Thursday, July 28, 2011

Foretaste of the Kingdom Judgment—Acts 5:1-5:11

Acts 5 opens with the word “But,” it is a word of contrast. It is a contrast to the blessing that the early believers are experiencing, and more specifically, with the example of Barnabas (Acts 4). In contrast to Barnabas, we have Ananias and Sapphira. The contrast to Barnabas is key to understanding this event. As Barnabas exemplifies Kingdom Blessing, Ananias and Sapphira exemplify Kingdom Judgment. This narrative has two parallel parts, even though the fate of each is the same.

1.      Their Dishonesty (5:1-2).

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property” (5:1). Like Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira owned property and sold it. If it were not for the word, but, one would think that this is another example of Kingdom Blessings being experience by these other believers.  Even the names of the people involved would give that impression. Ananias means “the Lord is gracious.” Sapphira means “beautiful.” However, in contrast to Barnabas, they actions did not exemplify their names.

It was not their deed that got them into trouble, it was their deception—“and kept back (some) of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it as the apostles’ feet” (5:2). The word translated kept back (enosfisato / enospisato), put aside for oneself)[1] is found in the Septuagint of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7:1). Both narratives interrupt “the victorious progress of the people of God.[2] Both failed because of the love of money (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 4:10). The text makes a special point that this deception was not the lone act of Ananias, but a joint conspiracy by both: Ananias and Sapphira. They acted as one. They were dishonest and deceptive; an act of hypocrisy. Their guilt was that of secrecy, collusion, and lying to the Holy Spirit.

2.      Their Detection (5:3-4).

Upon bringing and giving these funds, Peter by the Spirit and prophetic insight knew something was wrong. Ananias was hiding something. He says to them: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back (some) of the price of the land? While it remained (unsold), did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (5:3-4). The deception was revealed. The text does not say how Peter knew of this. Stam understands this as the gift of knowledge, demonstrating the powers of the age to come.[3] This may be so, however it is not clearly stated, but it is implied that it was revealed by the Holy Spirit. There are three points in this statement of Peter:
·         It was inspired by Satan. The text speaks of the influence of Satan, not that they were filled with Satan. Notice, the clear indication is that Satan filled their hearts with a desire to do something.[4] It clearly indicates influence, not indwelling. There is a difference. Believers cannot be filled with Satan, but they can be influenced and controlled by Satan. No believer is exempt from his influence, as we see in the lives of some of the most spiritual saints (David and Peter to name two examples). It has been observed that “most New Testament references to Satan’s activity relate to saints rather than to the unbelieving world.”[5] He tries to destroy the people of God from without and within. This is clearly seen in Acts, he tries to destroy from without by persecution (Acts 4:1-17), and from within by deception (5:1-11).

·         They did not necessarily have to take the course they embarked upon. What was taking place was voluntary. Acts 4:24 should not be taken as monitory, but voluntary. The first two questions of verse four are asked in such a form that a positive reply is expected.[6] It was their land when they owned it and the money they received was under their control. They did not have to give it, but they did. They could have given only part of it and it would not have been a violation. However, they gave it in a deceitful way. They wanted for people to think they gave all, and were more gracious than they were. Praise of men was more important than honesty. It was a violation of integrity and fellowship of the community.[7]

·         The specific sin was lying to God the Holy Spirit.[8] He misrepresented His gift and committed an act of hypocrisy, a form of lying.[9]Failure in truth is sin against God,” observes Barclay.[10] Lying has as its root selfishness and self-protection. It extends from fear, not love. Thus the act was not one that was made from true concern for others, but for the glory of self. A good act from wrong motives is sin.

3.      Their Deaths (5:5-11).

Judgment for sin is a reality. In this case, it was immediate. Although the text indicates the death of the two did not happen at the same time but they did happen for the same reason.

