish men who had rejected Christ incited a mob and accused Paul and Silas of promoting another king besides Caesar and of turning “the world upside down” (verse 6, KJV). Unable to locate Paul and Silas, the mob dragged the missionaries’ host, Jason, to the city authorities. That night, Paul and Silas slipped away to Berea (verse 10).

The Jews in Berea were much more accepting of Paul’s message; Luke says they had “more noble character” and “searched the Scriptures daily to ascertain the truth of Paul’s preaching” (Acts 17:11). Many respected Greeks, men and women, were converted. Unfortunately, the unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica soon tracked Paul to Berea and once again stirred up the crowds (verse 13). The Christians quickly sent Paul to Athens by sea while Silas and Timothy remained behind, with instructions to join Paul as soon as they could (verses 14–15).

Paul found an attentive audience in Athens, and he was invited to speak at the Areopagus to the philosophers gathered there. Paul explained that the true God is not made of gold, silver, or stone and did not originate from the imagination of man (Acts 17:29). The philosophers listened until Paul spoke of the resurrection of Christ, and then some began to scoff (verse 32). A few men and women believed, but there is no record of Paul being able to establish a church there. Athenians were known for their endless debates, and many just wanted to hear Paul’s new “philosophy” and pick it apart (verse 21).

What happened at Mars Hill ?

Arguably one of the most theologically significant occurrence during this second missionary expedition, was Paul’s famous confrontation with the Greek Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers in the City of Athens.  Now, the political and cultural impact of the message of the Apostle Paul is incalculable.  His impact was so profound, that not even Paul himself could have anticipated the ripple of affect of his famous speech on Mars Hill in the influential city of Athens to a group of Athenian Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in an Athenian counsel called, The Areopagus in response to the many idols that he had seen throughout Athens, and particularly to an alter with the inscription, “to the unknown God”:

Acts 17:22-34

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor* he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God* and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.”  29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’  32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

The Epicureans were atheists; they denied God’s existence. They denied a life after death. They were also materialists, and felt that this life was the only thing that really existed and that, therefore, men should get the most out of it. They felt that pleasure was the highest virtue, and that pain was the opposite. Their motto (and it still persists to this day) was “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” They were what we would call today “existentialists,” living for the experience of the moment. This is a widespread philosophy in our day, although it is no longer called Epicureanism.

The Stoics, followers of the philosopher Zeno, were pantheists. That is, they believed that everything is God, and that he does not exist as a separate entity, but is in the rocks and trees and every material thing. Their attitude toward life was one of ultimate resignation, and they prided themselves on their ability to take whatever came. Their motto, in modern terms, was “Grin and bear it.” They urged moderation: “Don’t get over-emotional, either about tragedy or happiness.” Apathy was regarded as the highest virtue of life. You will recognize there are many people today who feel that the best thing they can do is to take whatever comes and handle it the best they can. These Stoics were all proud fatalists, and there are many like them today. Luke gives us the initial reaction of these two philosophical groups to Paul:

And some said, “What would this babbler say?”[Those were the Epicureans.] Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” — because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.[These were the Stoics.] And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:18b-21 RSV).

Paul’s speech is sophisticated and alert to context. He quotes from a well-known Greek poet and speaks the standard lines about images, idols, and true deity. He refers in a generous way to the religious convictions of the local population and speaks of a creator who made all nations to search for God. This is generous speech indeed and includes all his hearers as children of God. The references to the resurrection from the dead strike most of them, finally, as silly or superstitious, but some hear.

This passage is critical because it shows Paul adapting his speech to the level of his audience, seeking to address them in terms that are both open and familiar. Paul’s encounter points out the difficulty with understanding or accepting resurrection as a cornerstone of Christian belief. Finally, the passage shows us that even a few who hear positively can be seeds for local congregations to grow.

From Athens, Paul went to Corinth where he met fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila.  They were Jews who’d been exiled when Emperor Claudius commanded that all Jews leave Rome (Acts 18:1–3). Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth, and the group stayed in that city for a year and a half, preaching, gaining converts, and reasoning with those who rejected the gospel (verse 11). “Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized,” including Crispus, the leader of the synagogue (verse 8). Eventually, the Jews brought Paul before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, for trial. Gallio determined that, since it was an internal matter of a religious nature, it was not his concern, and he dismissed the case (verses 14–16).

Paul’s second missionary journey continued as the missionary team left Corinth and sailed to Ephesus in Asia Minor, taking Priscilla and Aquila with them. Paul stayed in Ephesus for a little while, reasoning in the synagogue, but when the Ephesians begged him to stay, he declined (verse 20). Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus (where they later converted and taught Apollos) but Paul sailed from Ephesus to Caesarea in Israel, traveled to Jerusalem, greeted the church there, and then returned to Antioch (verse 22). The second missionary journey had come to an end.

He then stops at Corinth where he stays for a year and a half, and while at Corinth, Paul wrote two epistles which were first and second Thessalonians.  Now Paul previously had to leave Thessalonica because of the intense persecution, so Paul was concerned about what was happening to the Christians there.  Paul eventually went back to Antioch and back to Jerusalem and then he went on his third Journey.

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

The account of Paul’s third missionary journey begins in Acts 18. Paul spent some time at his home church in Syrian Antioch before going northwest over land again and traveling through Galatia and Phrygia in Asia Minor, visiting the churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, churches he had established during his first trip (Acts 18:23). Meanwhile, in Ephesus, on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, an educated and eloquent speaker who enthusiastically spoke of Jesus. Unfortunately, he only knew the story up to John’s baptism. Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and taught him of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and Apollos became a powerful Christian teacher, at times rivaling the influence of Paul (Acts 18:24–281 Corinthians 3:4–5).

Apollos traveled to Corinth in Achaia, and Paul arrived at Ephesus where he apparently met some of Apollos’s students (Acts 19:1). These twelve men only knew of John’s baptism unto repentance (see Mark 1:4); they had not been born again by faith in Christ and had not received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2–3). Paul explained the complete gospel to them, pointing them to Jesus Christ as John had done (see Mark 1:7–8). The men were baptized, and Paul laid his hands on them. They immediately received the Spirit and, as a sign of their new life, began speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:4–7).

Paul spent three months teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus, reasoning from the Jewish Scriptures, but some in his audience not only rejected his message but they became abusive toward “the Way” (Acts 19:8–9). Paul took those who believed and moved from the synagogue to a school owned by a man named Tyrannus. There Paul preached daily to Jews and Greeks for two years (verses 9–10).

Despite the opposition in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit worked mightily through Paul.  Luke says that “extraordinary miracles” were being performed (Acts 19:11) as people were being healed and evil spirits were being expelled (verse 12). Trying to get in on Paul’s work, the “Sons of Sceva,” seven traveling Jewish exorcists, tried to expel demons in Jesus’ and Paul’s names (verse 13). The demons responded that they recognized the authority of Jesus and Paul but did not know these men. The demons then attacked the men, beating, stripping, and chasing them out of the house (verses 14–16). After this incident, Jesus’ name was even more respected in Ephesus, Paul saw a great increase in his ministry, and many former magicians burned their magic arts books (verses 17–20).

After his extended stay in Ephesus, Paul realized that the Holy Spirit was leading him to travel on. Continuing his third missionary journey, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia (Acts 19:21–22). But before Paul left, a silversmith named Demetrius, who made shrines of Artemis and resented the decrease in business he’d seen since Paul’s arrival, gathered other workmen and started a riot (verses 23–34). Eventually, the town clerk arrived and dispersed the crowd, telling them that, if they had something against Paul, they should bring him to court (verses 35–41). Paul left town quietly and went across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia where he traveled to Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea to encourage the churches there; then he went to Greece (Achaia) and spent three months there (Acts 20:1–3).

Paul had planned to board a ship in Corinth and set sail for Jerusalem via Syria, but he discovered that some Jews were plotting to waylay him on the voyage, so he returned to Macedonia by land. Paul retraced his steps from Corinth to Berea, Thessalonica, and Philippi, where he caught up with Luke again and observed Passover. From Philippi, Paul and Luke set sail for Troas, arriving there five days later and meeting Paul’s traveling companions who had gone ahead of them: Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus. These men represented various churches and were probably helping bring a monetary gift to the Jerusalem church (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1). They all stayed in Troas for one week (Acts 20:1–6).

Paul made the most of his short stay in Troas. On Sunday when the believers met, Paul preached long into the night (Acts 20:7–8). A young man named Eutychus sat on a windowsill of the third-story room. About midnight, he fell asleep and fell out the window to the ground below (verse 9). Eutychus was declared dead, but Paul raised him, served communion, and resumed speaking until daylight (verses 10–12).

Instead of traveling inland to visit the established churches of Asia Minor or sailing more directly to Jerusalem, Paul continued his third missionary journey by taking a coastal route. Paul walked to Assos, while the rest of the party sailed to that port and picked Paul up there. Then they all traveled to Mitylene, Trogyllium, and Miletus, along the southwest coast of Asia Minor (Acts 20:13–15). Paul bypassed Ephesus because he knew if he stopped there he’d be kept longer than he liked, and he wanted to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost (verse 16). Paul asked the Ephesian elders to meet him in Miletus, and they did. Paul prayed with them, encouraged them, warned them against false teachers, and predicted the hardships he would face in Jerusalem (verses 17–35). After tearful good-byes, the Ephesian elders saw Paul to the ship (verses 36–38).

From Miletus, Paul and his entourage sailed to Patara, then to Tyre in Syria, where they stayed a week (Acts 21:1–6). The disciples there begged Paul, for his own safety, not to go to Jerusalem. But he sailed on, stopping briefly in Ptolemais before landing in Caesarea and staying with Philip the evangelist (verses 7–14). While in Caesarea, the prophet Agabus declared that Paul would be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem, but Paul was resolute in completing his mission. After several days, a group escorted Paul to Jerusalem and to the home of Mnason, who hosted Paul and his companions (verses 15–16). Thus Paul’s third missionary journey came to an end.

Paul’s Journey to Rome

The circumstances that led to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome was quite interesting.  Upon his return to Jerusalem following his third missionary Journey, Paul had been seen in the city with Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, and so the rumor quickly spread that the apostle had taken “Greeks” into the temple and “defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28), which was a capital offense.  Before long, the city was aflame with the “lynch-him” mentality. Paul’s life was saved only when Roman officials intervened and took him to a place of safety.

Eventually, under heavy guard (470 soldiers; Acts 23:23), the apostle was taken to Caesarea over on the coast, where he was confined in Herod’s palace.  Over some period of time, Paul was subjected to a series of interrogations. Finally, after two years had lapsed, and it appeared that “justice delayed is justice denied,” the noble preacher concluded that he would never receive a fair hearing under the present circumstances. And so, exercising his right as a Roman citizen, he appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12).

Later, because of his Roman citizenship and his request to appeal to Caesar, he was taken to Rome where he was placed on house arrest.  And while in house arrest in Rome waiting for his trial before Caesar, Paul wrote four “prison epistles” which were, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.  Amazingly however, in spite of unimaginable physical persecution, in large part because of the ministry of the Apostle Paul, and in fulfillment of the great commission and Acts 1:8, in less than forty years, the church had spread from a small group of 120 disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem, all the way to Rome, the capitol city of Empire.

Finally, we believe that Paul did in fact enjoy a short period of freedom which enabled him to continue his apostolic journeys. We know, for example, that according to the Acts record, the apostle never visited Crete on any of his previous apostolic journeys. Paul did sail around the island on his way to Rome as a prisoner, but it was not until his release from his first Roman imprisonment that he actually visited Crete. The apostle’s brief stay on the island was long enough to see that the churches there were in a state of chaos (Titus 1:10-16). Consequently, Paul leaves Titus behind, his companion in travel, “to set in order the things that were wanting” (Titus 1:5).

Paul’s Second imprisonment

Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome from approximately 61 to 63 had been less severe. It seems then he was under a kind of house arrest and could receive visitors, had access to the Scriptures and could freely teach (Acts 28:16, 23, 30-31).  Apparently, Paul was then released from prison and continued traveling and teaching, since his later letters mention travels that were not recorded in the book of Acts. But as the years moved along and Paul’s fame spread, Paul was again put in prison in Rome, perhaps from 66 to 68. This time he did not expect to be released.

Finally, not long before his death, Paul wrote this moving letter to Timothy, who was like a son to him. These last words had powerful meaning for Timothy and to us. The apostle Paul wrote this very intense and personal letter to his “beloved son” in the faith, Timothy, from his second imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy 1:2, 8). It appears Paul’s final imprisonment was much more severe than his first stint in prison there. He was in bonds with few visitors, and he felt his death was imminent (4:6-9).

Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy realizing that his personal end was nearing. He gave some very specific instructions to Timothy covering our commitment to God and the way we should do God’s work.  He also warned in a prophetic way what life will be like during the “last days.”  As he concluded the letter, he encouraged Timothy to come quickly.  Paul longed to see him and described his feelings of being abandoned by many.  He explained that at his “first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me,” but Paul knew “the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). He was assured that he had “fought the good fight” and that a “crown of righteousness” was laid up for him (verses 7-8).

The book of Acts ends abruptly when he is arrested for the final time and imprisoned and executed in Rome.  Probably from Crete, Paul made his way to Corinth where he writes to Titus to inform him that he planned to winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).  However, after about two years, Paul was arrested once again and returned as prisoner back to Rome. It could well be that the apostle was apprehended at Nicopolis and taken again to Rome for preaching Christ.  This time however, the sentence would go against him. So, without hesitation he writes to Timothy, since it was nearing winter, to bring his cloak and also the Parchments (II Tim. 4:13).

Nero, who literally had become insane, had Paul executed along  with a number of other Christians in Rome at the time around AD 67.  According to tradition, Paul was beheaded because it was actually illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.  Also, in 66 the Jewish wars began.  Which means that Paul probably wrote both of his letter to Timothy sometime between AD  63 and 66.  It was around this time also, that Peter is said to have been crucified upside down

It was a time of unrest for many reasons. In A.D. 64 Nero had allegedly burned sections of Rome and blamed the Christians.  A generation after the death of Christ, Christianity had reached Rome in the form of an obscure offshoot of Judaism popular among the city’s poor and destitute. Members of this religious sect spoke of the coming of a new kingdom and a new king. These views provoked suspicion among the Jewish authorities who rejected the group and fear among the Roman authorities who perceived these sentiments as a threat to the Empire.

In the summer of 64, Rome suffered a terrible fire that burned for six days and seven nights consuming almost three quarters of the city. The people accused the Emperor Nero for the devastation claiming he set the fire for his own amusement. In order to deflect these accusations and placate the people, Nero laid blame for the fire on the Christians. The emperor ordered the arrest of a few members of the sect who, under torture, accused others until the entire Christian populace was implicated and became fair game for retribution. As many of the religious sect that could be found were rounded up and put to death in the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome. The ghastly way in which the victims were put to death aroused sympathy among many Romans, although most felt their execution justified.

This Roman mosaic shows prisoners put to death in the arena as part of a festival:

Beginnings of Christian Martyrdom

The following account was written by the Roman historian Tacitus in his book Annals published a few years after the event. Tacitus was a young boy living in Rome during the time of the persecutions.

“Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were [generally] hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition – repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, – where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.”

In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good but were victims of the ferocity of one man.”

 His End is Drawing Near

Paul sums up his life of some 30 years of service to God and Christ in verses 6-8 as he looks forward to the resurrection to eternal life and to receiving his reward when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom.  He singles out members for special note. In fact, Onesiphorus (a member from Ephesus who had not abandoned Paul, but had refreshed him) is mentioned twice in the letter: 1:16 and 4:19.  Finally, Paul looks as always to his Savior, who will not let him down and who will deliver him to the Kingdom.  John R.W. Stott explained: “Paul issues to Timothy a fourfold charge regarding the gospel—

  1. To guard it (because it is priceless)

  2. To suffer for it (because it is a stumbling block to the proud)

  3. To continue in it (because it is the truth of God)

  4. To proclaim it (because it is good news of salvation)” (Guard the Gospel, p. 126).

Paul’s final days, tells us how one of the most influential men in history “finished the race”.  His conversion from being a persecutor of Christians, to a fervent ambassador of Christ shows the great power of Christ in us.  The letters he wrote from prison to the churches he established give us a glimpse of what was on his mind: the unity of believers in the love of Christ and under the Lordship of Christ.

 

Recommended Resource:  Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit by Charles Swindoll 

 

Turning the World Upside Down, Exploring the Book of Acts Part 3, By Dr Bruce Logan

In this survey overview of the Book of Acts, I’ve been specifically focusing on just HOW did this small group of frightened individuals, go from hiding in fear, uncertain and confused group of individuals in the upper room, only to managed to spearhead this incredible and world changing movement called the Church that within thirty-years would literally turn turn the world upside down?  A movement that amazingly, still exists today two-thousand years later.  My approach to this study will be to divide the book of Acts into four chronological or historical periods that are covered in the book of Acts and beyond.

Just by way of review, these four historical periods are:

In our last lesson, I overviewed the first of these four periods, which was the period of the Establishment of the Church.  This period covers Acts 1:1 to Acts 6:7.  In this lesson, I would like to examine the second period, or the Period of Extension, which covers the events recorded between Acts 6:8 to Acts 9:31.  In this section of Acts, the Church expands or extends out from Jerusalem, and into Judea and Samaria: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31).  In this section, Luke focuses his spotlight on the story of three key individuals:

1. Stephen

2. Phillip and

3. Paul.

Interestingly, as we learned in the previous section or the Period of Establishment, that this fledgling church, is divided into two groups which lead to the very first recorded Church controversy:  The first group is the Hellenists, or Christians who were born Jewish but who have a Greek cultural background. The other group is the Hebrews, or the Christians who, like the apostles, were born into Jewish cultural backgrounds.  The Hellenists feel discriminated against, so in response, the community of disciples elects seven leaders to account for the needs of the Hellenists.  They responded to the problem that arose by selecting seven “devout men” (the first Deacons), to oversee the administration of the ministry.

Foremost among these Among these seven Christian Hellenist leaders is Stephen.  Not long after, A controversy ensues between Stephen and some Jews, who accuse him of heresy before the Sanhedrin.  Stephen’s accusers testify that “this man never stops saying things against the holy place and the law” (7:13). In front of the Sanhedrin, Stephen delivers a long and powerful sermon detailing the history of Jewish leadership in the Bible, and challenging the crowd to change their minds about Christ.  Stephen then concludes with a damning accusation: “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands.  You stiff-necked people you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do” (7:48–51). Instead of repenting however, the crowd assaulted him, dragged him outside of the city and Stephen is then stoned to death, with the approval of a young man named Saul of Damascus, a vigorous persecutor of the Christians. The result being that Stephen becomes the first recorded martyr of the Church who gave his life for the Savior.

Saul Persecutes the church (Acts 8:1-4)

On the very day of Stephen’s death and burial, “A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem” (8:1). This is Luke’s first use of the word “persecution,” and for the first time, rank-and-file believers are affected. Stephen’s death is not an isolated act of violence. A storm of persecution breaks out against the church in Jerusalem and increases in its fury. The prime agent in this campaign of persecution is Paul. Luke says, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (8:3). This is a vicious pogrom of intimidation against the Jerusalem church, and Luke tells us Paul “began to destroy the church” (8:3).

