Exploring the Bible Course - 23


Reading: Acts 13-28
In Acts 9 we considered the conversion of Saul, who later was called Paul. There we noted that the Lord said of him: “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings and the children of Israel” (v15). We will now consider how this great work was accomplished.

The Missionary Journeys of Paul  
Three missionary journeys of Paul are recorded in The Acts of the Apostles. As we read through them we come to appreciate the way in which the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. With  the  development  of  communities  of  believers  in  different  cities  of  the  empire  we  can  understand why Paul needed to write letters to them. These were written to encourage their faith, to answer their questions and to correct problems that had arisen in their midst. Many of these letters  have  been  preserved  by  God’s  overshadowing  providence,  so  that  we  have  the  benefit  of   Paul’s inspired teaching to guide us even today.  

The Greek word for each community of believers is ekklesia, translated “church” in most Bibles. The  word  is  a composition  of  klesis,  from  kaleo “to  call”  and  the  prefix  ek,  meaning  “out  of”.  It  describes an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose. The English word “church” does not  accurately  convey  the  meaning  of  the  Greek,  and  therefore  there  is  a  preference  to  use  “ecclesia”, the English form of the Greek word. This word more accurately shows that the believers are a community “called out” by God through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, to stand aside from the ways of the world and follow him (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 15:14; Ephesians 1:18; 4:4).  

Map showing the journeys of Paul

The First Journey (Acts 13-14)
As we read through these chapters we can follow the journey of Paul and Barnabas as they took the  Gospel  first  into Cyprus  and  then  into  Galatia,  the  ancient  name  for  central  Turkey  today.  Most Bibles with maps in the back will have these journeys marked on them. Later Paul wrote his Epistle to the Galatians to the believers in that area.                                                                                             
The Second Journey (Acts 16-18)
On this trip Paul and Silas revisited the ecclesias in Galatia and travelled on to Troas, across to Philippi, and then down to Athens and on to Corinth. The return journey to Jerusalem took them via Ephesus and then by ship back to Judaea.  

Later  Paul  wrote  letters  to  those  whom  he  had  met  on  this  journey. They  are the  letters  to  the Philippians, Thessalonians, and Corinthians.

The Third Journey (Acts 18-21)
Paul  again  travelled  through  Galatia  and  then  on  to  Ephesus,  where  he  stayed  for  three  years. From this centre the Gospel spread so that “all  Asia heard the  word  of  the  Lord”. Then  on  to   Greece  again  before  returning  to  Jerusalem.  While  he  was  in  Greece  he  wrote  the  letter  to  the Romans.

Paul  later  wrote  letters  to  the Ephesians and Colossians (including  the  personal  letter  to Philemon).

Paul’s Imprisonment in Jerusalem and Journey to Rome (Acts 21-28)
When  Paul  arrived  in  Jerusalem  after  this  third journey he was arrested in the Temple by the Jewish religious leaders, and later taken into custody by the Romans. He was imprisoned first in Jerusalem and then in Caesarea and later, when he appealed to Caesar’s tribunal, he was sent to Rome. His journey was very perilous but finally he reached Rome safely and spent two years there in prison. Though in chains, he was able to write or dictate letters which were of great benefit to the early communities of believers, as well as to us today.

The Power which Motivated Paul
In  looking  at  the  places  Paul  visited  as  he  travelled  throughout  the  Empire  and  on  his  final journey to Rome, we see that he, above all others, was the one responsible for the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles.

In some of his writings we catch a glimpse of that power which motivated him to commit himself to such an arduous mission. He said in the epistle to the Romans: “So, as much as in me is, I am ready  to  preach  the  gospel  to  you  that  are  at  Rome  also.  For  I  am  not  ashamed  of  the  gospel  of Christ: for it is the power of God unto  salvation  to  every  one  that  believeth;  to  the  Jew  first,  and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:15-16).

Again  he  wrote: “We  have  the  same  spirit  of  faith,  according  as  it  is  written,  I  believed,  and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” (2 Corinthians 4:13)

Paul believed that the Gospel message was the only hope for mankind. He believed it so intensely he was compelled to “speak” of it to everyone he met.

He certainly has left us a worthy example to follow. If we really do believe the Gospel, then we will not only obey it in baptism and walk faithfully before God, but we will feel compelled to speak of it to others that they too may share the great hope of salvation.  