·         First, was the death of Ananias. “And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.” (5:5-6). There is no doubt that this was an act of immediate judgment. His death is tied to his sin. Witherington makes an important point: “it is not said Peter either killed Ananias or uttered a curse that killed him.”[11]

·         Second, was the judgment and death of Sapphira. “Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter (said) to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out (as well)’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband” (4:7-10). The following facts are clear: First, she comes unaware of the events concerning her husband. Second, she is given a chance to redeem herself by telling Peter the truth. Third, by continuing the lie, she reveals herself as a coconspirator in the lie. Fourth, by doing so she seals her own fate and shares in her husband’s judgment and dies. 

The result of this event is that “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (4:11). “This is not merely respect but a healthy awareness that God is present and can act in judgment,” notes Bock.[12] Ike Sidebottom makes a wise observation and application when he writes:

In Acts 4:33, the multitude of believers possessed “great power,” and “great grace” upon them all. After the death of Ananias and Sapphira they had great fear. Great power, great grace, and great fear, will bring any congregation into a place of great usefulness for God.[13]

The word church should be taken in the sense of an assembly. It was a common word to describe an assembly of people, whether religious, political, or types of meetings. To read a more technical meaning such as the church, the body of Christ, into the text is unwarranted. That term and technical meaning did not appear in Scripture until the Apostle Paul. In this context it is the assembly of the little flock of believers in Israel, the remnant, which is referred to here.

Here we have a foretaste of Kingdom justice. In the Millennial Kingdom “there will be the administration of perfect justice to every individual.[14] Christ will rule with the breath of judgment in righteousness (Isa. 11:4-5). Also see Isaiah 65:20, Jeremiah 31:29-30. Here in Acts we see a foretaste of the breath (Holy Spirit) of judgment.

[1]  Longenecker, ACTS, 313.
[2]  Bruce, ACTS, 102.
[3]  Stam, ACTS, 2:177.
[4]  Witherington, ACTS, 215 points out that the same phrase is used by Luke in regard to Judas Iscariot (Lk. 22:3). The parallel also includes money, and both did not have honorable burials.
[5]  Harrison, ACTS, 102.
[6]  Bock, ACTS, 223.
[7]  Witherington, 215.
[8]  Notice, in our passage, the word Holy Spirit and God is used interchangeably, confirming the deity of the Holy Spirit.
[9]  Constable, ACTS, 81.
[10]  Barclay, ACTS, 43.
[11]  Witherington, 216.
[12]   Bock, 277.
[14]  J. Dwight Pentecost, THINGS TO COME, 488.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Here are old books that still have great value to the Bible student and Pastor, but often overlooked. I have found them worthwhile and worth having. Old does not mean useless.

  • Scroggle, William Graham, GUIDE TO THE GOSPELS, London Pickering & Inglis, 1962. When ever I study the Gospels, this is one of the first books I use. I find details I do not fine in most works. No modern writer has produced a single work with as much detail.
  • Hay, D.A., PAUL AND HIS EPISTLES, Baker, 1969. Introduced to it in college, I have found it a helpful analysis of the life of Paul and his epistles. Originally published in 1915. Good homiletical material.
  •  Smeaton,George, THE APOSTLES DOCTRINE OF THE ATONEMENT, Zondervan, 1957 (originally published in 1870) and THE DOCTINE OF THE ATONEMENT AS TAUGHT BY JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF, Zondervan, n.d.  Any study of the atonement should not overlook these values. Still one of the best works on the subject.
  • Paxson, Ruth, THE WEALTH, WALK AND WARFARE OF THE CHRISTIAN, Revell, 1939. A great work on Ephesians. A goldmine. Devotional.
These five works should be on your shelf. Not sure all are still in print. May have to check second hand bookstores.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Did you know in a national religious knowledge test, Evangelicals were not the highest responders? The poll shows the top order of those who has the highest knowledge by religious affiliation were:

Jews (score 65)

Atheist/Agnostic (score 64)

Morman (score 61)

Evangelical (Score 54)

Why is the evangelical’s so low? Where would you and your church score? Take the test at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Antioch - Acts 11:26