Church scatters (8:1, 4)

For the present, those of the Jerusalem church who are successfully hunted down are persecuted, beaten and imprisoned, and possibly killed. Others see what is coming and flee throughout the province of Judea and Samaria (8:1). In spite of this however, this flight of church members fleeing Jerusalem, actually causes the gospel to spread more widely. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (8:4).  Later in Acts, we learn that people are traveling as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, “spreading the word only among Jews” (11:19).  The law of unintended results, begins to operate against Saul and the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem as Christians begin to flee Jerusalem in order to escape the threats against them.

Philip preaches the gospel (8:5)

The next person that Luke focuses on in this section is Phillip.  Now Phillip was a layman, who wasn’t a prophet or a professional preacher.  Nevertheless, he was called by God to go to Samaria and preach the gospel.  Luke records that the Samaritans responded to Phillip’s preaching, and he also tells us that there was “great joy” in Samaria as a result of Phillip’s preaching.  Phillip was then guided by the Spirit to witness to a government official from Ethiopia who also became a believer, and apparently took the good news about Christ back to Ethiopia.

In short, the first seven chapters of Acts deal with mission work among Jews in Jerusalem. Luke is now finished with this part of the story, and he begins to describe gospel outreach activities further afield. He mentions that the scattered members of the Jerusalem church flee to other parts of the province of Judea, preaching the gospel as they go (8:1, 4). However, Luke gives no further details about the evangelization of Judea, nor does he mention anything about the churches in other cities of this province. (He is also silent about the work and church in Galilee.)

Rather, Luke turns his attention to Samaria, where scattered members of the Jerusalem church also evangelize. They apparently know that Jesus’ earlier ban on the disciples entering any city of the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5) has been lifted. Samaria was once the capital of the northern ten-tribe House of Israel, which separated from Judah after Solomon died. In the eighth century B.C., the northern kingdom was invaded by Assyrians. Samaria was destroyed and many of the people were deported to other parts of the Assyrian empire (2 Kings 17:17:5-6). The area of Samaria was resettled by peoples from other parts of the empire. The story of this resettlement is told in 2 Kings 17, beginning with verse 24. And in the intervening 700 years, many other peoples moved in and out of the area.

The antagonism between Samaritans and Jews is centuries old, and in some ways it dates back to the Assyrian resettlement. It was intensified when the Samaritans opposed the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple in the fifth century B.C. [Ezra 4:1-16Nehemiah 2:104:1-86:1-1413:4-8.] This caused an unhealed and bitter hatred between Jews and Samaritans that grew more intense through the passage of time. The Samaritans built a temple on their own sacred hill, Gerizim. [Josephus, Antiquities 11:310, 322-24, 246.] The Jews under the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus I (134-104 B.C.) destroyed this temple when they conquered Samaria in the second century B.C. and added this territory to their realm. But in 63 B.C. the Romans conquered the Jewish kingdom. The Samaritans were liberated from Judean domination, but the unfriendly relations between the two peoples continued.

An angel directs Philip to Gaza (8:26)

The next primary character that Luke focuses on is Philip.  Philip had a heart for evangelism, and, when the “great persecution” arose in Acts 8:1, Philip left Jerusalem to become an evangelist in Samaria (Acts 8:5–12). After the church in Samaria was started, Philip was used by the Holy Spirit to bring the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch, a member of the court of Candace, the Ethiopian queen. Philip found the eunuch sitting in his chariot, reading Isaiah and trying to make sense of the prophet’s words. Philip offered to explain, and the eunuch invited him to come up and sit with him. In the end, the eunuch was saved and baptized (Acts 8:26–39). Immediately following the baptism, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away to Azotus, where he continued to preach the gospel in the towns from there to Caesarea (Acts 8:40).

As Philip travels the road to “Desert of Gaza,” he meets an Ethiopian eunuch. This man is what we might call, the Secretary of the Treasury or the Chancellor Exchequer for Kandake, the Ethiopian queen (8:27). As a minister of finance, he is an important official in the queen’s “cabinet.” The Ethiopians are Nubians, living in Southern Egypt and the Sudan, between modern Aswan and Khartoum. (The modern nation of Ethiopia is further south.) Kandake is a dynastic title, such as Pharaoh, not a personal name. All Ethiopian queens have that name. According to ancient writers, the Nubian king is said to be too holy to become involved with profane matters of state, [Strabo, Geography 17.1.54; Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6.186.] so the mother of the king rules on behalf of her son.

Luke says of Kandake’s eunuch, that he went “to Jerusalem to worship” (8:27). Therefore, though he is probably a Gentile, he is most likely a proselyte or “God-fearer.” This is indicated by the fact that the eunuch makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and is now studying the book of Isaiah. (It would be difficult for a non-Jew to get a copy of the Isaiah scroll, but a minister of finance would no doubt have more ability than the average Gentile.)

Now while Philip’s role in Samaria may have been brief, he is about to play another important part in spreading of the gospel. An angelic messenger appears to Philip and instructs him: “Go south to the road — the desert road — that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (8:26). Commentators point out that when Luke wants to stress the presence and activity of God, he often uses an expression like “the angel of the Lord” (as he does in 8:26) rather than “the Spirit of the Lord.” [Some examples are in Luke 1:111326282:91322:43Acts 5:197:3035388:2610:372211:1312:7112327:23.] Used here, the expression is a vivid way of describing Philip’s divine guidance.

This is another opportunity for Luke to stress also, that the evangelistic work of the church is initiated by God, who sends his divine messenger to Philip. Whatever mission work Philip is about to do is not based on a program the church has thought out. After all, in this case, what would be the point of traveling to a “desert road” that leads to Gaza, and preach the gospel there?

But that’s precisely what Philip is told to do, Go down the road that leads to the edge of the desert. (The road from Jerusalem to Gaza is 50 miles long, and leads to the main coastal trade route going to Egypt.) Commentators point out that the word “desert” in Luke’s account can refer either to Gaza or to the road. Most likely the former is in view here. Apparently, the old town of Gaza is referred to as “Desert Gaza,” in distinction to a newer town named Gaza. This is the southernmost of the five main Philistine cites in southwestern Judea. It is also the last settlement before a traveler encounters the barren desert stretching to Egypt.

The Ethiopian official (8:27-28)

Twenty years later, Philip is mentioned again, still in Caesarea (Acts 21:8–9). Paul and Luke and others were traveling to Jerusalem, and they stopped at Philip’s home in Caesarea. They stayed with Philip for several days. Philip had four unmarried daughters at that time, all of whom had the gift of prophecy. That is the last time the Bible mentions the evangelist Philip.

Paul the Apostle

An Outline of the Life of the Apostle Paul

And finally, the third person whom Luke emphasizes in this section of extension is of course Paul, who would eventually become Christianity’s greatest evangelist and Theologian. Paul, probably even more than Peter, is the prominent leader and the central figure of the early Christian Church. The central figure in the Book of Acts, Paul writes more New Testament books than any other apostle.   While on the road to Damascus, Paul who was a persecutor of Christians, and who had been present at the stoning of Stephen, was confronted by the resurrected Christ.  He was blinded, led into the city of Damascus, and there he regained his sight and he was then commissioned amazingly, to take the gospel not to the Jews, but to the gentiles.

If there were ever a man whose background made him uniquely qualified to preach to both the Jews and the Gentiles, it was Paul. A central figure in the early church and the writing of the New Testament, Paul’s life is of great interest to all believers. While the Bible does not provide a complete biography of the apostle Paul, his epistles and the book of Acts reveal a lot of information about this important figure in church history.

The Apostle formerly known as Saul (of Tarsus)

Acts 22:3 reveals that Paul was born “Saul” in Tarsus, which is in SE Asia Minor. While we know that Paul was a citizen of this city, Acts 22:28 Paul tells us that he was also a Roman citizen by birth. That Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and yet held Roman citizenship is certainly noteworthy, and is an important factor in his ability to speak with confidence to both Jews and Greeks. (This citizenship even got him out of a tough situation after being arrested by the Roman authorities, as described in Acts 22:22-29.

Paul, a strict Pharisee, was once a great persecutor of the church. In his own words:

“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished” Acts 22:3-5.

The conversion of Paul (Acts 9)

Despite his beginnings, God desired to use this man to spread the Gospel throughout the region. On his way to Demsascus to arrest Christian believers, Christ appeared to Paul, spoke to him, and Paul was blinded. After being lead to meet a believer named Ananias, Paul regained his vision and was converted to belief in Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 22:1-21). Paul became a preacher of the Gospel and made several missionary journeys as a central figure in bringing the Christian faith to the Gentiles.

Luke begins his description of Paul’s conversion in chapter 9 by continuing the story of his persecution of the church. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” says Luke of Paul’s campaign of persecution against the church in Jerusalem (9:1).

Paul even travels to other towns, Damascus in particular, in order to round up Christians. As he later tells King Agrippa, “I even hunted them down in foreign cities” (26:11). To Paul, stamping out the Christians is a necessary part of doing God’s will. They are teaching a blasphemous heresy that threatens the people of God (the Jews) and the sanctity of the law and temple. It is surely God’s will that such people should be silenced.

Paul can justify his actions against the church by looking to the heroes of Israel’s history. Phinehas killed an Israelite man and Midianite woman who were defying the law of God (Numbers 25:6-15). Elijah killed the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40). Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, used violence to root out the enemies of God and apostates among the people (1 Maccabees 2:1-2842-48).

Thus it is, that Paul sets out toward Damascus with the zeal of an avenging prophet. He has letters from the high priest with authority to extradite any Christians he finds in the synagogues of Damascus. Paul will capture them and return them to Jerusalem for trial and punishment (9:2). Most likely those being hunted down are the Hellenistic Christians who fled Jerusalem, not those who lived permanently in Damascus. So far as we know, the high priest has no direct authority over the latter, since they are not in his immediate jurisdiction.

What Made Paul Special?

Interestingly, the selection of Paul to be the Apostle to the gentiles was not just some random choice on God’s part.  Instead, by selecting Paul, God had chosen someone who was extremely and uniquely qualified to be God’s gentile spokesman in this heavily pagan Greek and Roman world.  First of all, in addition to being a legal Roman Citizen which allowed Paul to have unencumbered travel access throughout the Roman world, Paul was also a “Jew from the tribe of Benjamin.”  But in addition, Paul was also an elite level Jewish scholar, who was not only fluent in the Old Testament scriptures, but was also fluent in Greek language, culture and philosophy.  In fact, Paul was so fluent in Greek literature, that he was able to recite Greek poems and philosophies when he was debating with the Greeks during his evangelistic journeys.

Furthermore, in addition the being relentless and completely committed, Paul had the unique ability and philosophy to meet and relate to people where they were or on their own level.  In other words, he was able to be “all things to all people.”  We he was around the Jews, he would keep their dietary laws, and when he was around the Greeks, he could recite their poems and their philosophies.  And his deep understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, allowed him to be able to argue with the Judaizers and demonstrate to them using the Old Testament Scriptures themselves, that Christianity was not a perversion of Judaism, but was to the contrary, the literal fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Paul was able to explain to the Jews that the New Testament was actually a completion to God’s salvation story.  Paul uniquely understood that it was part two of God’s two-part story of His redemption historical narrative.  In other words, Paul was able to persuade many that Christ did not come to destroy the Law, but instead, He came to complete or fulfill the law.  Because of Paul’s intimate understanding of the Old Testament, he was able to argue the case that, Christ was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophets, and that He was Israel’s true Messiah.

Now, it is important that we consider the fact, that at the time, because of the combination of Paul’s brilliant analytical mind and the combination of his Jewish lineage and his Roman citizenship, there was arguably no one better and more uniquely qualified to make those arguments to both Jewish audiences and Greek audiences than Paul.  And of course, it is important to point out, that God’s selection of Paul, also demonstrates just another example of the amazing providence of God in orchestrating the affairs of history in order to facilitate His ultimate plan of redemption.

Now because of the critically nature of God’s providence surrounding Paul’s life, it is important to briefly expand up my earlier observation about the providence of Paul’s selection by God.  By all appearances, Paul is the least likely person to become Christianity’s premiere evangelist.  As noted, he is a Jew, born “Saul,” in Tarsus (Acts 21:39, 22:3), a city in Asia Minor in the province of Cilicia, close to Syria.  He is raised and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a highly respected rabbi and Jewish scholar who mentors him on the “strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3).  In his epistle to the Philippians Paul expands on his Jewish bona fides, declaring, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4–6).

In other words, no one is more avidly devoted to Jewish Law.  Paul is of pure Jewish lineage and of the honored tribe of Benjamin, from which came Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Samuel 9:1–2).  As a Pharisee, he obeys the Law’s precepts to the letter and zealously torments Christians for ostensibly corrupting his religion.  Yet upon his conversion, he happily abandons all these boasting rights and discards his credentials, counting them as rubbish “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philip. 3:8).

Also qualifying Paul for his mission to the Gentiles are his fluency in Greek and his familiarity with Hellenistic culture, which help him relate to Gentiles, along with his Roman citizenship from birth (Acts 22:28).  The Christian apologist “needs to know his or her audience, speak its language, and share its common flow of life.”  Given his background, who could better understand the futility of seeking salvation through works? Paul has few peers in “the accomplishments of the flesh” few who achieved so much by their own deeds.  He once had great pride in these “achievements” but ultimately comes to regard them as valueless, realizing that by himself he is utterly unworthy as “all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV). Paul understands that all glory belongs to Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philip. 3:9).

Furthermore, Roman citizenship is profoundly important, as citizens are part of the social elite. While such status was originally limited to freeborn natives of the city of Rome, citizenship expanded as the empire grew.  It’s not entirely clear who in Paul’s lineage first gained citizenship, but it’s possible one of his immediate ancestors acquired it in exchange for his services to Rome.  Indeed, Paul’s citizenship facilitates his evangelistic work in hostile climates in the empire, as the authorities recoiled in fear when Paul invokes it: “So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him” (Acts 22:29).

Providentially, Paul possesses the ideal attributes to become Christianity’s greatest evangelist personality traits that he exhibits, ironically, in his dark record of persecuting the Church. That God molds Paul into such a masterful messenger accentuates the gloriousness of the unmerited grace he is commissioned to preach. He is not only the Gospel’s fiercest advocate, but his writings are the most thorough biblical formulations of Christian theology.

As doctrinally prolific and influential as Paul is, he’s an equally energetic and consequential evangelist.  Astonishingly, and principally because of his own efforts, Christianity becomes a Gentile religion within a generation of his death even though its Founder and His disciples were Jews who began the new religion in Judea. Though born Jewish, Paul spreads the Good News throughout the Roman Empire from Syria to Italy in the three short decades following his conversion. He is so confident in the churches he establishes that he plans missionary tours much farther west without fear they will dissolve when he leaves.

Finally, it is here, where we have to take a brief pause in our chronological of the book of Acts, to point out the fact that it is during this period of the expansion of the church, that many scholars believe that the book of James was written and where the Book of James fits into the Chronology of the of Acts and the New Testament in general.  It is during this period that extends between around AD 35 and AD 48, that most scholars believe that James was the first epistle, probably written about AD 48.

Interestingly, right after the Martyrdom of Stephen, the believers in Jerusalem were scattered by persecution.  And when you begin to read the book of James, you will see that James writes to Jewish believers who were scattered.  So, it appears that James was apparently writing to some of those Jewish converts that had been forced out of Jerusalem and out of Judea after the death of Stephen because of the increasing threat of persecution (See: James 1:1-3).

Finally, as we return our attention back to the Apostle Paul, in his writings, Paul imparts to the believers in the first century, as well as to all believers throughout history, clear instructions on how to live life in the Spirit and to become free from sin’s reign as we grow more Christ-like. Through Paul, we learn the true meaning of Christian liberty. Free in Christ from the bondage of sin and the strict requirements of the Law, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard, not as a matter of following rules and regulations, but voluntarily, out of our love for Christ. Furthermore, with the exception of Christ, there is no greater teacher than Paul, and we owe it to ourselves to read his words of instruction, which have been divinely preserved for our edification in Christ.

Turning the World Upside Down, Exploring the Book of Acts Part 2, By Dr Bruce Logan

The Period of Establishment

In Mathew 16:18, Christ made a statement to Peter that eventually would change the course of world history.  In this famous passage Christ declared, “And I tell you that you are Peter and upon this rock, I will build MY Church and the gates of will will not prevail against it.”  In this installment of our chronological examination of the book of Acts through the lens of the four historical periods, we will begin to look at period number one which I have identified as the “Period of Establishment.”

In this early establishment period, the focus will be on the birth and the initial growth of the Church in Jerusalem.  This early initial period which goes from Acts 1:1 to Acts 6:7, records the beginning or early stages of the birth and “establishment” of the Church beginning in Jerusalem (1:1–6:7): “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

In this first section of Luke’s inspired record, he focuses on several significant events:

  1. He tells of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit.
  2. Christ then commissions His followers to take the gospel to all of the world.
  3. He then gives them the promise of His spirit, after which, they were instructed to go and be His witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea and to the ends of the earth.
  4. Then after Christ’s return to Heaven, He poured out the Holy Spirit on those disciples waiting in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost.
  5. Peter then preaches a vary powerful sermon in which over 3000 people responded to the good news, at which point the Church was officially born.
  6. And then in the remainder of that first section in Acts, Luke tells us about the power and the courage of those early believers. Luke records that not only did they have power to perform miracles, but they also had the courage and the fortitude to withstand tremendous physical persecution, as they went about spreading the message of the Gospel in a pagan culture that was completely hostile to their message.

Acts 1:1 to Acts 6:7, records the beginning or early stages of the birth and “establishment” of the Church beginning in Jerusalem (1:1–6:7): “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”  As Jesus was getting ready to ascend to heaven, He gathered His disciples together and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  

Prior to returning to Heaven, Jesus gave His disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit who would come to empower them to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.  The book of Acts details the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost which marked the beginning of the church and its miraculous spread through the power of the Holy Spirit.  On the Day of Pentecost, about 120 rag tag group of believers were gathered together when the Holy Spirit was poured out.

Ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven (Acts 1:9), the Holy Spirit was poured out upon 120 of Jesus’ followers who waited and prayed (Acts 1:152:1–4). The same disciples who had quaked in fear of being identified with Jesus (Mark 14:3050) were suddenly empowered to boldly proclaim the gospel of the risen Messiah, validating their message with miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 2:438–413:6–78:7).  Thousands of Jews from all parts of the world were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.  They heard the gospel in their own languages (Acts 2:5–8), and many believed (Acts 2:414:4).  Those who were saved were baptized, adding daily to the church. When persecution broke out, the believers scattered, taking the gospel message with them, and the church spread like wildfire to all parts of the known earth (Acts 8:411:19–21).