The Other Letters of the New Testament
As we have mentioned, many of the letters that are found in the New Testament were written by Paul  to  the  ecclesias  of  believers.  Paul  also wrote  personal  letters  to  some  of  those  who  had laboured with him in the work, such as Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Though no specific writer is named, the letter to the Hebrews is also attributed by many scholars to Paul.

Other disciples also wrote letters which have been included in the New Testament. These are the letters of James, Peter, John and Jude.

These letters not only help us to understand what is necessary for our salvation but also provide guidance for disciples that they may glorify God in their daily life.

The Holy Spirit in the First Century
As  we  have  seen,  the  Lord  Jesus  Christ  had  been given  the  power  of  the  Holy  Spirit  to  work miracles,  so  that  there  could  be  no  doubt  that  he  was  sent  by  God  (John  3:2;  Acts  2:22;  see Lesson 20).

After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples that when he had gone to heaven they, too, would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He also explained why this would be so. It was given for two particular reasons:  

1. It  would  give  them  the  ability  to  understand  the  ways  of  God  clearly  and  help  them  to remember all that Jesus had taught them (John 14:26).
2. They would be empowered to do miracles in the name of Jesus as an irrefutable sign that he had been raised from the dead and that God was vindicating the Gospel message they proclaimed.  God  would  not  bear  witness  with  miracles  to  the  message  of  teachers  if  they did not speak the Truth (John 9:30-33).  

It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that the disciples were able to record the teachings of Jesus so accurately. Prior to Jesus’ death the disciples had often misunderstood his teaching, but now the Holy Spirit enabled them to bear accurate record of what they had seen and heard.

The Miracles
There  are  those  today  who  claim  that  they  have  the  power  of  the  Holy  Spirit  and  can  work miracles  just  as  the  apostles  did  in  the  first  century.  This  is  a  delusion.  As  we  read  the  life  of  Jesus and of the apostles we quickly realise that the effect of the miracles was instantaneous and complete. There were always eyewitnesses who spoke of the wonder of the miracles they had seen, so that multitudes came from hundreds of kilometres away to be healed (Matthew 4:23-25). In the same way, the miracles which the apostles did in the name of Jesus were proclaimed far and wide(Acts 4:16; Acts 5:14-16). Testimony was not confined to the believers of some little sect.  

Today,  followers  of  a  variety  of  religious  persuasions  claim  to  work  miracles  by  the  Holy  Spirit.  The very fact that they hold beliefs diverse from one another nullifies their claim to work in God’s name,  since  God  proclaims  Himself  a  God  of  Truth.  Miracles  must  honour  God  and  must therefore, as in the first century, be a witness to the truth of the Gospel. We must first examine the doctrines of those who claim such power to see if they really are in harmony with the Bible (1 John 4:1).  

The Holy Spirit Given for a Purpose
The Holy Spirit was given in the first century so that Jesus, and then the apostles, had a divine witness to the truth of their message. Once the New Testament was written and people could read about  the  wonder  of  Jesus  Christ  and  the  teaching  of  the  apostles,  this  became  no  longer necessary.  God  ceased  to  make  His  power  available  after  the  apostles  and  their  immediate disciples  died.  By  this  time  the  Gospel  message  had  spread  throughout  Asia,  Europe  and  North Africa and copies of those teachings had been collated into the New Testament. The apostle Paul,
realising  that  this  would  happen,  spoke  of  the  time  when  the  ability  to  prophesy,  talk  in  foreign languages  (tongues),  etc  would  cease,  because  the  revealed  will of  God  would  be  completely recorded in His word (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Speaking in Tongues
In Acts 2 we have the record of the apostles speaking in tongues. As we read through the incident we note that there were Jews gathered from all over the Middle East, yet when the apostles spoke “every  man  heard  them  speak  in  his  own  language” (verse  6).  This  miracle  caused  the  people  to marvel  saying:  “Behold,  are  not  all  these  which  speak  Galileans?  And  how  hear  we  every  man  in  our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (verses 7-8).