Received the latest issue of BIBLIOTHECA SACRA. In it is a very good article on "The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today" by Stephen J. Strauss. Very good on how the term Christian came about and the significance of the church at Antioch. Especially interesting was his observations between the church at Antioch and the church today. He points to the following implications for the contemporary Church and Missiology. He notes:
  • The so-called homogenous unit cannot be the final goal for a church.
  • Many churches have sought a measure of homogeneity by establishing subcongregations that focus on a certain age-group,...language, or a certain worship style. While these may be legitimate...churches whose subcongregations are thoroughly homogeneous...must make special effort to find ways for the entire be recognized around their common identity as followers of Christ.
  • Perhaps the "people group" approach to church planting should be reexamined.
  • Scriptures affirm the multicultural, multiethnic church as a model of maturity, influence, and impact.
  • The primary identity of any church assembly should be its identification with Christ, not any particular sociological category.
  • Every local church should be characterized by its constant talk about Christ.
He concludes: "Acts 11:26 and the church at Antioch provide a model for church life and missions. Local churches should be diverse assemblies so identified as followers of Christ that outsiders cannot find any other socioethnic category by which to characterize them."

Stephen J. Strauss, "The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today," BIBLIOTHECA SACA #168, July-September 2011, 282-300.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

REVELATION 1:4-5a –The Greeting

Grace to you and peace.” This is the common greeting in the New Testament since the days of Paul. The order is never reversed. Grace comes before peace, and peace is a result of grace.

This source of grace and peace is threefold—each starting with the preposition of source “from” (apo).

  • First, “from Him that is, and that was, and who is to come” (1:4). This refers to God the Father. At first look one would think that this is a reference to the Son, Jesus Christ. However, verse 5 rules him out. It has been observed that the Greek construction is rare and difficult.[1] Osborne says the phrase is “a paraphrase on the divine name Yahweh.[2] Suffice it to say that the Father is described in a three-fold way. First, He is present (that is). Second, He was present in the past (that was). Third, he will be present in the future (who is to come). Some relate this phrase to the reference in Revelation 1:19.[3] Although the description denotes God’s eternality, it also denotes His continual presence. The order of the phrase is different than the normal formula that we are use to: past, present, and future. Here it is present, past, and future. Osborne says “This is probably a reflection of the basic apocalyptic message that God’s control of the past and future is meant to comfort the beleaguered saints by telling them that He still controls the present, even though for now it may not seem like it.[4]

The last part of the phrase also emphasizes His coming. “Such a means of referring to the future also heightens the focus upon the imminence of His coming: He who is already on His way may arrive at any moment.”[5] The question is: Why is the coming mentioned in connection with the Father, when it is the Son that is coming? Many commentaries seem to overlook this question. It is a reasonable question, and no doubt the key to the answer is in the oneness of the Trinity. “The Son processes equal dignity with the Father, and when the Son returns, He will come as the representative of the Father” answers Thomas.[6] The Father is coming in the person of His Son.

  • Second, “and from the seven Spirits, who are before the throne” (1:4).  Challenging is this phrase. The seven spirits are referred to in Revelation four times (here, 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). Is this a reference to angels or the Holy Spirit? The answer is much debated with good Bible students on each side, and good points made by each. The strongest arguments for it being angels are made by Bullinger: First, angels are specially called “spirits” (Heb. 1:2; Psa. 104:4).  Second, Acts 8:26, 29, 39 where the words angel and spirit are interchangeable. Third, the elect angels are mentioned in 1 Tim 5:21 in connections with the Father and the Son. He therefore concludes this is not a reference to the Holy Spirit, “but that of the supreme High Court of heaven having jurisdiction on earth.[7] Mounce says it is best understood “as part of a heavenly entourage that has a special ministry in connection with the Lamb.”[8] In addition, angelic activity has a prominent part in the Tribulation period (Matt. 13:41) which Revelation deals with in great detail. Also, it is pointed out that the normal Trinitarian order everywhere else is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not Farther, Holy Spirit and Son.