In only three decades, a small group of frightened believers in Jerusalem transformed into an empire-wide movement of people who had committed their lives to Jesus Christ, ending on a high note with Paul on the verge of taking the gospel to the highest government official in the land the Emperor of Rome.  Everywhere they went, they were ridiculed and opposed and persecuted and physically assaulted for their beliefs.  Some were even put to death. Yet within a period of about 30 years, this original group of 120 and their converts came to be known as “those who turned their world upside down.”  And by the time the Book of Acts closes, Christianity had spread from Jerusalem, all the way to Rome, the Capital City of the Empire.

The Spread of the Early Church

The church is Jesus Christ’s worldwide “enterprise.” He prophesied that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). The Book of Acts tells us how His church began in Jerusalem and spread to the ends of the earth. It provides a vital link between the gospels and the New Testament epistles.

How did the Christian faith that began with a few followers of Jesus in Israel spread to Rome and points beyond? How did an ardent Jew who was not even a believer become the apostle to the Gentiles? How did the early church, which was exclusively Jewish, begin to reach out to and incorporate the Gentiles?  How did the early Christian church survive?  Humanly speaking, the odds were all stacked against it.  It was unthinkable that a small, despised movement, from a corner of Palestine, could move out to become the dominant faith of the mighty Roman Empire, an empire and culture that was immersed in fiercely defended traditional pagan religions. The spread of the Christian church in its earliest centuries is one of the most amazing phenomena in all of human history.

Christianity was considered a religio prava , an illegal and depraved religion.  The church grew rapidly in the beginning.  However, wave after wave of persecution was unleashed to squash it.  At least two of the persecutions were empire-wide and intended to destroy the church.  So how did this young fledgling movement make it?   How was it able to grow and spread so fast, so fast?

More than a building

The earliest Christians did not have church buildings.  They did not have public ceremonies that would introduce them to the public. They had no access to the mass media of their day.  There is no early record of the early believers having any types of mass choirs, concerts, open or outside revival crusades, or millionaire preachers.  So how can we account for their steady and diverse expansion over the first three centuries?

Acts 2:42-47 gives us some insight into just how this happened:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Peter’s Post-Pentecost Ministry – Acts 3:1-4:37

Luke summarizes the early activity, organization and enthusiasm of the first Christian church. Note carefully the outline of and inspired biblical pattern laid out for church ministry, organization and growth in these few lines of Scripture.  Luke summarizes the early activity, organization and enthusiasm of the first Christian church. Note carefully, the outline of and inspired biblical pattern laid out for church ministry, organization and growth in these few lines of Scripture.  If you look carefully you will note five different ministries begin to develop, as well as, a compact summary of the relationship between ministry and church growth:

  1. Evangelism(Acts 2:12-41): They were preaching the gospel of Christ to the lost and baptizing repentant believers.
  2. Education(Acts 2:42a): They were teaching the converts to know and obey the words of Christ.
  3. Fellowship(Acts 2:42b): They were integrating these new Christians into the body of Christ.
  4. Worship(Acts2:42c): They were organizing the church for Christian worship (Lord’s Supper, etc.).
  5. Service(Acts 2:43-47a): The church began to pool its resources to care for the needs of the brethren and the community in the name of Christ.

The book of Acts is often referred to as, “The Great Commission in action.”  It is called the Acts of the Apostles, and this early section describes the infancy period of the early Christian Church, a time when Christianity spread like wildfire in the midst of tremendous opposition. The emergence of Christianity is primarily seen through the actions of Peter, actually the first Apostle to bring Christianity to the Gentiles, and Paul, with his four missionary journeys – three from Antioch and his voyage to Malta and Rome.

Following the day of Pentecost (2:1-4), the Descent of the Holy Spirit to the first community in Jerusalem, the mission in Jerusalem is detailed from Chapters 2 through 7.  There are four speeches by Peter in which he repeatedly witnesses to the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus: the Pentecost speech (2:14-36), which led to the conversion of 3000 Jews, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham to bring salvation to the Israelites; the second to the people following the cure of the crippled beggar (3:1-26), and twice before the Sanhedrin with his famous reply, “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29).

As we study the book of Acts chronologically, we can see that the disciples obeyed Jesus instructions and stayed in Jerusalem. They prayed and waited for the promise of the Holy Spirit from the father. While they were waiting, they choose another man to take the place of Judas and his name was Matthias. On the day of Pentecost the apostles were together in one place when the promise of the Holy Sprit was poured out on them.  Then Peter goes on to tell these people that were listening, how Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled and teaches them about Jesus death, burial and resurrection.

In doing this, the apostles had accomplished the first part of Jesus statement in Acts 1:8 by being a witness to him in Jerusalem. Now after the crowd had heard Peter’s sermon, some of them realized that they had crucified their Messiah and this caused some of them to have great deal of pain in their heart and they wanted Peter and the rest of the apostles to tell them what they should do (Acts 2:37).

So, Peter tells them exactly what they must do in order to receive the remission of their sins. They had to repent and be baptized for the remission of sin. As you continue on reading we discover that  about 3000 people gladly received those instructions that day and were baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins in Acts 2:41 and because of their obedient faith we learn that God added them to the church in Acts 2:47. These 3000 Christians, who took part in the birth of the church, continued in the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer according to Acts 2:42.

Another remarkable event, which caused the church to grow is found in Acts 3 and 4. Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they came across a man who was lame from birth. He was left there to beg for alms but notice what Peter tells the man.

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.  8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them — walking, leaping, and praising God. 

Instantly this man was healed after more than forty years of being lame from his mother’s womb according to Acts 4:22. All the Jews knew this man could not walk because they saw him begging daily at the entrance of the temple. When the Jews saw this man was healed they were truly amazed and their hearts were open to hear what Peter had to say.

The main purpose for miracles was to prove to the people that the message being spoken by Peter and John was from God and not from man. It was common practice for the apostles and to use miracles to prove this very thing.  Mark 16:20  “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.”  Peter boldly preached to them about Jesus proving to them from scripture that he was the Messiah. The high priest, Sadducees, and the captain of the temple arrested Paul and John for proclaiming Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. However they to late because we learn that Peter’s message had reached a great number of these people and the church was now around 5000 men strong not including the women Acts 4:4.

The next day the Sanhedrin council had no choice but to let them go because they could not deny the miracle that was done (Acts 4:16).  The church was really coming together and growing rapidly by the end of Acts 4.  In Acts 4:32 we read,  “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.  33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”

The Christians were of one heart and one soul. They shared everything they had with each other so that no one was without. These Christians truly loved one another and because of the love the church continued to grow by leaps and bounds. We learn a great lesson from their example, on how we should have a great love for one another so that we can help God’s church grow today in the midst of a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to the message of the Gospel as well.

However, we learn that whenever we are dealing with flawed sinful humans, that there will always be the susceptibility for sin and corruption, even in the church.  For example, we learn from Acts 5 that there were some that were thinking more of themselves and how they could could look good to the people.

Ananias and Sapphira for example, sold their land but then they tried to lie to God about how much they were giving. They both said they gave it all but in fact they were keeping back some for themselves so that they could look good to the brethren. Well this didn’t pay off for them because they both died instantly for their sin and because of the example the church grew in great fear of the Lord.

Once again, the apostles were working many signs and wonders and men and women were being added to the church Acts 5:14.  But once again, the high priest arrested the apostles and threw them into jail, but an angel freed them that night and told them to go back into the temple and preach the word of God again.

Eventually, they found themselves before the Sanhedrin council again defending that Jesus was the Christ. A well-respected teacher of the law by the name of Gamaliel convinced the council to leave these apostles alone.  Acts 5: 38 “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;  39 “but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it — lest you even be found to fight against God.”  The council followed this advice and had the apostles beaten and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus again. However, this did not discourage the apostles at all. Instead, noticed what happens:

Acts 5:41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.  At this time the church was growing by leaps and bounds. Because of this great growth we encounter our first problem in the church in Acts 6. The widows were being neglected from the daily distribution of food so the apostles decided to find seven faithful men to look after these widows. Not only did these men take care of this problem with the widows they found ample time to preach the word of God  and the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem Acts 6:7.

The Chosen Seven (Acts 6:1-7): This whole scenario introduces us to the Hellenists. They will become the main characters for the furthering of the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”  Luke also gives us a birds-eye view of how the church began to solve internal problems, which Paul will further utilize when he visits Corinth and the other new churches to help them solve problems.

At this time, the church divides into two groups: One group is the Hellenists, or Christians who were born Jewish but who have a Greek cultural background.  The other group is the Hebrews, or the Christians who, like the apostles, were born into Jewish cultural backgrounds. The Hellenists feel discriminated against, so in response, the community of disciples elects seven leaders to account for the needs of the Hellenists.

Now the Solution: Gathering the “disciples” together they offered this solution: “choose seven men: seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task.” Foremost among these Christian Hellenist leaders was Stephen who will soon become the Church’s first recorded martyr.

The Life of the Early Christian

Early Christianity was primarily an urban faith, establishing itself in the city centers of the Roman Empire. Most of the people lived close together in crowded tenements. There were few secrets in such a setting. The faith spread as neighbors saw the lives of the believers close-up, on a daily basis.

And what kind of lives did they lead? Justin Martyr, a noted early Christian theologian, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the believers: “We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause.”

Luke concludes his description of this early initial origin of Christianity and the Establishment period of the Church in Jerusalem, with the following progress report:
“The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. A great company of the priests obeyed the faith.”(Acts 6:7).
  • The word of God increased.  More and more people were accepting and spreading the apostles’ message, and that message was having an ever-growing effect.
  • The number of disciples multiplied.  At last count, Luke has the number at 5000, and that was counting only men (Acts 4:4). Luke does not give us a new number, but says the number “multiplied greatly. “ So, there were many thousands of people in this congregation in Jerusalem.
  • A great company of the priests obeyed.  The temple hierarchy had been jailing the apostles for preaching the word, but now the temple priests were defecting to the apostles. This was probably the main reason why persecution by the temple authorities was stepped up to a new level, as the story of Stephen will show.

Conclusion

We should come away from our initial study of the “Establishment” of the Church, with two great truths that should lead us to ask ourselves a basic question.  First, Christianity is a faith rooted in history. We saw this in our initial study of Luke also.  Christianity is not the religious speculations of a bunch of brilliant thinkers.  Christianity is God’s revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The apostles faithfully handed down to us what they had seen and heard concerning the life, death, resurrection, and teaching of Jesus Christ. Our faith is built on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Thus we can have confidence about our faith.

Second, God is at work in history through His church.  While the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is the historical foundation of our faith, God didn’t just send Christ, pull Him off the planet, and stop working. Jesus began the work; His church continues it. That’s why He saved us and why He leaves us here on earth.

The church grew, and can grow today, by following in the footsteps of the early church.

Turning the World Upside Down, Exploring the Book of Acts – Part 1, by Dr Bruce Logan

In Mathew 16:18, Christ made a statement to Peter that eventually would change the course of world history.  In this famous passage Christ declared, “And I tell you that you are Peter and upon this rock, I will build MY Church and the gates of will not prevail against it.”

Why study this book?

The Acts of the Apostles forms a bridge between the record of Jesus Christ’s life and teachings as recorded in the four Gospels and the writings and labors of His Apostles. The book of Acts illustrates just how Christ continued to direct His Church through the inspiration and power of the Holy Ghost in the lives of His early followers.  The Holy Ghost revealed truth to the Apostles, who then established, led and taught those early believers. The Apostles also performed miracles in the name of Jesus Christ.

Through our study of this book, you will first discover just how the Church of Jesus Christ began to spread from Jerusalem “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  You will also experience the impact and influence that they had on the pagan culture in which they had to navigate.  And most importantly, we will be able to gain a better perspective on just how believers today should follow the  example that was laid by those very first Christians, and the role that we should model as we endeavor to have a similar impact and influence for Christ, in the godless world that we are living in today.

In other words, the Book of Acts tells the story of how a handful of men and women, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, established and set in motion, what would become the Universal Church that our Lord referred to in this famous quote.

Succinctly put, Acts tells the story of just how a few disciples, in spite of unimaginable opposition and persecution, in a world that was totally pagan and totally hostile to any challenge to their pagan ways, yet did not leave their world the same way that they found it.  They were ordinary people whom God enabled to do extraordinary things.  It was the beginning of a movement that would shake the world to its very foundation, and which continues to this very day.  The Bible records that people said of these early Christ followers, that there were the ones who “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

But how did they accomplish these amazing things?  How could a small group of individuals, many of whom in the beginning hid in fear, was able to establish a movement that, in spite of the tremendous persecution, opposition and hostility, would eventually completely transform the pagan Greco Roman world?  And most importantly, what lessons can believers today, learn from the examples set by the early church, as we also have to navigate a culture that has become increasingly hostile to the Church and the message of Christianity, and any type of Christian cultural influence?

The book of Acts is found in the New Testament directly following the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It covers about the first 30 years of church history and focuses on the Holy Spirit’s work primarily through Peter and Paul.

Acts was written by Luke; the same Luke who authored the book of Luke. While the Gospels told the story of Jesus, the book of Acts tells the story of the disciples carrying on His work through the power of the Holy Spirit. The full name of the book of Acts is “The Acts of the Apostles” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”.

The title of the book of Acts comes from the Greek word praxis, a word often used in early Christian literature to describe the great deeds of the apostles or other significant believers. This title accurately reflects the contents of the book, which chronicles the lives of key apostles (especially Peter and Paul) in the decades immediately following Christ’s ascension into heaven.

Acts ends abruptly with Paul imprisoned in Rome, waiting to bring his appeal before Caesar. It is worth noting that in this history of the early Christian church, Luke mentioned neither Paul’s death (AD 64–68) nor the persecution of Christians that broke out under Nero (AD 64).  More than likely, Luke completed the book before either of these events occurred, sometime between AD 60 and AD 62, while Paul sat in prison, awaiting the resolution of his appeal.

Furthermore, Acts is the only biblical book that chronicles the history of the church immediately after Jesus’s ascension. As such, it provides us with a valuable account of how the church was able to grow and spread out from Jerusalem into the rest of the Roman Empire. In only three decades, a small group of frightened believers in Jerusalem transformed into an empire-wide movement of people who had committed their lives to Jesus Christ, ending on a high note with Paul on the verge of taking the gospel to the highest government official in the land, the Emperor of Rome.

On the Day of Pentecost, about 120 believers were gathered together when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Everywhere they went, they were ridiculed and opposed and persecuted and physically assaulted for their beliefs. Some were even put to death. Yet within a period of about 30 years, this original group of 120 and their converts came to be known as those who turned their world upside down. When we see their fearless preaching and their expectant prayer and willingness to obey, these Christians almost seem radical.

The Four Historical Periods of The Book of Acts

In this study of the Book of Acts, I would like to focus specifically on just HOW did this small group of individuals went from being a frightened, uncertain and confused group of individuals in the upper room, managed to spearhead this incredible and world changing movement called the church?  A movement that amazingly, still exists today two-thousand years later.  My approach to this study will be to divide the book of Acts into four chronological or historical periods that are covered in the book of Acts and beyond.

Briefly stated, these four historical periods are:

  1. The Period of Establishment.

  2. The Period of Extension.

  3. The Period of Rapid Expansion.

  4. The Period of Consolidation.

  1. The Period of ESTABLISHMENT – This refers to THE ESTABLISHMENT AND BIRTH OF OF THE CHURCH – (Acts 1:1 – Acts 6:7) – Begins with the commissioning of the of the Disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  The pouring out of God’s Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Peters Sermon led to 3,000 souls were saved, and The Church was born…Then in the remainder of that 1st section in Acts, Luke tells us about the power  and the courage of those early believers.
  2. The Period of EXTENSION – (From AD 35 to AD 48 – Acts 6:8 – Acts 9:31), This period deals with THE GROWTH OF THE CHURCH as it extends itself out from Jerusalem to

Judea and Samaria.   This period centered around three main characters:  STEPHEN, PHILLIP and PAUL   It’s during this period that many scholars believe that the BOOK OF JAMES WAS WRITTEN – (SEE: JAMES 1:1)…  JAMES WAS PROBABLY THE FIRST EPISTLE WRITTEN

  1. The Period of RAPID EXPANSION – This includes PAUL’S 3 MISSIONARY JOURNEYS (Acts 9:32 – 28:31)…. This a CRUCIAL PERIOD!!!   It records how a small group of Christ’s followers became THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH!!!!!

The Church starts out in Jerusalem, but by the time we get to the end of The Book of Acts, THE CHURCH IS IN ROME… Now initially, there were only 120 Christ followers, AND THEY WERE ALL JEWISH!!!  BUT BY THE TIME WE GET TO ACTS 28, THE CHURCH IS UNIVERSAL, AND IT INCLUDES BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES!!!  Now a large part of the Church’s RAPID EXPANSION, was the result of PAUL’S THREE MISSIONARY JOURNEYS:

  1. In Paul’s 1st Missionary Journey, Paul goes from Antioch, to THE REGION OF GALATIA, He then returns to Antioch – Where he then writes 1 Epistle:(GALATIANS)…  In he’s 2nd Journey, he spends about a year and a half in Corinth, and while there, he writes TWO EPISTLES: 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. He had to leave Thessalonica because of  persecution, but he was concerned about the Christians in Thessalonica.   During his 3rd Journey, he spent the majority of his time in EPHESUS, and while on his third journey, he wrote THREE EPISTLES:(1st and 2nd CORINTHIANS and ROMANS).

While on HOUSE ARREST in Rome, Paul wrote FOUR PRISON EPISTLES: (EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS, PHILIPIANS, & PHILEMON).

  1. The Period of CONSOLODATIONBetween AD 62 to AD 95–  ACTS CONLUDES WITH PAUL’S IMPRISONMENT IN ROME.  HOWEVER, SEVERAL OF THE N. T. BOOKS WERE WRITTEN AFTER THE PERIOD OF ACTS.  And the primary purpose of these Epistles were to, CONSOLODATE, SOLIDIFY, ENCOURAGE, INSTRUCT AND STRENGHTEN THE CHURCHES THAT WERE STARTED BY PAUL AND OTHER EARLY CHURCH FOUNDERS

During this period, the Church faced TWO PRIMARY DANGERS PERSEQUTION & HERESY (OR FALSE TEACHING): (One was EXTERNAL, while the other was INTERNAL).

The Epistles that were written during this period, were written to ENCOURAGE BELIEVEFRS WHO WERE SUFFERING PERSECUTION, OR WERE CONFUSED OR BEING  LEAD ASTRAY BY FALSE TEACHING, SO THESE EPISTLES HAD TO BE WRITTEN IN ORDER TO CLARIFY TRUTH, IN ORDER TO HELP THOSE BELIEVERS TO AVOID DOCTRINAL ERROR OR PERSONAL SIN

Example:  1st & 2nd Peter1st Peter was written to encourage believers who were  suffering persecution.  While 2nd Peter on the other hand, was written to WARN ABOUT FALSE TEACHERS)

During this period Paul is released from his first imprisonment:  Paul wrote three PASTORIAL EPISTLES: 1 Timothy – To encourage Timothy who was serving in the Church of Ephesus.  Titus – Who was Pastor in the Church of CRETE, and 2 Timothy – Paul was arrested and imprisoned for the 2nd time, and he wrote 2 Timothy.. Nero then order Paul executed around AD 68.  Paul was beheaded, because it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.