The miracle of speaking in other tongues enabled the Gospel to spread more rapidly throughout the Empire. The apostles, who were Galileans, could now speak in foreign languages. Speaking in tongues  gave  them  the  ability  to  preach  the  Gospel  throughout  the  world  in  the  tongue  or language  of  the  hearers.  Once  the  Gospel  was  be
lieved  and  established  in  those  countries  there remained no need for this miracle to continue.

The Last Book of the Bible—Revelation
This  last  book  of  the  Bible  has  fascinated  most  people  who  wish  to  understand  the  Bible.  The Revelation  was  given  to  the  Apostle  John  while  he  was  a  prisoner  on  the  island  of  Patmos  in approximately AD 96. Many want to understand this book before they have come to appreciate all that has gone before. There is one fundamental point that is so often missed. The Revelation was given  by  Jesus  Christ “to  show  unto his  servants things  which  must  shortly  come  to  pass”. It  is therefore a prophetic book, revealing those things that were to affect the servants of Christ from
the time when it was given through to the time when the Kingdom will be set up at his return, and even beyond. It has therefore been very encouraging to his servants in every generation from the time of John and forward.

It  is  a  remarkable  book  for  the  unerring  accuracy  of  its  predictions;  however  it  can  only  be understood in the light of a knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible and the prophetic messages, particularly Daniel’s, which have gone before. To try to interpret it without such a foundation will only  lead  to  confusion  and  error.  It  was  specifically  given  to the servants  of  Christ, who  have come  to  know  and  understand  God’s  will  and  purpose  with  the  earth.  The patient  and  careful consideration of its visions and message is a source of encouragement to all those who put time
and effort into studying it.  

The  message  of  Revelation  is  clearly  consistent with  the  rest  of  the  Bible—it  proclaims  the teaching of the coming Kingdom of God on Earth.

• “The  kingdoms  of  this  world  are  become  the  kingdoms  of  our  Lord,  and  of  his  Christ;  and  he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15)
• “Thou  hast  made  us  unto  our  God  kings  and  priests:  and we  shall  reign  on  the  earth”
(Revelation 5:10)
• “Behold,  I  come  quickly;  and  my  reward  is  with  me,  to  give  every  man  according  as  his  work shall be” (Revelation 22:12)

John concludes the book with an earnest prayer. It is the prayer of all those who faithfully look for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have every reason to believe that he will soon return to reward those who have endeavoured to serve him and have earnestly prayed: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Let us all prepare for that day in the way he has appointed so that we, with John, can genuinely pray, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Summary Points
1. The  Book  of  Acts  gives  the  details  of  the  journeys  of  the  Apostle  Paul  as  he  travelled  
throughout the Roman Empire preaching the Gospel.
2. The Book of Revelation was specifically given by Jesus Christ from heaven to the Apostle John for the benefit of all
the servants of Christ from the days of John through to these present  days  (Revelation  1:1-3).  It  predominantly  is  a  book  of  prophecy  and  sets  forth,  among  other  things,  the  sequence  of  events  in  Europe  and  the  Middle  East  from  AD  96  through  to  the  establishment  of  the  Kingdom  of  God  on  earth  under  the  rule  of  Jesus Christ (Revelation 11:15-18). It therefore gives an accurate prophetic overview of today’s world  events  relative  to  the  imminent  return  of  Christ,  and  warns  how  we  should  be preparing for that great event (Revelation 16:15).
3. “Even  so,  come,  Lord  Jesus” (Revelation  22:20) is  the  earnest  prayer  of  all  those  who,  having  come  to appreciate  the  glorious  plan  that  God  has  revealed  in  the  Gospel,  have believed it, been baptised into the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and are striving to glorify God in their lives (Mark 15:15-16).

Lesson 23 Questions
1. To whom was Paul particularly sent with the Gospel?
2. In the Greek of the New Testament the word ekklesia is used to speak of the communities of believers. Why was this word chosen to describe the believers?
3. How many journeys are recorded of Paul’s missionary work?
4. What power motivated Paul to preach the Gospel, even at the risk of his life?
5. Why was the Holy Spirit given to the apostles?
6. Why was the ability to speak publicly in different languages given to the apostles?
7. Why did Jesus Christ give the Revelation to John?
8. Where shall those who will be made “kings and priests” at Christ’s coming reign?
9. What is the final prayer of John at the end of the Revelation?

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