Those that see it as a reference to the Holy Spirit do not deny that angels are sometimes identified in Scripture as spirits. In this context, however they feel it is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The arguments for this view are: First, seven angels are mentioned in Rev. 8:2, who are never referred to as spirits (pneumata). Angels are always called angels. Second, the most damaging, is that angels are never referred to as the source of grace and peace.[9] While they may be messengers of grace and peace, they are never the source, only the means or channels. Third, while it true the elect angels are used in connection with God and the Son in 1 Tim. 5:21, note the order. Angels are mentioned after the Father and Son, not between them as in Rev. 1:4-5. The context of Rev. 1:4 seems to support that all three sources are equal. That is not true of angels in comparison to the Father and the Son. They are subordinate to the Godhead. Fourth, the origin of the imagery of the sevens spirits is out of Zechariah 4:1-10. Zechariah 4 and the book of Revelation have strong ties. Zechariah 4:2, 10 speaks of the seven lamps (cf. Rev. 4:5). Then there are the eyes of the Lord sent out in all the earth (Rev. 5:6). Zechariah 4 is explicitly connected with the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6).[10] The number seven expresses the Spirit’s completeness or perfection. This view seems to be favored, and seems the best option for the context of Revelation. Overall, the reference is likely part of a Trinitarian reference to the source of grace and peace. However, the evidence is not enough to be dogmatic.

  • Third, “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (1:5). If the seven spirits refers to the Holy Spirit, then we have the trinity made complete with Jesus Christ. Thomas notes, “Usually he is named in second position among the persons of the Holy Trinity, but the writer chooses to name Him last in this case to facilitate an elaboration upon several aspects of His Person and work in the remainder of vv. 5 and 6.”[11] It also is climactic, emphasizing the climactic work of Jesus Christ who is now exalted. His exaltation is three in three titles:

The faithful witness” (also 3:14, 19:11). Bullinger links this saying with Isa. 55:4,[12] whereas Thomas with Psa. 89:37.[13] John’s emphasis on witness is thematic. In the Gospel we see Jesus’ witness was that of manifesting God to the disciples (John 17:6), to the work given Him (John 17:4), and the many witness as to who He was (John 5:31-47; 8:13-18; 10:25). He continues the theme in Revelation on Jesus’ witness (1:5, 3:15). The saints are witnesses to the faithful one (1:9; 6:9; 12:11, 17; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4). Thus, the idea of witness extends from Jesus’ earthly life (prophesied in Isa. 55:4) to the millennial kingdom (prophesied in Psa. 80:37). This witness of Jesus is classified as faithful. He was, is, and will be the faithful witness.

The firstborn of the dead” (Col. 1:18). The Greek word for firstborn is prototoko, and can refer to first in the order of time, or first in the order of rank. In Scripture, unless it is referring to the literal birth of the first born son in a family, it is almost used in the sense of rank, the emphases on priority or highest rank.[14]The title looks at the culmination of His past ministry when God raised Him to new life at His resurrection.[15] Like the title above, this title is taken from Psalm 89, as is the next title (Psa. 89:27).

“And the ruler of the kings of the earth.” The connection with Psalm 89 in all three of these titles is significant. Psalm 89 is a commentary on the Davidic covenant. These titles relate to Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, not as Head of the Church, the body of Christ. The book of Revelation deals with the hope of Israel, not the church, a fact missed by almost all Christendom. The church is raptured before the events of Revelation, namely before the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom. Bullinger correctly observes that “It is the fulfillment of Luke 1:32, which is about to take place: hence these appropriate titles are here assumed.”[16] Thomas says, “Here is a clear foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s future rule as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). As with the first two titles, this too is by virtue of His Davidic lineage.”[17]

[1]  For an explanation of this I refer the reader to Thomas, REVELATION, 1:65.
[2]  Osborne, REVELATION, 60
[3]  Walvoord, REVELATION, 37.
[4]  Osborne, 1:61.
[5] Thomas, 1:66.
[6]  Ibid, 1:66.
[7]    Bullinger, THE APOCALYPSE, 141.
[8]    Robert H. Mounce, NICNT: REVELATION, 48.
[9]  Thomas, 67,
[10]  Osborne, 61.
[11]  Thomas, 69
[12]  Bullinger, 142.
[13]  Thomas, 70
[14]  Garland, REVELATION, 1:172.
[15]  Constable, REVELATION, 9.
[16]  Bullinger, 142.
[17]  Thomas, 70.