DURING THIS PERIOD OF CONSOLODATION – We get all of THE GENERAL EPISTLES – (EXCEPT JAMES – Which was written during the PERIOD OF EXTENSION).

The GENERAL EPISTLES ARE:  (1st & 2nd Peter, Hebrews, Jude, 1st – 2nd and 3rd John)… And finally during this Period of Consolidation, we have THE BOOK OF REVELATION.  THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS POINTS AHEAD TO THE CULMINATION OF GOD’S REDEMPTIVE PLAN FOR MAN

In our next installment of our chronological examination of the Book of Acts, we will begin to examine more closely, the first of the four chronological or historical periods with the “Period of Establishment.”

What is a Christian to Think? Developing a Biblical Worldview, Part 6, The Need for Discernment, by Dr. Bruce Logan

“Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:1-3 NKJV).

What on Earth is going on? Do you know? Is it even possible for you to know? When we look at our nation and our world, along with all of the many rapid changes occurring at the same time, how can we interpret these events? How can we determine what is really happening?  And how are all of these simultaneous events impacting in our lives, our marriages, our families, our relationships, our communities, our churches, and our nation?  Are we just simply going through a “phase in human evolution?”  Or, could there be some other nefarious plot occurring in the unseen world?

In this sixth and final lesson in this series emphasizing what should be the biblical worldview or ideological perspective of believers in the midst of the polarizing and emotionally charged culture wars that America is currently in.  As believers, there are a multitude of issues, as well as, cultural transformative movements, that we need to have a biblical worldview in order to understand and to navigate.  And what makes it even more imperative that believers develop a biblical worldview in this evil age, is the fact that this demonic cultural shifting is being advocated by all of the mainstream media outlets, our public schools, Academia, the entertainment industry, pop culture, not to mention, being legislated in the highest offices of our Government.  All of which makes it all that much more critical that, EVEN WHEN IT COMES TO VOTING, believers develop discernment and a biblical worldview perspective on all of the issues.

The fact is that, we have seen a lot of “firsts” since January 2020.  We have NEVER for example, been told to stay home, quit work and rely on the Government because of a WORLDWIDE Covid-19 Pandemic.  Furthermore, America have also not seen a Presidential election cycle with this much emotionally charged volatility, arguably since the election of Abraham Lincoln.  And at the same time, several American cities are a flamed with rioting as a result of a number of very high profile and media sensationalized shootings of African Americans by white police officers.

Controversial and emotionally charged cultural issues such as, abortion, the rapidly increasing political power and cultural influence of the LGBT movement, racial issues, the attacks on traditional biblical principles regarding what makes a healthy family, the overall secularization of the public school system, the growing fascination with socialism among a growing number of young Americans, the alarming rate of fatherlessness in minority communities, the alarming homicide rate in many of America’s inner city communities, the blatant far left desensitizing of an entire generation to the things that God has called abomination, and the complete secularized slant of America’s main stream media outlets, are all occurrences that should be causing every believer in America, regardless of race, gender, or religious denominational traditions, to stand up and take notice.

This year of 2020, with all that has occurred and is yet occurring, has caused me more than ever before, to reflect on the critical importance and the desperate need for the development of biblical discernment among believers.  But even more so, I’ve been very concerned about the the serious lack of biblical and spiritual discernment among the people of God, and especially many of our leaders.  In other words, many believers often do not see issues clearly and are subsequently easily misled because they do not think biblically, which is all the more important reason why it is so imperative that leaders or expositors of God’s word have clear biblical discernment, so that they are able to “disciple” those who do not.

But regrettably, to put it bluntly, what we are learning as we watch our culture implode all around us, is that the WIDESPREAD lack of discernment in the Church has become a “SYSTEMIC” problem.  This is sadly, evidenced in the fact of the the large numbers of Christians, especially Christian leaders and Pastors, who have unwittingly become apologist for the secularization of America by supporting a political party and its candidates who advocate for “doctrines of devils,” while doing so without ever discerning the nature of the open attacks and hostilities towards biblical values.  In other words, many believers, particularly man in Christian leadership, have blindly become apologist for a party platform and it’s candidates that openly campaign on ideas that God has called evil, such as abortion, and male on male, and female on female relationships.  And that is not even to mention, the lack of discerning the nature of the movement towards establishing a “ONE WORLD/SOCIALIST ECONOMIC SYSTEM” and its subsequent consequences.

And while I recognize that on the surface, this concern may appear by many to be a sheer partisan perspective; yet what I am arguing is coming from a strict and specific biblical worldview perspective.  Furthermore, the argument that I am making, has nothing to do with whether you’re a conservative or liberal, a Republican or Democrat, black or white, male or female, evangelical or charismatic. It’s about developing  the discernment to recognize what’s true according to God’s word.
In other words, it’s about learning what aligns with God’s definition of truth, not what a politician or your Facebook friends or your hairdresser insist are true.  It means that as believers, we must take personal responsibility for developing discernment and learn how to take away the emotion, tradition and partisanship, and learning to “think biblically” in order to become discerning and critically thinking Christian.
To be more specific, one of the most troublesome components of the enemy’s attack on Christianity, is the complete lack of spiritual discernment or the  ability to be able to distinguish the spiritual warfare or prophetic relationship between the prophetic word and current events, including today’s political climate, and the signs of the times.  Interestingly, this is a problem that is not unique to today’s culture.  In fact, this amazing lack of discernment was also systemic among the Jewish Religious leaders of Christ’s day.  Note for example, the famous encounter in which Jesus gave a stinging rebuke to some Pharisees and Sadducees who were members of two of the leading religious sects of the day, and who came to Him attempting to trick Him by asking Him for a “sign.”
Mathew describes this encounter when he writes, “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times (Mathew 16:1-3 NKJV).  In His response, Jesus soundly criticized these religious leaders for their inability to discern God’s actions and timing in their generation.  They failed to recognize and discern the purposes of God because their hearts were far from God. They embraced a form of religion and pronounced it with their lips, but their hearts and focus were in the wrong place.

In today’s Christianity, signs of a spiritual famine are evident.  In other words, the fact that secularist worldviews has supplanted Christianity to become the prevailing and dominant worldview in the culture, is the primary evidence that spiritual discernment is lacking in the Christian community.  Though there are faithful pastors and Christians who take the word of God seriously, there is an increasing number of Christians who are abandoning the clarity and commands of Scripture and substituting political correctness, feelings, emotions, self help and tolerance for biblical truth and its sometimes, very difficult revelations.

We seem to have forgotten the idea that it was Satan in the Garden of Eden who first challenged the word of God when he asked Eve, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1).  With this question, doubt about the word of God (which is really doubt about the integrity of God) led to a lack of spiritual discernment by Eve and then by Adam.  The result was The Fall, and the path to all subsequent heresies and apostasies was laid.

It is because of these and many other reasons, why the acquiring of biblical discernment by believers in Christ is so critical in today’s culture.  Why? Because discernment intersects the Christian life at every point.  And God’s Word is the ULTIMATE source for providing us with the needed tools in order to have discernment about every issue of life.  And especially considering the times that we are living in, and all that we have been experiencing in 2020, the need for more discernment among God’s people is more critically needed that ever.  And YES! That even includes how we vote as believers.  Because when we become discerning voters, we are able to TAKE AWAY THE EMOTION and think biblically and more critically, and take more into consideration WHAT we are voting for, as opposed to WHO we are voting for and WHY.
Interestingly, according to Peter, God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).   You see, it is through the “true knowledge of Him,” that we have been given everything we need to live a Christian life in this fallen world. And how else do we have true knowledge of God but through the pages of His Word, the Bible? In fact, Peter goes on to say that such knowledge comes through God’s granting “to us His precious and magnificent promises” (2 Peter 1:4).  
What is biblical discernment and why is it important?

There are many issues in our culture today that can be argued or explained with emotional reasoning, but our emotions more often than not, don’t lead us in a Biblical direction.  It is therefore, critical that we know how to discern right and wrong through a Biblical lens.  That is why, when talking about discernment, the question that believers need to have the answer to is, what does it mean to have discernment and how do we learn to filter everything around us through the filter of the word of God?

In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth.  In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.  First Thessalonians 5:21-22 teaches that it is the responsibility of every Christian to be discerning: “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”  

This idea of the importance of biblical discernment for believers, was succinctly and yet wonderfully made by, Robert Norris of Ligonier Ministries in an article in Table Talk Magazine titled, “The Lost Art of Discernment,” when he noted the following: “We have lost sight of what the first Christians seemed to know so well, that it is important for believers to exercise discernment. Indeed, it is of such importance that the apostle Paul understood “spiritual discernment” as a spiritual gift in itself (1 Corinthians 12:10).  Discernment is a Bible mandate that cannot be ignored by Christians claiming to walk in the light of the faith.” [1]

Norris went on to point out that, “In the New Testament, the word that is translated “discernment” is derived from the decision of a judge adjudicating between conflicting claims. It is seen as necessary to be able to distinguish between what is good and bad, true and false, and between evil spirits and good spirits. Christian discernment is the careful process of sorting through truth claims to arrive at the clearest possible decision concerning their trustworthiness and value as it relates to Christian orthodoxy. Such discernment reveals, clarifies, and proclaims truth and exposes, examines, and rejects error. This involves the Christian fully, as it is a personal commitment to the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22 as a necessary part of Christian growth in grace (or as verse 23 points out, sanctification).

The word “discern” appears in Matthew 16:3Hebrews 5:14, and in Ezekiel 44:23. The clear sense of the term is that discernment necessarily involves making value judgments between differing claims as needed so as to reveal by examination what is right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle. To make such judgments involves the process of examining the claims by an objective standard, and for the orthodox Christian, such a standard exists only in the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).” [1]

In essence, discernment involves each one of us in thinking in a specifically Christian way about each issue. It requires of us, that we employ our minds by informing ourselves through the study of the truth revealed in God’s Word. To be grounded in the revealed truth is the surest way to prepare to be able to recognize error. Yet, while information is a critical component, information alone does not provide us with full discernment.  At the same time as we are acquiring knowledge, our hearts have to be engaged in devotion to Christ.  In other words, we have to not only believe with our MINDS,” but we have to also believe with our “HEART” (Romans 10:9; Mark 12:30).  Then and only then will we find ourselves in tune with the mind of God and be able to make judgments and appraisals that accord with that mind, because to the believer it is promised the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the ministry of Word and Spirit in the life of the Christian as in the Christian community that produces the certainty of faith and the obedience of faith.

 

Moreover, discernment involves each one of us in thinking in a specifically biblical way, or through the lens of a biblical worldview about each and EVERY issue.  It requires of us, that we employ our minds by informing ourselves through the study of the truth revealed in God’s Word. To be grounded in the revealed truth is the surest way to prepare to be able to recognize error.  In other words, discernment is seen in Scripture as an essential component for spiritual growth. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews expresses the importance of spiritually mature believers regularly and routinely making their decisions by distinguishing between the principles of good and evil: “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel makes clear that spiritually mature leaders will teach others how to recognize accurately the difference between the holy and the unholy (Ezekiel 44:23).

Furthermore, discernment according to Scripture, is a critical part of Christian life.  It was also seen as essential in making wise decisions, as James makes clear when he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).  If we are to be faithful, wise Christians in the pluralistic setting where we live, among people who do not share our convictions and values, then we must not only see the need for discernment, but we must also develop the skills necessary to become discerning believers.  Because assessing and judging truth from error through the lens of a biblical worldview, enables us not only to believe the truth but to be able to judge, assess, live and yes, vote appropriately through a biblical worldview.  For it is clear, that if you believe the wrong things, you will most certainly end up with a distorted piety and an impaired Christian witness.

The apostle John issues a similar warning when he says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  According to the New Testament, discernment is not optional for the believer, it is required.  Because the key to living an uncompromising life, lies in one’s ability to exercise discernment in every area of his or her life.  For example, failure to distinguish between truth and error leaves the Christian subject to all manner of false teaching. False teaching then leads to an unbiblical mindset, which results in unfruitful and disobedient living, which is a certain recipe for compromise.

Applying this to today, it can be argued that this lack of any semblance of real spiritual discernment among believers, is possibly the single most devastating byproduct of the serious crises of biblical illiteracy in the Church.  In other words, because of the fact that experience and emotion, have been elevated above the divine revelation that comes from in-depth expository preaching and teaching from the pulpits, and the deemphasizing and the devaluation of serious and consistent bible study, many who call themselves Christians have no biblical substance or foundation in which to grow as a Christian.

Unfortunately, discernment is an area where most Christians stumble. They exhibit little ability to measure the things they are taught against the infallible standard of God’s Word, and they unwittingly engage in all kinds of unbiblical decision-making and behavior.  In short, they are not armed to take a decidedly biblical stand against the onslaught of unbiblical thinking and attitudes that face them throughout their day.

 

The Nature of Discernment

Discernment, or the ability to think biblically about all areas of life, is indispensable to an uncompromising life. It is incumbent upon every Christian to seize upon the discernment that God has provided for in His precious word.  Without it, Christians are at risk of being “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). The word used in Psalm 119:66  means “taste.” It is the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action. It includes the ability to “weigh up” and assess the moral and spiritual status of individuals, groups, and even movements. Thus, while warning us against judgmentalism, Jesus urges us to be discerning and discriminating, “lest we cast our pearls before pigs” (Matthew 7:1,6).  Biblical discernment means that we must use our minds to discern between truth and lies good and evil.

Spiritual discernment stated more simply, is the skill of separating divine truth from error.  1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, we are to “examine everything carefully.” That speaks of testing something to reveal its genuineness.  What this means for believers is that we as believers are to evaluate everything we come in contact with to distinguish what is true and false, good and bad, or right and wrong. That can be a difficult task. Why? First, we are constantly fighting the sinful desires of our fallen flesh. Second, we face satanic deception. The devil is doing everything he can to confound and confuse us. Third, we are inundated with worldly influences that seek to overpower us.

Opposing the world, the flesh, and the devil requires us to “hold fast to that which is good” (v. 21).  We are to embrace wholeheartedly what is inherently genuine and true. We are also to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians  5:22). That means we are to separate ourselves from every form of perversion as though we were avoiding a deadly plague or poison. One pastor correctly wrote, “The worst forms of wickedness consist of perversions of the truth, of spiritual lies, although today many look upon these forms with indifference and regard them rather harmless” Many in today’s church are indifferent about separating divine truth from error because they lack spiritual discernment.

Why Is There Such a Lack of Biblical and Spiritual Discernment?

As I have been attempting to argue in this series of lessons, one of the most disconcerting trends that I have observed among many believers is just how often believers, in particular pastors and leaders have demonstrated a lack of a clear biblical worldview, and have subsequently become apologist for the same narrative as the world and the mainstream media, without so much as even stopping to consider any biblical worldview perspective.

Now, it is completely understandable why non-believers are carrying the media narrative and not making the spiritual connection for example, with the devaluation of traditional family model and the proliferation of crime, drug abuse, illegitimacy, illiteracy and all of our other social ills.  In fact, the apostle Paul actually acknowledged this reality when he wrote to the Christians in first century Corinth where he observed: But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV).

In essence, Paul was pointing out to those early Christians who lived in pagan Corinth, that non-believers were not controlled by the Spirit of God but rather their natural physical and material values.  People like that cannot understand spiritual things because they are controlled by their feelings, their emotions, their moods, urges, fleshly desires and by human philosophies and reasoning.  Such people Paul explained, cannot accept the things of God because they are “foolishness to him.”  Or in other words, the things of God went against their natural or fleshly philosophies and inclinations, which subsequently cause biblical values to be viewed as foolishness.

On the other hand, Paul gives a contrasting perspective that should be embraced by the believers when he adds in verse 15: But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.”  Paul concludes in other words, that the mature believer has a receiver, or spiritual radio waves, which should be tuned in to God’s will.  He can therefore discern, appreciate and understand the essence of spiritual truth with wisdom and spiritual understanding.  That means that we really can exercise moral judgment, because we have thoroughly studied the mind of the Lord as it is revealed in His word.  We have prayed about difficult issues and have examined them from every side and we have put them through the filter of biblical absolutes.

As a result, we can therefore have the courage to take a position on moral values and political issues that the natural world or the “carnal man” is completely confused about.  We then have the courage to speak out on the wrongness of divisive issues such as: abortion, the destructiveness of the homosexual lifestyle, the sins of materialism, racial issues, socialism vs capitalism, and the oppression of the poor and needy.  In addition to that, we are able to boldly advocate for God’s divine order for the family which involves one man and one woman raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  And we can also comprehend the destructive impact of violating or undermining the biblical model of family can have on a society at large, and the impact that the attacks on the traditional, biblical family is having on the culture at large.

Unfortunately, far too many people in America over the past fifty years, including many sincere Christian believers, have increasingly had their ideologies or worldviews shaped by the media driven narratives, regarding sociological issues and not by God’s word.  In other words, far too many believers, completely and often innocently in many cases, are allowing their minds to be subtly influenced by the dictates of society as opposed to allowing God’s word to be preeminent in influencing and shaping how they discern the great issues of the day.  This becomes increasingly alarming when you consider the fact that it is Christ’s church, His body that has “set apart” and given the charge of being the “salt, and the light of the world.”  That light that shining in a dark world and pointing the way to the only true light in the Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So finally, while there is infinitely more information on this topic of worldview and biblical discernment that I could examine, I would just like to close this series of lessons, by highlighting without going into any more detail, a list of six reasons why, even with the fact that we are living in the “age of information,” there is such a serious issue of the lack of biblical discernment among God’s people:

1. The lack of emphasis on the Church’s actual purpose.

2. Division in the body based on doctrine and race.

3. Man-made religious tradition.

4. A proliferation of false teachings and teachers.

5. Ignorance and apathy.

6. A lack of discernment of the signs of the times that we are living.

In closing, I would like to summarize the above list by pointing out just two key areas that have contributed to the above list of issues:

Weak Doctrine

The diluting of biblical doctrine has conditioned today’s church to desire only what will make it feel comfortable and satisfied. Because experience and emotion have been elevated above divine revelation, many who call themselves Christians have no biblical basis for doing so. In other words, the primary emphasis in modern preaching has been placed upon religion as a power which can do things for us and which can make us happy as oppose to making us mature disciples.  Moreover, this emotional and feeling based religion has been over-emphasized at the expense of the intellectual, mind renewing component of the gospel that leads to the development of mature and discerning believers.

Because so many in today’s church, have only a shallow knowledge of God’s Word, they have filled that void with things like; trust in personal experiences and their personal feelings as actual truth.  And even more detrimentally, it has become in-vogue for believers to chase personal comfort and success as a way of life as opposed to Kingdom righteousness.  Subsequently, we have turned out to be a body that has become so preoccupied with ourselves, our moods, our feelings, our inward states and our earthly prosperity, that when we are confronted by external issues and problems that have a profound effect on our lives individually and the body collectively, such as the issues we face politically for example, we lack the ability to discern or “critically think” through the problem from a biblical perspective.

Inaccurate Interpretation

Today’s church has also failed to interpret Scripture accurately. That’s because, for the most part, it is indifferent toward God’s Word. Some teachers in the church are not trained to study God’s Word and end up with a wrong theology.  Some on the other hand, may be more trained trained but opt to tell stories or mix man-made ideas with biblical truth.  Still others arrive at what they believe to be the truth by some mystical intuition, experience, or emotion.

Finally, we must never loose sight of the fact that, interpreting God’s Word is an exacting science that requires skill and precision, that only comes through years of systematic study.  And unless the believer has sat under good teaching, is well-read him or herself, or has learned to interpret Scripture from someone who knows how, it’s unlikely he or she will be able to interpret Scripture accurately.

  1. The Lost Art of Discernment, by , First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier Ministries, May 1, 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Christian to Think? Developing a Biblical Worldview, Part 5, The Two Kinds of Wisdom, by Dr Bruce Logan

Wisdom of God vs. Wisdom of Man

Have you ever thought about mankind’s endless search for truth in this world?  Think about it.  Even in the twenty-first century, in a time of the greatest knowledge in the history of man with all the technological developments that have accelerated the rate of acquiring knowledge, the restless mind of man still struggles with discovering what is truth, as well as, the reason for his existence.  In fact, even in America’s current Presidential election seasons, ideas and secular worldviews has led to policy initiatives that are being postulated with the intent of legalizing and normalizing philosophies and lifestyles that God has called “an abomination,” in affect, elevating the philosophies and ideas of sinful mankind over the the word of the Creator of the Universe.

These secular worldviews that have crept into the public school system, Academia, pop culture, the media and every other institution of influence in America.  All of which with the ultimate goal of “desensitizing” an entire generation to the ungodly influences that have become mainstream in the culture.  But the most troubling aspect of all, is just how many “Christians,” and particularly Christian leaders, those who are supposed to be “salt and light” in the culture, but who instead, have actually become apologist for the political agents and parties who are openly advocating and campaigning on the legalization and normalization of such ungodly practices abortion, the LGBT agenda, as well as, the complete hostility to the Gospel and a biblical worldview.  Not to mention the centralization of the world’s economic systems.  A movement that is being fueled by the spirit of anti-Christ.

Yet, with all of our modern technology and access to information, there are still several other very important, as well as perplexing questions that that are still being hotly contested.  Questions such as, what is happening to America and the West? Where will it lead? What is truth or what is right and what is wrong?  And most importantly, what should be the worldview of the believers and the response of the Church of Jesus Christ to the culture in crises?

Incredibly, the last half of the 20th century has seen an almost unbelievable shift in the cultural values of the Western World.  In fact, people who lived a century ago would be shocked to see what is simply accepted today as truth or normal without comment or any sort of  contention! 

Yet, there remains many who are deeply troubled by modern social and cultural movements.   Nearly 75 percent of Americans for example, see “cultural decline” as the major problem facing our nation today and they are not alone!  Today, television and movies screen themes of sex, violence and vulgarity that were unthinkable and impermissible only 35 years ago.  News reports routinely discuss incredibly brutal and senseless crimes and topics that have been historically taboo such as, homosexual marriage, “gays” parading openly, and radical feminists shouting that traditional marriage is a tool for male oppression of women and abuse of children.  Educators are now even ascribing characteristics such as “gender dysphoria” to children as being normal behaviors that have been traditionally regarded (and still are by many) as abnormal and perversions.

Amazingly, Presidential candidate Joe Biden, in a recent Town Hall, argued that if an eight-year old, decided that they didn’t want to be a boy, or didn’t want to be a girl, that they should then be allowed to have their biological gender changed, “without any discrimination.”  And that was astonishingly an opinion that came from a candidate for the President of the United States.

This disturbing wave of social change is surging not just in America, but around the globe.  Many wonder just what is happening to America and the West?  What is driving this incredible transformation of traditional moral values? Where will this cultural sea change take us? And is are there a solutions to this problem?  Surprising as it may seem, the Bible predicted our modern dilemma! The Scriptures not only foretold our cultural crisis, but the inspired word of God explains why this moral transformation is occurring, its true significance, and where it will take us.  And as believers in Christ, we need to need to understand what lies ahead!

For starters, as believers especially, we need to come to grips with the fact that, there is much more to this battle than just a mere argument over religion and politics. What is actually at stake is the future of Western civilization.  In fact, we are at a crucial “pivotal point” in the history of Western civilization.  We are abandoning the central role of religion in our culture, we are in the process of tossing overboard the fundamental principles upon which America and the West were built.  In essence, we seem intent on discarding biblical-based morality and the belief that a transcendent God inspired immutable laws to govern human relationships, and substituting a worldly philosophies as the new normalcy.

The Real Issue

Unfortunately, the issues that have generated so much controversy, inflame emotions and that make the mainstream news headlines such as, race, abortion, the LGBT movement, liberal feminism, the rejection of traditional sex roles, the redefinition of the family, skyrocketing divorce, and sex education, are only the surface issues  And it is these surface issues, that have generated a clever smokescreen that has disguised and distracted us from the real issue that is actually at the heart of all of these divisive subjects.

The real issue in fact, actually centers on the questions of what is rightand what is wrong, what is ultimately good, and what is evil and ultimately intolerable?  And who is the ultimate arbiter or authority of what is truth and what is false?  How we answer these questions will determine whether America and the West will continue to follow right and wrong as traditionally defined in the Bible, or whether we will embrace the “progressive ideas” promoted by secular, liberal, New Age propagandists.

On one hand, there are those who argue unbiblical ideas such as, all values are relative, gender is fluid, that absolute truth does not exist, and that people can decide what is appropriate and right for themselves.  While on the other hand, there are those of us who still believe that the ultimate truth in the world has been given to us by God in His word.  So, in recognition of this very real issue, there is a decision that, either concisely or sub-concisely, everyone must make.  Will our life guide or worldview be based upon divine revelation or human opinion and human reason? This is the bottom line of the “cultural war” that is tearing at the fabric of Western society.

1 Corinthians

In a nutshell, the greatest and most divisive aspect of the culture war, is the factions of people who are divided between those who are looking for answers through worldly wisdom versus excepting the Godly wisdom that God have left for us in His word.  In essence, worldly wisdom leaves you empty and a bit cynical. But Godly wisdom is different. It reveals to us ultimate truth and that truth is found in a person, Jesus Christ.

Those who take the time to pursue ultimate truth in the person of Jesus and in the teachings of His Word, will find wisdom that is out of this world.  In other words, in the process of discovering the wisdom of God that is found in His word over the wisdom of the world, you will have discovered your answer for life.

When doing a close examination of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the believers in the Greek City of Corinth, you will quickly discover that no other letter in the New Testament gives us a more clear and practical pic­ture of the contrast between the wisdom of God Vs the wisdom of man or the wisdom of the world.  1 Corinthians particularly highlights the Christian faith as it relates to how believers should conduct and respond to the day-to-day issues and controversies of life Vs how the world views life and how they conducts themselves.

The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, a church which he founded on his second missionary journey (AD 48–51), is a treasure trove of practical theology for Christians facing everyday challenges. It provides Paul’s instruction to Christians grappling with real-life issues, including conflicts of loyalty, class differences, conflicts between per­sonal freedom and the common good, and the difficulty of leading a diverse group of people to accomplish a shared mission.

Topics such as career and calling, the lasting value of work, overcoming individual limitations, leadership and ser­vice, the development of skills and abilities (or “gifts”), fair wages, en­vironmental stewardship, marriage relationships, and the use of money and possessions are prominent in the letter.  The unifying perspective on all these topics is love, which is the purpose, means, motivation, gift, and glory behind all of the work done in Christ.  Christianity calls us to sacrifice instead of living for oneself.  We have to choose one or the other, we can’t do both. The Christians in Corinth tried to live the Christian life in a worldly way.  Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to a divided and self-centered people to remind them to follow Jesus and only Jesus.

Ancient Corinth

Paul went to Corinth in Greece on his second missionary journey. Corinth was a thriving commercial center and a very corrupt city. The church in Corinth had several problems, so Paul wrote this epistle to deal with them.  The ancient city of Corinth was located in Greece, a place where philosophy, orators, and worldly wisdom were held in high esteem. To the saints of God who lived in that commercial center, Paul had much to say about wisdom, both man’s and God’s, in the letters which he addressed to them.  Corinth is well known to readers of the Bible because of its importance in the missionary activity of the apostle Paul: he visited Corinth at least three times, founded Christian assemblies there, and wrote at least four letters to Christians in Corinth (besides 1-2 Corinthians, note the other letters mentioned in (1 Corinthians 5:9, 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 7:8).  The city lies at an important trading position about six miles to the southwest of the narrow isthmus that separates the Corinthian and Saronic gulfs.

In Paul’s time, Corinth was the most important city in Greece.  Corinth was a bustling port city with two large harbors, an amphitheater, and numerous pagan temples. It was a center of trade, power, and politics, and an important location for the imperial cult, or the political-religious worship of the Roman Emperor.  Sitting astride the isthmus that joins the Peloponnesian Peninsula to mainland Greece, Corinth controlled both the Saronic Gulf to the east and the Gulf of Corinth to the north. Merchants wanted to avoid the difficult, danger­ous sea journey around the fingers of the Peloponnese, so a great deal of the goods flowing between Rome and the western empire and the rich ports of the eastern Mediterranean were hauled across this isthmus.

Al­most all of it passed through Corinth, making it one of the empire’s great commercial centers. Strabo, an older contemporary of Paul, noted that “Corinth is called ‘wealthy’ because of its commerce, since it is situated on the Isthmus and is master of two harbors, of which the one leads straight to Asia, and the other to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of mer­chandise from both countries that are so far distant from each other.”

Corinth was a double seaport that jutted out into the Mediterranean Sea, and so it was really two seaports. The one to the East that took care of the Eastern Mediterranean trade, and the Western side took care of the trade to Rome, and Spain, and the other end of the Mediterranean.

Now you can just about imagine that a city for that day and time it was rather large, but certainly not what we call a huge city today, but nevertheless the city’s population was probably thirty to forty thousand. But it was a city that was just rampant with all of it’s commerce, and sailors from all parts of the world, but it was also rampant with pagan worship.

The ancient Greek city of Corinth in fact, had acquired something of a proverbial reputation for sexual promiscuity, and modern biblical scholarship has frequently reiterated a view of the city as a particular hotbed of immorality and vice.

There was a great temple dedicated to one of the Greek goddesses that sat above a promenade above the city of Corinth.  And at the very height of Corinth, this temple up on the hill to which they worshipped the Athenian goddess, had thousands of prostitutes who were operating as the goddesses of the temple. You have to realize that their whole society was programmed to this, and so it was just part and parcel of their religion to be involved in immoral practice with the prostitutes of the city.

Corinth was probably the most the most immoral, wicked, corrupt city in the Roman empire.  And so into the very midst of the gross immorality, and this great activity of commerce and trade, comes the Apostle Paul to that wicked city of Corinth with the Gospel of the Grace of God.  From his letters to the Corinthians, Paul writes to a church comprised largely of Gentile and Greek members.  As new members of Christ, they bring with them their former pagan and cultural influences such as glorifying wisdom (human philosophy) and ecstatic utterances, eating meat offered to idols, promiscuity and the denial of bodily resurrection.

Luke’s account of Paul’s stay in Corinth is found in Acts 18:1-18. According to the story, after some initial success in the synagogue, but with considerable conflict, he decides to concentrate on the non-Jews, apparently with significant success. He settles in and stays for 18 months, working as a tentmaker and living with fellow tentmakers, Aquila and his wife Pricilla (Prisca in his letters), two of the Jews expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius in a general expulsion. His success may have led to his being dragged before Gallio, the Roman proconsul, by the local Jews for heresy. Gallio dismisses the charge as a purely intra-Jewish affair. Soon afterwards Paul leaves, accompanied by Aquila and Pricilla, bound for Antioch, but on the way they stop over in Ephesus.

In Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian believers, he addresses several problems among the Corinthian’s that had been brought to his attention.  But rather than address these problems from the word go, Paul spent much of the first three chapters drawing a contrast between the two kinds of wisdom.

Paul understood for example, the fact that Corinth was in Greece and Greek culture for centuries had been heavily influence by Greek religion, philosophy and philosophers.  And they needed to be given a clear contrast between what the Greek philosophy taught in relation to many of their problems Vs what the Word of God said.

On man’s side, Paul referred to “the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:19), “the wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20), “human wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4), “the wisdom of men” (1 Cor. 2:5), and “fleshly wisdom (2 Cor. 1:12).  These are all one and the same.

On God’s side, the apostle simply calls it “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24; 2:7).  As we consider worldly wisdom versus the Godhead’s wisdom, certain matters really stand out. First, man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom are not the same. Second, man’s wisdom is not as good as God’s is. Why? Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

In fact, God has no foolishness or weakness; those are accommodative terms used here in the sense of God’s so-called foolishness and so-called weakness per the thinking of unwise, proud humans. Third, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God ” (1 Corinthians 3:19).  Man’s thinking often clashes with God’s, which does not surprise us since the Lord proclaimed that His ways and thoughts are above those of mere mortals (Isaiah 55:8,9). Let us go ahead and consider some thoughts from the message of 1 Corinthians and see how modern-day thought (man’s wisdom) often conflicts with God’s wisdom.

Though Corinth as a leading Greek city, was strongly influenced by the philosophical schools of the day as well as Greek standards of persuasive speech or rhetoric, it would be natural that they would see Christianity through the lens of their own philosophical culture. The same applies to people in every culture and time.  Consider for example, in 1 Corinthians 1:17 what Paul is saying about his preaching style: 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).  Paul is contrasting his preaching of the gospel with “words of human wisdom.”  Paul, the preacher, the apostle, the founder of scores of churches, doesn’t speak in the classical rhetorical style that is so valued by the Greeks, so his enemies use it against him.

The Wisdom of the Wise (1:19-20)

It was vital, that Paul not be viewed as one more philosopher, albeit one with a mere mediocre rhetorical style. For Paul, it wasn’t about style, it was about the message!  In fact, he made his priorities very clear when he said,  “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:17-18).  Paul develops this theme throughout, stating for example in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2).

Paul’s core message is that Jesus is the Messiah or Christ, that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead.  As he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (15:3-4).

Man’s thinking often clashes with God’s, which does not surprise us since the Lord proclaimed that His ways and thoughts are above those of mere mortals (Isaiah 55:8,9). Let us go ahead and consider some thoughts from the message of 1 Corinthians and see how modern-day thought (man’s wisdom) often conflicts with God’s wisdom.  On man’s side, Paul referred to “the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:19), “the wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20), “human wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:4), “the wisdom of men” (1 Cor. 2:5), and “fleshly wisdom (2 Cor. 1:12). These are all one and the same.

On God’s side, the apostle simply calls it “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24; 2:7).  As we consider worldly wisdom versus the Godhead’s wisdom, certain matters really stand out. First, man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom are not the same.  Second, man’s wisdom is not as good as God’s is. Why? “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).  In fact, God has no foolishness or weakness; those are accommodative terms used here in the sense of God’s so-called foolishness and so-called weakness per the thinking of unwise, proud humans. Third, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God ” (1 Corinthians 3:19).

Man’s wisdom says that there is no way that the blood of a former Jewish carpenter can remove another person’s sins. To such people, the message of the crucified Christ is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). God’s truth: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18).

Greek Wisdom and Philosophy

In our passage, 1 Corinthians 1:17 to 2:16, the noun sophia, “wisdom” appears 13 times and the adjective sophos, “wise” appears another five times. Paul is dealing with wisdom as understood by the various schools of Greek philosophy that captured the common mind in Corinth.

  • Epicureans saw religion as irrelevant and saw the pursuit of pleasure as the primary good.
  • Middle Platonists followed Plato in their belief in the immortal human soul that needed to be freed from its attachment to the body and ascend towards deity.
  • Paripatetics followed Aristotle who rejected Plato’s concept of an immortal soul.
  • Sotics were materialists who believed even the gods had a material substance. Several stoic teachers came from Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. An important question for them was, “How can the wise man live in accordance with nature?” The answer: through a virtuous life.
  • Cynics espoused more a way of life than a philosophy, living with only the barest essentials. They were known by their ragged cloaks and begging, and often being caustic, abusive, and arrogant.

Greek Rhetorical Style

But Paul wasn’t just experiencing just a clash in worldviews.  He also had to contend with centuries of Greek philosophical culture and Greek religion.  The phrase “words of human wisdom” (NIV), “eloquent wisdom” (NRSV), “wisdom of words” (KJV) suggests oratorical style. Sophia, “wisdom,” is joined here with logos, “word,” especially of oral utterance.  In Greek culture, oratorical performance was valued highly.  Indeed, the Greeks had developed the whole science of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speech.  The quality of one’s public speaking was judged on how well it conformed to the principles of rhetoric that were currently in vogue.

In other words, style was often valued as much as, if not more than substance.  And of course, that is sadly a very prominent concept in modern culture, particularly in the Churches and in our devotion to particular religious leaders and political candidates.  We often are taken in more by dynamic orators, without really critically thinking through and discerning their actual substance or content.  Of which, much of the modern oratorical substance is based more on eisegesis (or the superimposing of their human opinions and suppositions onto the biblical text) as opposed to sound biblical exegesis (or critically and rightly interpreting the biblical text in its original context and “transforming” our minds to line up with God’s word, rightly divided).

Though Corinth wasn’t the seat of great philosophers as Athens was, as a leading Greek city nevertheless, it was strongly influenced by the philosophical schools of the day, as well as Greek standards of persuasive speech rhetoric. So it would be natural that they would see Christianity through the lens of their own culture. The same applies to people in every culture and time.  Thus Paul contrasts his message with what was in fashion in Corinth, realizing that part of the Corinthians’ criticism of Paul stemmed from how they perceived him in relation to oratorical style.

The message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18)

The message of the Cross is foolishness to those that are perishing in a world that is estranged from the One Who created them, and so we discover a worldly wisdom which is rooted in man-made, egotistical philosophies, which carefully circumvents everything to do with the death of Christ and His glorious resurrection and yet Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation upon which our Christian faith is established.

The worldly wise Corinthian church were squabbling over who was the best teacher, instead of focusing on spiritual matters, but their foolish arguments were rooted in a much more sinister foundation, which was the wisdom of worldly arguments.  The wisdom of God however, is discovered in the Cross of Christ and to those of us who are being saved it is the power and glory and wonder of God. But like the Jews who require a sign, some stumble at the Cross.. for it gives no outward display of a supernatural sign or miracle.

And like the Greeks who sought after wisdom, some scorn at the Cross, preferring to anchor themselves to the imagination of men’s minds in preference to the unchangeable truth of God’s Word. And some like these foolish Christians at Corinth, who were so full of their own importance were allowing the trivial issues of everyday life to divert their attention away from the power, the wonder and wisdom of the Cross of Christ.  In addition, because these Corinthian Christians were relatively recent converts to Christianity, they were still yet heavily influenced by the Greek culture, philosophy and religion that they were raised around, and that still permeated all around them.  

Paul therefore, had to be able to draw clear and obvious distinctions between true biblical Christianity and the philosophies, traditions and religions of Greek culture.  And the focal point of this clear distinction was the message of the cross.  Or, the virgin birth, death, resurrection, ascension and eventual return of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s message was to proclaim these truths and their implications. He had no use for the particulars of oratorical precision. In fact, the attractiveness or the allure of the eloquent speech that was renown among many of the more popular Greek orators, can often serve to obscure the bare facts and empty the cross of Christ of its power (1:17).

Furthermore, Christianity is not primarily a philosophy to be debated in the marketplace, or even a religion. Christianity is based on the historical facts of the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Messiah.  Paul in fact, is well much aware that this message of the cross would seem foolish to the average Greek.

Interestingly, the word “foolishness” in verse 18 is mōria (from which we get the English word “moron”), a form the noun moros, “foolish, stupid, “referring to mental dullness, “a weakness of understanding or judgment, sometimes through stupidity, sometimes through confusion, but always demanding censure. “The world’s assessment of the message of the cross and resurrection, then and now, is an arrogant sneer (Acts 17:32), dismissing Christianity as the belief of ignorant simpletons, not the belief of sophisticated, educated, worldly men and women.

Whatever their reaction to the gospel, says Paul, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18b).  What worldly people dismiss as foolish is actually the real wisdom!  To the Romans, Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).  Because the gospel is the power of God for salvation, therefore, Paul must proclaim the gospel no matter how it might be perceived!

 In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

He continues (quoting from Isaiah 29:14b): 19 For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate’ 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:19-21).

Paul considers the status of those that the Greek world honored above all: the wise man, the scholar, and the philosopher. Think about all the people that this world holds in high esteem. but who don’t follow Christ. Their knowledge about how the world works may be great, but without understanding how God fits into the picture, their so-called wisdom is actually foolishness, since there is a gaping hole about the most important thing.

Paul didn’t use the arts of rhetoric (the art of preparing persuasive arguments) or oratory (the art of public speaking) to delve into these deep mysteries. The Greeks prized rhetoric and oratory, and regarded great orators as celebrities. It would seem logical for God to give Paul great oratorical skills so that he might use those skills in God’s service. If Paul were a great orator, couldn’t he win more people to Christ?  But Paul, by virtue of his Godly wisdom, chose another way to build the kingdom, just as Christ Jesus had chosen another way.  Christ chose the way of the cross to further God’s kingdom, something that from a human perspective seemed completely backwards. But Jesus had said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), and that’s exactly what happened. People were, and still are, drawn to a savior who would give himself so completely in their service.

So also, Paul chose not to rely on oratorical fireworks to proclaim God’s mysteries. He didn’t try to argue the Corinthians into believing in Christ. He didn’t use tightly woven syllogisms to drag them into faith. He didn’t dazzle them with a voice or finely tuned gestures. He didn’t avail himself of any of the human skills that the Greeks prized so highly.  He simply told them about “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” and that was sufficient.

Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the so-called “foolishness” of preaching, since his preaching was probably scorned by the sophisticated in Corinth as it had been in Athens (Acts 17:32). 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

Man’s Wisdom War on Critical Thinking

In a revealing article written by Clint Roberts of the Stream.org, titled, “Critical Theory’s War on Critical Thinking,” Roberts gives some very succinct but important historical insights into the roots of our modern cultural and political polarization. Roberts writes for example, “The roots of the modern cultural and contentious worldview divide, actually go back to some dastardly European intellectuals. Specifically, it originated among neo-Marxists, mostly German ones. Karl Marx for example, divided the world into classes. According to Marx, class warfare is what drives history. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” he wrote in The Communist Manifesto. It’s the haves and the have nots, oppressors and the oppressed.

Marx called for “the ruthless criticism of all that exists.” Because the privileged class holds the power, they design and control all of the systems. The oppressed are morally obligated to join together (“Workers of the world, unite!”) for change.  Marxist critique is seen as the way to unmask the systems that justify oppression. It precedes and inaugurates activism that leads to the dismantling of those systems.  Later Marxist scholars, like those of the famed, “Frankfurt School,” applied this idea to all areas of culture and society. This is why some people call Critical Theory “cultural Marxism.” Their ideas lived on in particular academic circles. Writers borrowed from postmodern thinkers like Michel Foucault.  From him they got the idea that everything is about power.  Every norm, every shared truth about history or science, every moral precept , all of it is “constructed” as an exercise of power.

Then along came “Intersectionality,” where identity markers became the primary focus. Mix that into Critical Theory and you end up with new academic disciplines like, “Critical Race Theory” and “Queer Theory,” among others. They teach people that identity markers fall along a hierarchy.  If, for example, you are a white male heterosexual Christian, you are on the extreme “oppressor” end of the spectrum. But if instead you are a black, gay, female who practices Wicca, you are on the extreme “oppressed” end of the spectrum. You see how that works?

And again, all of the “systems” are presumed to favor those on the oppressor side, and must therefore be “dismantled.” This is how we accomplish social justice, in their view.  These criticisms could go on, but the thing I most want to emphasize here is the way CT tries to escape all critical evaluation by vilifying it. In other words, they make reason itself another “system” that must be dismantled.

The spokespeople for CT are fond of saying that we need to “have a conversation” about this or that. This means, more or less, that their claims are to be taken uncritically. Critique only works one direction — the old Marxist direction. They critique the systems; but nobody is allowed to critique their views.  One celebrated “professor of creative writing and inclusion” explained why she always turns down invitations to debate her views: Because debate is an imperialist capitalist white supremacist heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.

For those not fluent in “woke,” the assertion of this word salad is that civil debate itself is part of the evil system.  This would no doubt baffle every great thinker from Aristotle to Descartes. But it is perfectly in keeping with a recent Smithsonian exhibit on “Whiteness.” Taken straight from the writings of popular critical theorists, it showed all of the things imposed by dominant white values. Those things included: objectivity, reason, hard work, fair play, the nuclear family, respect for authority, monotheism, having goals, future planning, optimism, property ownership, written tradition, politeness, proper English, conflict resolution and many more.”

Critical Theory Dismantles the Tools of Critical Thinking

There is much to criticize about in Critical Theory (CT). Its moral claims are without a foundation, since it is grounded either in atheism (a la historic Marxism) or religious and moral confusion. They have no ultimate basis for human dignity, rights or equality. CT also gets human nature wrong.  A person’s value is not in his or her shallow and superficial features. Reducing people to traits like skin color and sexual organs shrinks human worth and distorts our view of all humanity.

These criticisms could go on, but the thing I most want to emphasize here is the way CT tries to escape all critical evaluation by vilifying it. In other words, they make reason itself another “system” that must be dismantled.  The spokespeople for CT are fond of saying that we need to “have a conversation” about this or that. This means, more or less, that their claims are to be taken uncritically. Critique only works one direction — the old Marxist direction. They critique the systems; but nobody is allowed to critique their views.

This would no doubt baffle every great thinker from Aristotle to Descartes. But it is perfectly in keeping with a recent Smithsonian exhibit on “Whiteness.” Taken straight from the writings of popular critical theorists, it showed all of the things imposed by dominant white values. Those things included: objectivity, reason, hard work, fair play, the nuclear family, respect for authority, monotheism, having goals, future planning, optimism, property ownership, written tradition, politeness, proper English, conflict resolution and many more.” [1]

In essence, the worldview of the Critical Theorists, is a perfect example of what the “wisdom of man,” or the “wisdom of this age,” represents.  It is a complete contrast of the “wisdom of God,” or what the Word of God teaches.  The word of God makes it clear, that the root of man’s problems is not class, race or gender, but rather, the root of man’s problems is sin and our inherent Adamic sin nature.  Because at the end of the day, “we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  This is why Christ had to die, in order to redeem humanity back to God.

1 Corinthians  2:1-5. Not in Human Wisdom But in the Spirit and and Power

When I came to you, brothers, I didn’t come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech (Greek: logos)and my preaching (kerygma) were not in persuasive words (logos) of human wisdom (sophia) but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Paul spoke of the Corinthian Christians, who were not wise, powerful, or of noble birth, but God chose them.  God is working out his purposes through them. That God chose them is no accident. God deliberately “the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are” (1:28).  Now, having used the Corinthian Christians to illustrate his point about human versus Godly wisdom, Paul turns to his own preaching to further illustrate that contrast. Paul came to Corinth and the Corinthian Christians proclaiming the mystery of God.

Elements of the Practice of Godly Wisdom

1. Revere God Psalm 111:10 ESV  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
2. Submit to God’s will Colossians 1:9 ESV  … we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
3. Carefully consider their ways Ephesians 5:15 ESV  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
4. Are humble
Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
5. Acknowledge ignorance 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 ESV  Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 
6. Practice self-control  Proverbs 16:32 ESV  Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
7. On the watch for deception 1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
8. Are open to advice
Proverbs 12:15 ESV  The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
9. Edify and correct others for their own good  Ecclesiastes 7:5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.

The Natural Person Versus the Spiritual Person

“Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one.  16“For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have Christ’s mind” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

 

The (unspiritual person) stands in contrast to the (spiritual person).  The (unspiritual people) cannot “receive the things of God’s spirit,” because they don’t want them, and regard spiritual things as foolishness. They can’t understand spiritual things, because their hearts are not attuned to the the things of God.  But he who is spiritual discerns all things (v. 15a). In contrast to the the unspiritual person, the the spiritual person is equipped to discern, judge, evaluate all things, both spiritual and unspiritual.

This word, anakrino (discern), is based on the word krino (judge), and has a wide range of meanings: scrutinize, investigate, examine, discern. The idea here is that the spiritual person is able to make good judgments regarding spiritual things, and is also equipped to judge worldly things, or things that are indifferent to or even opposed to the Spirit of God. The spiritual person is well-equipped to see the hollow center of worldly activities that appear attractive from the outside. He or she is better equipped than most to avoid temptation personally, and is also equipped to advise others in matters both spiritual and worldly.  That doesn’t mean that they will never make a mistake, but it does mean that they will be more discerning that most, and more honest and trustworthy than most.  Jesus in fact, told his disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We all need an adviser of that quality.

Paul continues drawing the distinction between the spiritual person Vs the carnal or natural person by further admonishing the Corinthian Christians with the words, But we have Christ’s mind (v. 16b).  In other words, the spiritual person, having been reborn according by the grace of God, begins to see life from a new perspective, from Christ’s perspective.  From Christ’s perspective, everything looks different.  In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul calls Christians to have the mind of Christ Jesus and also reveals what that means. The mind of Christ Jesus was bent on service. He was in the form of God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, taking the form of a human being, the son of a carpenter. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Few of us can claim to have reached that degree of selflessness. When Paul says that we have the mind of Christ, he is stating that both as a reality and as an ideal.  Something that is true now, but something into which we all still need to grow.  To the extent that we do have the mind of Christ, we see things from a perspective that make our old values seem irrelevant and the life of service and devotion the ideal toward which we strive.

Practicing Godly wisdom in an Ungodly World

We receive wisdom from God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit communicates through our spirit and inner conscience. As we pray, study His word and quiet down to listen to Him, He will give us an “inner knowing” and plant insights into our minds.

Isaiah 11:2 ESV  “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”

Job 38:36 “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?”

Job 32:8-9 ESV  “But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right.”

1. Begin with humility and turn towards God

Reverence and humility before God are crucial to gaining godly wisdom. The humble will listen, observe, accept correction and grow wiser. The proud only collect more knowledge. God calls this folly and futile.

Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

1 Corinthians 3:19-20 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

2. Turn away from worldly wisdom

The world is filled with teachings, quotes, and ideologies that sound like great wisdom, but will ultimately, lead us away from God.

Proverbs 14:12 ESV  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

Worldly wisdom will lead us to gratify our desires, rather than submit to God. The Bible calls us to “set the mind on the Spirit” so we will experience God’s “life and peace”. We need to put away or repent of relying on our own understanding or logic as to how things work based on the world’s “teachings” and renew our minds with God’s Word. This is how we will be able to follow His ultimate wisdom.

Romans 8:6-8 ESV  “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

3. Slow down, quiet our thoughts and ask God

It takes discipline to quiet our minds and wait on God. When we fix our thoughts on Him, He will reveal the path forward. He even promises to be generous with His limitless wisdom when we ask Him with simple faith.

Isaiah 26:3 ESV  “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

James 1:5-8 ESV  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

The temptation is always to ruminate on the “what if’s” in life but such thinking will prove to be futile because with God, there is only one way, and that is His good and perfect will. We need to beware not to let some inner unspoken fear or personal insecurity drive us to “look at all the possibilities” in life. Such fears are not from God.

4. Test our thoughts 

Some thing can sound 95% right and still be wrong.

Just as the Holy Spirit will give us godly wisdom, Satan can also give us worldly wisdom. It is important to ask the Holy Spirit to help us examine and test the direction of our thoughts so that we follow His voice, instead of the enemy’s. This is one way we “test the spirits to see whether they are from God”.

Lamentations 3:40 ESV  “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!”

1 John 4:1 ESV “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”

5. Stay away from ungodly influences

Ungodly influences come from many different sources, from family traditions, the media, society, pop culture, songs etc. Ultimately, they will fill our minds with insecurity, pride, doubt, and worldly human logic. We are to keep our thoughts pure, uncorrupted and innocent so our thoughts don’t get swayed away from God’s will.

Romans 16:19 ESV  “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”

Proverbs 3:7 “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

If we feel as if we are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about” in our thoughts, then we need to examine if we are being blown about by ungodly teaching or lies that sound like the truth.

Ephesians 4:14 ESV “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

6. Choose our counselors wisely

It is wise to listen to good advice. Even so, we need to be selective about who we turn to for advice. Seeking wisdom from prudent God-fearing people is good but seeking God’s ultimate wisdom is best. No one knows what tomorrow holds as clearly as God does, and no detail is too insignificant to bring before God.

Proverbs 13:20 “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

7. Know God’s Word well

Nothing beats studying God’s Word. This is how we will be able to decipher His ways, His will, and His character. The wise know that God will never do anything that’s out of character nor will He change His Word.

Psalm 19:7-8 ESV  “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;”

1 Samuel 15:29 ESV  “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

In Conclusion, we are living in an age where in America and around the world, God’s truth is being challenged, marginalized and even being viewed as illegal hate speech.  In fact, when you think about it, to the carnal mind, the message of “Christ crucified” is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. On the surface it doesn’t make sense. “Christ” or “Messiah” carries ideas of triumph, power, splendor, while “crucified” brings to mind concepts of weakness, humiliation, defeat.

Furthermore, in this emotionally charged, and polarized political environment, believers in Christ, who has the Word of God as their reference guide, MUST be able to LOOK PAST THE PERSONALITIES of the candidates and CRITICALLY THINK and SPIRITUALLY DISCERN the BIG PICTURE from a BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW.

In Paul’s day, the idea of Christ crucified to the Jews this represented a scandal.  While to Greeks on the other hand, it made absolutely no sense at all. It was foolishness. It was madness.  But in this current post-modern, worldly culture, it is important that we as believers, remind ourselves that Paul did not soft-pedal or water-down or sugar coat his message to make it more digestible,  just because various groups had a problem with it.  He declared the straight unadulterated gospel.

This doesn’t mean that we can forget our missionary role to declare the Gospel to our generation in terms they can understand. We must! We must in fact, find culturally relevant equivalents and metaphors to communicate the gospel clearly.  But that is quite different than altering the essential message or avoiding those aspects that are perhaps embarrassing to us.

We see a number of examples of the core content of the apostles preaching that includes the truth of Christ’s crucifixion and death for our sins (Acts 2:36; 4:10; 10:39-40; 13:28-30; 17:2-3; 26:22-23). Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul includes the crucified and resurrected Messiah among the core truths of the Gospel.  “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). This message may sound like foolishness to the sophisticated people of any age, but it is far more powerful than what they call “wisdom.”  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

  1. Critical  Theory’s War on Critical Thinking, by Clint Roberts, October 14th, 2020, www.stream.org

What is a Christian to Think? Developing A Biblical Worldview, Part 4, The Law of Unintended Consequences, by Dr Bruce Logan

The Law of Unintended Consequences

America is currently in the midst of arguably one of the most contentious, polarizing and emotionally charged Presidential election seasons maybe in our history, or at least since Abraham Lincoln vs Stephen Douglas.  The contentiousness of this season has been fueled by the emotional hatred for Trump vs the fear that many Americans have about the potential of a socialist transformation of American society.  Compound that with the fact that there is a large portion of Americans who passionately believe that anyone who votes for Trump is automatically a racist, proving in their minds at least, that America is a “systemic racist country.” So the question that all believers should be asking in this emotionally charged season should be, what should we as believers in Christ, make of this situation?  And how should we view this season from a biblical worldview perspective, particularly at the ballot box?

First of all, it is important to come to grips with the fact that, emotions, personalities, tradition, and our inherent personal biases are powerful motivators that drive human behavior and attitudes.  And particularly, when it comes to issues pertaining to religion and politics, the motivating power of emotions, tradition and the love for our favorite personalities tend to factor heavily in most people’s decision making process and worldview.  Unfortunately however, because emotions, traditions, and personal biases play such a significant part in the human condition, particularly when it comes to politics and religion, it tends to hinder one’s ability to exercise any form of critical thinking and biblical discernment.  In addition, emotion, tradition, personality preferences and personal biases, more often than not, play a huge role in driving support for your preferred political party, various policy initiatives, along with advocacy of our preferred political candidate during election seasons, much more so than reason, discernment or critically thinking through the various specific issues.

This is demonstrated by the fact that, nearly half of voting Americans, without any discernment or critical thinking, are by default, locked into a voting mindset that is primarily motivated by emotion and tradition driven loyalty to their preferred political party, whether it is Democrat, Republican or other.  This is further illustrated by the fact that every four years, particularly during Presidential voting season, you can drive around many neighborhoods around the country, and you will see signs advocating for their preferred presidential ticket.  And that is not to mention, the plethora of social media posts that are either promoting one candidate, or demonizing the other.  And around the country, in various communities and on social media, register to vote campaigns abound.

This year however, because of the compilation of issues that have converged on the country at the same time including, the personal and economic impact of a Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing racial tensions based on a number of highly publicized police shootings of African Americans, the increasing appeal of a socialist transformation of America, and topped off with the hatred that a large portion of Americans have for President Trump, have combined to make this one of the most combative and emotionally charged election seasons ever.

Just this morning for example, I woke up and checked my social media updates, and the very first post that I saw, was a political voting activism post that warned, that we need to “wake up, and make sure that you vote, because this election is a matter of life and death.”  Then it ended with the #Biden/Harris.  And throughout any given day, you will see dozens of similar social media warnings, memes, cartoons, YouTube videos and trending twitter posts from both sides of the political worldview isle.

However, an argument can be made for the fact that the absolute most critical aspect of any given Presidential election is often completely omitted and ignored from almost all of these political interactions.  And that fundamental omission is the fact that, in the majority of these political promotions, whether it is a register to vote campaign, or a promotion of one parties ticket over the others, we are told WHO we should vote for, and WHO we should vote against.

However, what is rarely a part of most of these get out to vote promotional campaigns, is a voter education on specifically WHAT we should be voting for, or specifically WHAT we should be voting against.  And WHY we should be voting for or against something or someone.   So by simply admonishing people to register and vote because our “lives depend on it,” without a clear voter education of the INDIVIDUAL SPECIFIC ISSUES, and information regarding the inevitable subsequent positive and or negative impact of the numerous specific issues, that in one way or the other, whether directly or indirectly, impact all of us, can turn out to be a somewhat hollow exercise.  Because legislative initiatives, whether it is for a given policy or against another, all have consequences that often have an impact long after the initiating Administration is out of office.

In other words, rather than the standard preoccupation with tradition and a personality driven approach to voting, there are specific questions that we should all be asking during every Presidential election such as, what impact has a given legislative or policy proposal or judicial ruling effected people in the past?  Where else in the world or in history has an advocated policy initiative been in effect?  What impact has that policy had on that particular country? What impact has similar legislation has had on America or other countries historically?  What, if any, is the hidden or unspoken motivations for a particular legislative initiative?  How specifically would a given policy proposal impact Americans as a whole?  What will a socialist America look like, especially for the next generation?  And what has been the long term economic consequences of past similar legislative initiatives?  Are just a few of the questions that rarely get asked or addressed by most get out to vote advocates.

Specific issues such as, Education, taxation, Judicial appointments, healthcare, regulatory policies, immigration, trade policies, foreign policy, National defense, First and Second Amendment protections, Capitalism vs Socialism, racial issues, abortion, energy policies, the role of the Federal Government, and so on, are all examples of specific issues that every voter needs to be educated on.  Because these, plus many other specific issues, all have a major impact, not only on each of us on a individual level, but also, legislation passed, or judicial rulings given, in any given year, and by any given Administration, often have  not only immediate effects, but they more often than not, have generational impacts and implications.

Consider for example, the current NBA social justice campaign. The League is promoting the issue of social justice by having Black Lives Matter painted on the court, while many of the players at the same time, have social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys.  One evening I was watching a game, and there was one player who had a message on the back of his jersey that especially caught my attention.  The message was, “Education reform.”  And because the idea of education reform just so happens to be one of my pet issues, that message jumped out at me.

Because, particularly in minority communities, poor education performances has been much more of a “systemic problem” than policy brutality for example.  In fact, in a recent column by Economist Walter Williams titled, “The True Plight of Black Americans,” where he points out the poor education statistics of several of the larger cities in America.  For example, Williams points out, “Democratic-controlled cities have the poorest-quality public education despite their large, and growing, school budgets. Consider Baltimore. In 2016, in 13 of Baltimore’s 39 high schools, not a single student scored proficient on the state’s math exam. In six other high schools, only 1% tested proficient in math. Only 15% of Baltimore students passed the state’s English test.  That same year in Philadelphia, only 19% of eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and 16% were proficient in reading. In Detroit, only 4% of its eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and 7% were proficient in reading.  It’s the same story of academic disaster in other cities run by Democrats.” [1]

So with the alarming negative education performances in communities all over the country, it has been my contention that “education reform” should be on or near the top of all of our our political atavism check lists.  Furthermore, unlike when the many people with a secular worldview bring up the issue of reforming education, as believers, we should view the topic through a different lens.  In other words, whenever the issue of reforming public education for example, is mentioned, we should be thinking much deeper and more critically into the topic than the average person.  Because, when many people think about education reform, they simply conclude that reforming education means collecting more taxes and paying teachers more, or hiring more teachers.

But as believers, we should be thinking more critically about the subject by asking more critical and specific questions such as: Reform how?  What will that reform look like? What would be some specifics, or how specifically should public education be reformed? Do we continue by reforming the current education system by allocating more money to the system as traditionally suggested?  Why or why not?  Do we take the control of public education away from the Federal Government and return it to the States or local communities by adopting a National School Choice Amendment, as many Conservatives have suggested? Again, why or why not? Do we consider some sort of compromised form of a School or parental choice policy?  Has there been other education proposals in the past that have failed to make it to Congress for debate, that maybe need to be revisited?  Are there models of education success stories around the country that maybe we can glean from?  What education reform proposals are advocated by each party or candidate?  What are the pros and cons of the various proposals?  And what would be the long term consequences of the various proposals?  In other words, simply saying education reform might be a good starting point, but to leave it there without asking and getting specific answers to these types of specific critical questions, is actually self defeating.

This level of critical and discerning analysis can be applied to a wide range of issues, that traditionally only get “surface attention” from the media and political candidates.  Which means that it is incumbent upon the voter to do our due diligence prior to entering the voting booth.  To be more specific, it should be incumbent upon all believers that when it comes to our responsibilities in the arena of exercising our right to vote, that we should learn to detach ourselves from our feelings, emotions, traditions, personalities and our preoccupations with our personal dogmas.  Because the harsh reality is that regardless of our worldview and regardless of our personal biases, we are still yet inflicted with the Adamic sin nature.  And because of our inherent sin nature, we need to have our minds renewed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that we can be led by His Spirit as opposed to being led by our feelings, emotions, traditions and personal biases.

And it is vitally important that as believers that we understand this concept.  Because it is a fact that, people who are driven by emotion, tradition and personalities, and their own personal biases,  particularly when it comes to politics and voting, rarely allow themselves to critically think through the issues, or ask critical questions such as, “what are the long term consequences” of the given issue or issues, or policy initiative being debated or advocated for.  What’s even worse, particularly when it comes to politics and voting, most people whose worldview is driven by emotion and personality preferences, or party loyalties, tend to be completely oblivious to the particulars of the many separate issues that impact us, (like the education reform example that I cited above) or what the long term consequences of the passing of various legislation can have on the economy, on job creating, on education, on religious freedom, on family, and on the next generation in general.

For example, one of the more alarming political trends in America today, is this fascination of and gravitation towards ideas of socialism.  And often without realizing it, when many people hear the word “free,” or phrases like, “income inequality” or “universal income,” they tend to allow those well sounding words and phrases to appeal to their Adamic nature and shut down all critical thinking to the point where they never so much as ask themselves basic questions like, how are we going to pay for all of this free stuff?  Or, if we penalized all of the job creators (aka, the millionaires and billionaires), then where will the jobs come from?  Or, what will be the impact of  increasing taxes on the job creators on the overall economy and particularly the employment rate.  And if there is a drastic increase in unemployment, then where is the Federal revenue going to come from in order to pay for all of the free stuff?  Or, if we allow open borders, then who will those foreign workers going to displace in the unskilled job market?  Which demographic or demographics will be the most adversely affected?  Or, if you “defund the police,” how will citizens be protected, especially in traditionally high crime areas?

And it has been for these and other reasons, that for years, when it comes to the topic of religion and politics, I have been beating the drums for believers in particular, to first of all, when it comes to political advocacy, that we employ the same principles to politics as we should all be applying to biblical study, which is that we should all strive to, “be a Berean” which is a reference to Acts 17:11 which commends the believers in Berea, calling them “more noble than the believers in Thessalonica, because the searched the scriptures daily to see whether or not the things that Paul was teaching was true or not.”

In other words, the believers in Berea did not simply emotionally except everything that Paul said at face value because he was such a gifted orator.  Instead, they took what Paul said, and then went home daily and “searched the scriptures” for themselves, in order to confirm for themselves, whether or not the things that Paul was teaching was true or not true.  Which again, was a characteristic that Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, describes as “more noble.”  

And it is this “Berean principle,” that should be the model that we also employ when it comes to how we approach our political worldviews.  We should never simply take at face value, the words of the particular candidates, or advertisements or even the words of our local political leaders and advocates, without taking the time and effort to become informed voters by investigating the specific issues and their subsequent impact for ourselves.

This “Berean principle,” is actually more critical today than in any previous era, because in America today, especially when it comes to the area of politics, and particularly during this modern, incredibly polarized political environment, emotions are running roughshod over virtually every aspect of our modern political debate, while critical thinking and analysis has become extremely scarce.  The concept of actually rewiring your brain (or renewing your minds) by decreasing your emotions and increasing reason and critically thinking though the many political issues, and considering the pros and cons on the long term consequences of the different sides of each issue, seems to be a concept that is anathema to most people who are driven by their emotions, or traditions and loyalties to their preferred political party.

It is for this reason, that I have been promoting the idea that when it comes to areas of biblical interpretation and politics, that we should “take the emotions out of it,” and learn to be Bereans.  In other words, when it comes to politics for example, regardless of what you think about America, we have been given an opportunity that very few civilizations in history has had.  We live in a “representative republic.”  Which means that we have the opportunity to elect our representatives, or those who will supposedly, represent the interests of our local communities, our religious convictions, our families, our States and our Nation.  And if those whom we have elected to represent our interests, fail to live up to what we have elected them to do, we have a system in which we can fire them at the ballot box, and hire different representatives.

However, because of the overly partisan and emotion driven nature of many voters, and the unashamed liberally biased nature of the media and pop culture, the idea of removing the emotions from our political engagement and critically thinking through the specific issues on the merits and pros and cons of the individual issues themselves, is a concept that is almost nonexistent.

In other words, rarely do you hear people who are emotion, tradition, or personality driven, ask basic questions such as, what are the long-term effects of any particular policy initiatives?  Or, what if any, are the “unintended consequences” of a particular policy worldview?  This is particularly disconcerting when you consider the fact that we now have nearly sixty-years of documented data on the the effects and impact of pass legislation and judicial rulings.  Legislation and judicial rulings that occurred in the sixties, such as Roe V Wade, the Great Society, and removing prayer from schools, now have a generation worth of impact data that voters today, especially believers, should be understanding and gleaning from.

The Law of Unintended Consequences Defined

Generally speaking, the law of unintended consequences is a frequently-observed phenomenon in which any action has results that are not part of the actor’s purpose.  The superfluous consequences may or may not be foreseeable or even immediately observable and they may be beneficial, harmful or neutral in their impact. In the best-case scenario, an action produces both the desired results and unplanned benefits; in the worst-case scenario, however, the desired results fail to materialize and there are negative consequences that make the original problem worse.

More specifically, the law of unintended consequences, is that actions of people and especially of governments, always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.  Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.  In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen or intended by a purposeful action. The term was popularized in the twentieth century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.

Unintended consequences can be grouped into three types:

  • Unexpected benefit: A positive, unexpected benefit (also referred to as luck, serendipity, or a windfall).
  • Unexpected drawback: A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).
  • Perverse result: A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse). This is sometimes referred to as ‘backfire’.

Particularly in the case of Government legislation or Judicial rulings, these unanticipated or unintended results of various pieces of legislation and Court rulings, have had devastating effects that are still being felt decades and even generations later.  In other words, well intentioned legislation, more often than not, acts against the interests of those it is intended to serve.  And many of these proceedings have become a part of the American social fabric, right under the noses of the Church.

And with that, as I have alluding to earlier, it is this overly emotion, tradition and personality driven culture, particularly by God’s people, that has led to this complete lack of discernment and critically thinking about the consequences of our political engagement.  Furthermore, it is this lack of discernment that has led to arguably the most alarming and under the radar societal and cultural issue of our time, which is the fact that secularism, or the worldviews of the world, has now supplanted the biblical principles and values, as the more impactful and influential force for change in America.

There are many reasons why this has occurred that we can point to.  However, regardless of the reason or reasons for this reversal of roles between Christianity being the dominant influencing and impacting force in the culture, to the point where we are now, in which the secular culture is now exuding more influence and impact in the culture than the Church; the result has been that, not only do we have a culture that is burning down all around us, but the minds of an entire generation of young adults have become influenced by a satanic ideologies and worldviews, to the point that they have become completely desensitized to the demonic nature of the worldviews that they have accepted.

Additionally, our general lack of Christian engagement, combined with a complete lack of understanding of the long term impact of the various specific issues that have been a part of our political landscape for decades, has led to legislative and judicial decisions that has had far reaching negative and even a “generational impact” on today’s American culture.  And because we have been so either, preoccupied with other issues, such as the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, (which was completely legitimate by the way) or the modern racial issues that has resulted from the killing of African Americans by white police officers, we have not been informed or attentive to a plethora of “other issues” that has had a deleterious impact on our culture today.  In other words, there has been a number passed legislation and judicial rulings that was passed into law decades ago, but yet we are feeling the negative effects or the “unintended consequences” today.

The list of examples are endless, but just to give a few, consider the following instances: The U.S. Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools in a 1962 decision, saying that it violated the First Amendment.  That was 58 years ago, yet 58 years later, we are seeing the impact that SAYING NO TO GOD has had on the American school systems.

Consider also, that on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5–4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.  The results of this ruling, combined with the Courts making God unconstitutional in public schools, has opened up the flood gates for a level of debauchery that 50 years ago, would have been unimaginable.

Or how about President Johnson’s 1964 Great Society Legislation?  The Great Society legislation was an ambitious series of policy initiatives, legislation and programs spearheaded by President Lyndon B. Johnson with the main goals of ending poverty, reducing crime, abolishing inequality and improving the environment. In May 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson laid out his agenda for a “Great Society” during a speech at the University of Michigan. With his eye on re-election that year, Johnson set in motion his Great Society, the largest social reform plan in modern history.

Many economists and in the social sciences argue that the “Great Society,” which was also billed as the “war on poverty,” was the worse thing that has ever happened to the African American family structure.  In Fact, in the 1988 State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan famously said, “We waged a war on poverty and poverty won.”   Consider for example, the following brief exert from an article by Walter Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, in an article titled, “The Welfare States Legacy:”  The No. 1 problem among blacks is the effects stemming from a very weak family structure. Children from fatherless homes are likelier to drop out of high school, die by suicide, have behavioral disorders, join gangs, commit crimes and end up in prison. They are also likelier to live in poverty-stricken households. But is the weak black family a legacy of slavery? In 1960, just 22 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families. Fifty years later, more than 70 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families. Here’s my question: Was the increase in single-parent black families after 1960 a legacy of slavery, or might it be a legacy of the welfare state ushered in by the War on Poverty?

According to the 1938 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. Today about 75 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. Is that supposed to be a delayed response to the legacy of slavery? The bottom line is that the black family was stronger the first 100 years after slavery than during what will be the second 100 years.  At one time, almost all black families were poor, regardless of whether one or both parents were present. Today roughly 30 percent of blacks are poor. However, two-parent black families are rarely poor. Only 8 percent of black married-couple families live in poverty. Among black families in which both the husband and wife work full time, the poverty rate is under 5 percent. Poverty in black families headed by single women is 37 percent. The undeniable truth is that neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor the harshest racism has decimated the black family the way the welfare state has. [2]

Many also argue, that the negative impact of the welfare state, resulted from the the “unintended consequence” of the government stepping in and disincentivizing fatherhood, by rewarding mothers who have children out of wedlock with money, food and free housing, while at the same time, penalizing them if they got married.  Effectively punishing or disincentivizing the promotion of healthy family units, which is the foundation of any healthy community and society.  And particularly hard hit in this breakdown of the traditional family, were African American households who lived in the inner cities.

NAFTA

Then of course, there was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was a three-country accord negotiated by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States that entered into force in January 1994. NAFTA eliminated most tariffs on products traded between the three countries, with a major focus on liberalizing trade in agriculture, textiles, and automobile manufacturing. The deal also sought to protect intellectual property, establish dispute resolution mechanisms, and, through side agreements, implement labor and environmental safeguards.

NAFTA fundamentally reshaped North American economic relations, driving unprecedented integration between the developed economies of Canada and the United States and Mexico’s developing one. In the United States, NAFTA originally enjoyed bipartisan backing; it was negotiated by Republican President George H.W. Bush, passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress, and was implemented under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Regional trade tripled under the agreement, and cross-border investment among the three countries also grew significantly.

How did NAFTA fit into the broader debate over trade policy?

When negotiations for NAFTA began in 1991, the goal for all three countries was the integration of Mexico with the developed, high-wage economies of the United States and Canada. The hope was that freer trade would bring stronger and steadier economic growth to Mexico, by providing new jobs and opportunities for its growing workforce and discouraging illegal migration. For the United States and Canada, Mexico was seen both as a promising market for exports and as a lower-cost investment location that could enhance the competitiveness of U.S. and Canadian companies.  NAFTA supporters estimate that some fourteen million U.S. jobs rely on trade with Canada or Mexico, and that the nearly two hundred thousand export-related jobs created annually by the pact pay 15 to 20 percent more on average than the jobs that were lost.

On the other hand, critics of the deal argue that it was to blame for job losses and wage stagnation in the United States, driven by low-wage competition, companies moving production to Mexico to lower costs, and a widening trade deficit. The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s (CEPR) Dean Baker and the Economic Policy Institute’s Robert Scott argue that the surge of imports after NAFTA caused a loss of up to six hundred thousand U.S. jobs over two decades.

Many workers and labor leaders blame trade agreements such as NAFTA for the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. The U.S. auto sector lost some 350,000 jobs since 1994—a third of the industry, while Mexican auto sector employment spiked from 120,000 to 550,000 workers. [3]  In addition, there is probably no way to add up the total cost in the impact on the lives of those impacted by the job losses.  The divorces, the suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, the impact on families, the mortgage defaults, the closing of secondary businesses like, dry cleaners, the corner pizza shop, the corner restaurants, diners, car dealerships, suppliers, truckers, and so on.

But there is even a more devastating unintended consequence of NAFTA, which was the impact that it had on the exporting of Drugs into the US.  The North American Free Trade Agreement boosted trade across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But it also helped fuel the modern drug trade.  NAFTA phased out tariffs across North America, making it easier for freight trucks to cross the border. Between 1994 and 2001, the number of trucks crossing into the U.S. from Mexico nearly doubled to roughly 4.3 million per year. U.S. border officials only inspected about 10 percent of these trucks, leaving a big opening for drug traffickers.

A decade after NAFTA, 90 percent of Colombian cocaine was smuggled through the southwest border. Mexico, which had always been the Walmart of marijuana and heroin, quickly became, as the Wall Street Journal put it, the FedEx of the cocaine business.  Economists disagree about NAFTA’s ultimate impact on the North American economy.  And the future of the trade pact will be up for debate in 2019 when Congress decides whether to ratify its replacement, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA.  But what’s indisputable is NAFTA’s impact on the global drug trade and on the massive wealth and power accumulated by Mexican cartels and kingpins, like Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. [4]

These are just a small sampling of the unlimited number of examples that I could point to, that has be passed over the years by both of the major political parties, that has had or will have long term consequences that will exist long after the Administration responsible is long out of office.  Examples such as, the invasion of Iraq, the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act, Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, and the Supreme Courts controversial gay marriage ruling are just a few of the unlimited number of examples, of legislation and court rulings that have consequences that have extended long after the responsible Administration is long out of office.

Finally, as I have been attempting to point out, there have been many past pieces of legislation and judicial rulings that have had dire unintended consequences that are still being felt generations later.  In reality however, the list of examples of the unintended consequences of past legislation and judicial rulings is literally endless.  And that does not even include the many modern issues that are being hotly debated and is causing so much societal and cultural angst.   And as I mentioned earlier, issues pertaining to education, foreign policy, taxation, energy production, First and Second Amendment rights, regulatory policy, healthcare policies, trade policies, National security issues, and abortion all have a wide array of potential, as well as, actual or historical consequences that are associated with them.  And as we have seen, many of these consequences have had generational adverse consequences.  Consequences, many of which, could have been avoided or altered, if God’s people were actively engaged, spiritually discerning and critically thinking voters.

Therefore, as good stewards of our right to vote, it should be incumbent upon every believer in Christ, regardless of your past political persuasion, to think and discern outside of your emotions, and apart from your favorite personality or political party, and critically examine the consequences of the vast array of issues, individually or issue by issue by issue.  Because at the end of the day, personalities come and go, and every 4 to 8 years, political power among the parties often change hands from Republicans to Democrats and back to Republicans.  However, the impact or the consequences of the legislation that they pass or the judicial rulings from the Justices that they appoint, lasts for generations.

  1. The True Plight of Black Americans, by Walter Williams, The Daily Home, June 10, 2020
  2. The Welfare States Legacy, by Walter Williams, September 20, 2017, www.creators.com
  3. How NAFTA Helped Create the Modern Drug Trade, By Joe Tone January 4, 2019, 10:46am.
  4. NAFTA and the USMCA: Weighing the Impact of North American Trade, Backgrounder by Andrew Chatzky, James McBride, and Mohammed Aly Sergie, Last updated July 1, 2020

What is a Christian to Think? Developing A Biblical Worldview, Part 3, Worldviews in Conflict, The Cosmic Battle for Truth? by Dr Bruce Logan

Competing Worldviews Influence Today’s Christians

The day after the 2016 Presidential election, I was visiting with a very close ministerial friend of mine and we began discussing the outcome of the election, in which in a surprising turn of events, Donald Trump won the election of the presumed front runner Hillary Clinton.  During the course of our conversation, my friend asked me a really simple but yet very profound question.  He asked me, “How does my religious views or my theological perspectives impact or influence my political views?” 

The reason why this question was so fundamentally significant, is because regardless of your position on the election’s outcome, it is your worldview or your perception and presuppositions of politics, your perception and assumptions of government, or your view of the country and the world in general that determines or frames not only how you vote, but your view of the outcome of the 2016 election.  It is also important to keep in mind that, whatever your given perspectives, perceptions, presuppositions, paradigms or worldview may be, those worldview frameworks existed long before the 2016 Election.  In short, the determining factor for which end of the culture war rope you are pulling and why, or your reaction to outcomes of elections, is ultimately determined and influenced by your worldview.

The power of a worldview

A worldview is inescapable. Our worldview consists of our most basic assumptions (presuppositions) about reality. Our most foundational presuppositions (axioms) cannot be proved by something else (otherwise they would not be the most foundational), yet we hold them to be unquestionable. We use these assumptions (often without realizing it) to help us interpret what we observe in the world. We cannot avoid this; without a number of foundational presuppositions about reality we could not make sense of anything.

Today, we live in a world of competing ideas and worldviews.  In an increasingly globalized and digitally interconnected world, Christians are more aware of (and influenced by) more divergent and conflicting views than ever before. But there are two very hard questions that need to be asked if you are a believer.  First of all, just how much have other, or non-biblical worldviews crept into Christians’ perspectives? And how are we to discern what is of God and what is of the enemy?

To begin to address these questions, it might be helpful if I give a brief overview and summary of the previous two articles in this series:   For starters, it is critical that we never loose sight of the fact that it is our worldviews that will dictate your beliefs and your beliefs will then dictate your behaviors, responses, reactions, emotions, and choices in any given situation.  And then those behaviors, emotions, reactions, and choices that we display to the various stimulus we face, will ultimately testify to our worldview.

Simply put, since the beginning of time, humans have pondered, debated, argued, philosophized and have even gone as far as starting wars over many of life’s existential questions such as:

  1. What is the origin of the universe?  Is everything that exist just the simple result of time and random chance?  Or was there meticulous design and creation of the universe?
  2. Is there a God?  Is there a supernatural being that is beyond time and space?  And if so, what is He like?
  3. What is the nature of man?  Is man just an animal that evolved differently?  Or is he created from the dust and designed to be something special by a super natural God?  And also, Is man basically good but society makes him do bad things?  Or is man’s badness a built in, inherited result of the Adamic fall?
  4. What is the basis of ethics or morality?  We can’t actually understand man’s being good or bad without having some sort of reference point about what is good and what is bad.  Where do we get our ideas of good and evil?  Do we get it from ourselves?  Do we get it from nature?  Do we get it from society?  Or do we get our ideas about good and evil from God?
  5. What is the meaning of history?  Is history just a meaningless series of events that just happened?  Or was there a providential, purposeful, and orchestrated intention to history?
  6. Why is there evil and suffering in the world?  Does the fact of evil and suffering in the world proof that there is no God, or that God if He exists, is not good and loving?
  7. What happens after we die?  Do we just cease to exist? Do we get reincarnated and come back to earth as a cow or another person? Do we get absorbed into the cosmic consciousness? Or do we face God and judgment?
  8. Epistemology or how do we know what we know?  Is there such a thing as objective truth?  How do you know what is true?  If you believe in objective truth, does that make bigoted?  Should you be criticized and accused of trying to “impose your views” on others?
  9. If you are a minority, are all of the difficulties that you face the result of racism?  Should the idea of personal responsibility ever be factored in a person’s or community’s problems?  Or are all the problems the result of Republicans?  Is our capitalist system the root of all of their problems?  Is race the “root cause” of the rise in violent crime in inner city communities, or is the lack of fathers or the lack of two parent families?
  10. What is your view of the role of government?  Should America become more socialists?  Should more power and control be given to the government, or should less control be given to the government and more responsibility placed on individual citizens?  How much government power is too much and how much is not enough?
  11. Should the American remain a free market economy or should we transform to a European socialist economy?
  12. Should the US Constitution be interpreted literally, with the original intent of the framers intact, or is it a “Living document” that can be interpreted differently than it was intended depending on the time we are living in?

Along with these and many other worldview questions, over the years there has been several popular political terms that have become associated with or attached to these questions such as:  Liberal, Conservative, “Alt-right,” Atheist, Capitalist, Theist, Marxist, Progressive, Free market, Socialist, Communist, Theist, Materialist, Postmodernism, Evolution, Creationist, Western imperialism, Pluralism and New age. 

And even among bible believing Christians there are vast philosophical and theological differences that have given us terms such as:  Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Holiness, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism, Calvinists, Oneness, Trinitarian, Liberation theology and so on.

Every one of these terms, all have a corresponding worldview or ideological construct that are attached to them that impacts how those who embrace one or more of these terms view the world.  So, for example, if you embrace a socialist form of government, it means that you advocate a “centralized federal government” centered economic and political system, which in turn will influence how you vote during a political election.  In contrast, if you embrace a “free market” or capitalist system, then that will also motivate you to vote for more free market political candidates during a given election season.

Now, time or space would not allow me to expound up all of the plethora of worldviews that we are regularly confronted with.  However if I could summarize and encapsulate all of the contending worldviews, that are competing for the minds of God’s people, and argument can be made for the idea that all of these opposing worldviews can be encapsulated into two competing worldviews which are: 1. A secular worldview Vs 2. A biblical worldview.

The two primary competing worldviews

Now as I pointed out earlier, there are many competing worldviews or ideological frameworks that are competing for our minds.  However, if I were to encapsulate all of the plethora of ideas contending for our attention from a big picture standpoint, they could arguably be divided into two sides:  The world view of secularism and a biblical or Christian worldview.  In other words, of all of the competing worldviews that exists today, they can be summarized or encapsulated in either a secularists or Christian worldview.

 Secularism

What exactly is a secular worldview?  Essentially, while there are several tenants to it, secularism is basically a system of doctrines, ideas, philosophies, and practices that disregards, undermines or rejects outright any form of religious faith or biblical teaching and influences.  The primary objective of those who advocate for a secularist America is the total elimination of all religious elements from society.  Secularism, also known as secular humanism, or “progressivism” teaches that there are no objective or absolute truths that define right or wrong.

In other words, to secularize something is to make it worldly and unspiritual.  Its intent is to deprive something of its religious character, its spiritual influence and significance, and replace it with worldly ideas, or as the Apostle Paul phrased it in his first letter to the believers in Corinth, “man’s wisdom.”

Regrettably, we live in a world today, where secular values and biblical values increasingly clash.  And all to often, the secular values are winning.  Biblical values, more and more are increasingly crowded out by other voices and other images.  In fact, more and more it seems that our culture has actually become hostile to religion.  Those who still hold on to biblical principles, feel like aliens in a strange land.  For example, if you maintain that the biblical principle of marriage is only between one man and one woman, the you are not only ostracized by society and labeled as a “homophobic bigot,” you even can run the risk of losing your job.  And because of this growing, unbridgeable cultural gap, it is my contention, that unless there is a national revival on the level of another Great Awakening, this friction between secularism and religion, will only increase and not decrease as time goes along.

In America today, secularism permeates all facets of the major influential institutions of modern society including: public education, academia, government, the criminal justice system, the news media, the Courts, the entertainment industry, professional sports leagues, and so on.  Many who advocate for secularism, essentially believe that man is the measure of all things, that morals are man-centered, not God-centered.  Therefore, no one is entitled to determine right from wrong and morality is best determined by what is good for today’s culture.  In addition, those who view the world through a secularist lens, do not believe that mankind can have a set of permanent values such as taught in the Bible.  Now while secularist do in fact pontificate such words as: tolerance, fairness, and diversity in their lexicon, they are actually totally hostile and intolerant to those who hold a biblical worldview or look at the Bible as God’s objective standard for behavior and morality such as the age-old biblical standard of marriage being between one man and one woman.  Situational ethics does away with moral absolutes, and dictates that there are no limits, no objective values and no real standards.

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 What is a biblical worldview?

A Christian or biblical worldview on the other hand, begins with God in Genesis, chapter one and verse one.  Succinctly stated, a Biblical worldview is viewing the world, the beginning of the world, people in the world, the problems in the world, governments of the world, issues in the world, solutions for the problems in the world, and the future of the world, through the lens or filter of God’s Word.

In other words, in a biblical worldview, everything you see should be viewed through the Word of God.  A biblical world view affirms that the world and our entire existence is the deliberate result of a divine Creator and the answers to the questions of, “what is truth,” can only be found in God’s word.

If on the other hand, you have a secularist worldview (one that does not include God) you will seek to develop an answer for every situation, issue or problem that does not include God or anything that could be associated with biblical principles.  For example, a secularist worldview tends to either undermine or flat out deny any allusions to the Genesis creation account because there is no God. From their perspective, the world came to be out of naturalistic causes like a “big bang,” not because God created it.  In other words, if you are coming from a secular worldview, you will do everything in your power to promote your view and discredit your opponent’s view.  In addition, if you have a secular worldview, you will tend to view and interpret world events, politics, religion, culture and race through a secularist’s lens with a secularists filter.

Eight Important Components of a Biblical Worldview

In general, seeing the world through the lens of a biblical worldview, can be summarized in the following eight components:

  1. God is the Creator of the world and rules this universe! (Genesis 1:1)
  2. The Bible is God’s Word for mankind and is completely accurate including matters of life and its origin. (2 Timothy 3:16)
  3. Because of God and His Word, absolute moral truth exists! (Psalms 102:25–27; Malachi 3:6)
  4. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and He lived a sinless life, died for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the grave three days later! (1 Corinthians 15:3–4; 1 John 4:9–10)
  5. Satan is a real being (not symbolic) and seeks to defeat God’s plan for man! (1 Peter 5:8)
  6. Salvation is obtained solely by individual faith in Christ’s work on the Cross and cannot be earned! (Ephesians 2:8–9)
  7. God is hand has been providentially sovereign over world history, and one day, when the “Fullness of Time comes, (Galatians 4:4)” Jesus will return again and set up His Kingdom here on earth.
  8.  The bible is the sole infallible source of authority, faith and practice for the Christian.

To further expand upon these seven components, for those of us who have a biblical worldview, our presuppositions and perspectives about life, culture and history are seen through a biblical or divine providential lens which is based on such presumptions as:

  • There are prophetic or divine providential links between God’s word and many historical and current world events, many natural events have been providentially orchestrated and guided by God.
  • God created the universe and the world is not the result of some random set of natural occurrences over billions of years.
  • God had a prophetic and providential role in history for a specific end time purpose.
  • And of course, ultimately that God’s Word is true and should be the sole authority for faith and practice for the believer.

So, for example, for those of us who affirm the evangelical creed that the Bible is the Word of God and speaks with authority on the issues pertaining to life, such as what constitutes a marriage, then chances are that you interpret or analyze the topic of marriage for example, from the perspective of a divine providential or spiritual influence, which means that we defer to the Creator and Designer of marriage who is God.  We therefore, base our understanding or our worldview of marriage on the Creator of marriage’s divinely inspired instruction manual which is the Bible.

In addition, if you have a true biblical worldview, or a worldview that is centered around “rightly dividing” the biblical text in its original context, and applying scripture based on the “original intent” of the author, you should presuppose that there is a spiritual warfare element and a divine providential aspect to world’s cultural decay that is building up to, or setting the stage for the fulfillment of end time events and the return of Christ.  To put it another way, if you hold the position that the bible was written “under the inspiration of God,” and that God has been providential in the flow of human history for a specific purpose, with a specific plan and with a specific redemptive and eternal end game, then you will invariably view world history, as well as, current world events as another puzzle piece of God’s ultimate eternal prophetic purpose being put in place.

To add to that, those of us who have a biblical worldview, believes that God has given us a moral code of ethics, while secularists on the other hand, believe that men are to establish their own moral compass or code of ethics situationally, depending upon the times and circumstances of the moment.  In contrast, the Christian worldview believes that as a result of Adam’s fall, man was born into sin, and it is that “Adamic sin nature” that is man’s greatest problem.   While those who have a secularists worldview believes that we are all basically born good, but due to negative influences people have become bad.

One worldview believes man’s greatest problem is solved spiritually, while the secularists believes that man’s problems are solved through government intervention, more education, technological developments or a variety of other ways other than a spiritual or biblical inference.

Also, and most importantly in fact, any worldview needs to be able to answer the following questions:

In summary, if you view the world through a more secularist lens and reject the idea of a providential influence on history and current world events, then you will of course interpret history and world events through more of a secularist or “progressive” lens, which in turn will influence you to draw much different conclusions on issues of politics and religion.  Those who hold a more secularist worldview for example, view America as a country that is racist, bigoted and intolerant and therefore see the election of Donald Trump for example, as confirmation that America is racist and bigoted.   In addition, if you embrace a secularist worldview, you believe that man can somehow control the climate by having more government energy regulations and taxation.  While those who believe God’s word on the other hand, recognize that the end is already written in God’s Word and that eventually, there will be a “New Heaven and a New Earth,” where Jesus Christ will reign as King, and that no human government can do anything to stop or control this inevitable eventuality.

So, as I began to reflect on my friend’s question of, “How does my biblical or theological beliefs impact my political positions?”  It became clear to me that we were dealing much more with a worldview question as opposed to a strict Republican Vs Democrat question, or Clinton Vs Trump question.  Because at the end of the day, our political leanings are going to be heavily impacted and influenced by our worldviews.  Therefore, in reflecting on the question, rather than state a percentage of how much my biblical views influenced what personality or what political party I voted for, which by the way is a very broad and open ended question, I began to consider how I would relate what I consider to be a worldview question to more “Specific issues” such as, education policies, tax policies, the “Constitutional role of the Federal Government,” the role of the Courts, The Constitution, the National debt, family values, energy policy, and so on.  Because once again, most of the disagreements we have regarding topics relating to politics or religion are more worldview disagreements, more so than anything else.

So, with that as a backdrop, it will be helpful to address the question of, “how are our worldviews formed?”  Or more specifically, why exactly do we think the way that we do, or believe the things that we believe?  Succinctly put, we all have acquired our worldviews, or our belief systems over a lifetime of sensory inputs.  The following chart gives a basic outline for how our ideas and belief systems have been formed and developed over the years:

What Determines Our Worldview?

To summarize, at the heart, our worldview is made of core beliefs which answer the questions of what is real and what is important.  These core beliefs have been established over years of external influences. In order to understand why we believe what we believe, we need to discover, clearly identify and define our foundational beliefs. These beliefs lie beneath the ground, out of sight. They often go unquestioned and forgotten, yet they determine our core beliefs and thus influence how we make sense of our lives and live our lives.  A foundational belief is what we use to decide what is true and what is false in regards to our core beliefs.

Most worldviews, whether secular or religious, have stories and narratives as part of their basic structure. In the case of a Christian worldview, the stories that lie at the heart of our perspective are essentially the narratives of what God has done in history. The God of Scripture is active in the world he made; thus, history witnesses to his presence both in creation and in his actions, particularly as these are revealed in the Bible. Thus, Scripture not only provides a worldview for those who accept its testimony, but it also reflects the worldview of its authors. Put another way, the writers of Scripture are themselves informed by the great truths that they teach-so that the biblical worldview provides a lens through which their writing should be understood-while they also establish the worldview that informs Christian theology.

As a Christian, my foundational beliefs are centered around my belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is profitable for faith, doctrine and conduct for the believer.  That because of Adam’s sin, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, sin and death entered into the world. But God then, because of His lover and mercy, He began to orchestrate His plan of redemption and restoration of humanity.  That plan began with the call of Abraham, through whom God choose to work His plan of redemption.  That plan that would include the virgin birth, death, resurrection, and soon return of His only begotten Son.

In summary, a biblical, Christian worldview begins with the assumption of the one true Creator God, who involves himself in history and seeks relationship with his creatures. It does not assume a deist god who is merely there, and certainly not a pantheistic god whose existence is mingled in with all that there is. The God of Scripture is the God who creates, who makes all things good, who is intimately involved with his creation, and who is faithful in all his interactions with it. From a biblical perspective, there can be no argument as to whether or not God does the “miraculous,” because the whole of creation is his world; he is involved in it; and his presence in the world occurs both by routine and by things wondrous and strange. The Scriptures refer to God as having covenants not only with his human creatures, but also with the creation itself (Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-17).

This outline of the biblical narrative constitutes the lens through which Christians understand the world. Worldviews may be described, analyzed, and debated. But every worldview that claims to be Christian and biblical must start with the one true Creator God, who made man and woman in his image and who, despite the rebellion of his creatures and the consequent cursing of creation, longs to redeem his people, an action that He has accomplished through the coming of ­Jesus, the long-awaited son of David. Christ fulfills the work of Israel, drawing the nations back to God through his obedient death, resurrection, enthronement at the right hand of God, and final appearance as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Finally, not only as believers, we should base our lives on the God’s Word, but we should also be able to discern the “signs of the times” from a biblical perspective, and to be able to view the world, including our politics through the lens of God’s word as opposed through a secularists lens.