After Peter’s story, it’s now back to Saul, who’s been on mission with Barnabas in Antioch for a whole year (11.25-6). Now as the Spirit guides them, they strike out to the Island of Cyprus.
There, as so often happens in Gospel ministry, they want to share the Good News, but find themselves dealing with opposition, and a very Satanic opposition. Elymas tries to keep the proconsul in the darkness of a Christless life, and his reward is that Paul now puts him into a blindness of sight (vv.8-12). And at that, the proconsul believes (v.12).
Paul and Barnabas next make their way deep into the province of Galatia, in modern-day Turkey. Luke records at great length Paul’s sermon, because he wants us to be sure that Paul’s gospel is exactly the same as Peter’s. His whole address exalts Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures, the Promised One in whom there is “this message of salvation” (v.26). At its heart is the innocent suffering and full vindication of the Christ in His death and resurrection (vv.26-31). Now exalted in His ascension, He is qualified to bring the forgiveness of sin (v.38).
This glorious news is also urgent news: gospel hearers must understand, and must respond (v.40). Many do want to take this message further. What happens next will be the course of much apostolic ministry, interest and outrage (vv.42-45). Still, Paul and Barnabas aren’t thrown by the opposition, not even when it gets worse (v.50). Their Saviour is now in glory, but was once held in derision: so they, and we today, must expect both opposition and saving responses to the Gospel. This is Gospel life. And to follow Jesus means joy and the Holy Spirit (v.52).
A Prayer to Pray
Lord of the Harvest, send me to those who need to hear about Jesus. Give me courage and perseverance in bringing Your truth. Make my heart tender to the lost, but strong in facing discouragement and opposition. Thankyou that Your Kingdom shall never end. Amen.
Jesus is at work! If the Book of Acts teaches us one thing, it’s this. Our author Luke tells us that his gospel is the record of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (v.1). That work is far, far from over, and Acts is the account of the works of Christ by His Holy Spirit through the church. To read Acts, as we will, is to engage with the work of Jesus, and to invite more of His work into our lives as we respond to Him by faith.
Jesus is alive today. He gave those “many convincing proofs that He was alive” (v.3), but He also gave a stunning promise for His first followers for their work after His return: “you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (v.5). And why will the Holy Spirit will given? Not to give Jesus’ followers great personal experiences, but to empower them for mission, and for mission to the ends of the earth (v.8).
This commission comes from King. And what a glorious King He is. He ascends to heaven, to assume the place of all authority as the King of the World (v.9). This is the most astonishing truth we will ever hear: Jesus reigns! And the King is coming again, to save and judge (v.11). If this is the King we believe, then there is plenty of work for us all to do in bringing The Good News of His Lordship to all the earth.
Where this work to be done, God raises us workers, and leaders to lead them in the work. That’s the reason why Luke focuses next on the choosing of Matthias to fill the place left by tragic Judas (vv.12-26). Though the choosing of Matthias was unique in how it as done and the role he was to occupy, the four principles apply to all of our decision-making:
1. They prayed (vv.12-14). 2. They listened to God speaking in Scripture (vv.15-17, 20-22). 3. They did what they felt was best (vv.23-25). 4. They acted decisively on what they felt was the Lord’s guidance (v.26).
So the scene is set? Not yet. The workers have their commission, but at that moment it is only a commission to wait. They must first receive the Spirit. With His coming, the mission can truly begin. And then let the revolution begin.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord Jesus, this book is so exciting! Lord, I long that, as we get underway in this amazing book, that you would light the fire of love for You, for Your church, and for lost people, as I read. May I know afresh Your Holy Spirit’s power as He sends me with the Good News into a needy world. Amen.
At Hope Church we’re reading through the book of Revelation in February, as part of our Reading the Bible Together series. We’ll also be studying it on Sunday mornings in the summer. The following are some introductory notes I’m giving the congregation, to give us a handle on this less well-understood part of Scripture:
Revelation is not a roadmap of the future. It is a pastoral letter, urging believers in Jesus not to lose heart in their Saviour. Although we suffer, God is on the Throne, and He is working out His purposes, to bring all things together under the Headship of Christ in His New Creation.
Revelation was written for believers experiencing the joint persecution of Jewish and Roman authorities. John uses often highly symbolic language, but don’t let that put you off. He writes as a prisoner, and needed to veil his language so that he could be sure it wouldn’t be suppressed by the authorities. If it seemed like religious nonsense to them (which is probably what they thought it was), then that was fine. He knew that he has an urgent message for his fellow Christians, which was as comforting to them as it was challenging to the world. What he is writing is political dynamite: persecution, though so fierce, will not crush the church. Jesus is Lord, and will one day crush His enemies, and save those who trust in Him.
But isn’t it a confusing riddle?
Revelation’s purpose and message is clear. But so many Christians have been put off the book because of how they’ve heard it handled in churches.
The mistake modern readers make is to think that there is some sort of key they need to unlock Revelation with. They assume that a deeper grasp of world politics and current affairs will open up all of the figurative material to them. Worse still, many think that ‘their’ age is the one God has in mind in this book. This is futile, but Christians through the ages have tried this. In the 16th Century, Martin Luther’s insisted that Revelation spoke of the rise and final overthrow of the Pope, an event which he was sure was just about to take place. 250 years later, and readers were convinced that they were learning about the threat of Napoleon in the same book. Coming into the 20th Century, in the 50s Revelation was supposed to be about the Cold War. In the 70s it was allegedly about the global instability threatened by the oil crisis. The 90s and beyond have seen preoccupations with environmental damage and global warming, topics which, we were told, Revelation teaches us about. Who knows, somewhere there are people writing books telling the faithful that Revelation is all about the rise of militant Islam!
Thoughtful Christians will resist such temptations. They will also spot the pride lurking in these views, which says ‘but this has to be about me and my times’. A little humility, a clear head, and an open Bible, and we will be on the way to grasping and enjoying Revelation, in its details as well as in its overall message. And the keys for doing so are at hand.
Two keys for unlocking Revelation:
The Bible tells you so
The main key is the Bible. Revelation is chock-full of references and allusions to and quotations from the Old Testament (there are over 500 of them. Just think about that for a moment). Straightaway we have to conclude, then, that without our Old Testaments, we won’t understand Revelation. If, on the other hand, we patiently explore John’s use of the Old Testament, we can refute some of the nonsense we hear about the supposed meaning of the Book, and start to tread on safer ground. What we discover is that Revelation is the climax of God’s plans, which were declared long before. He has been working faithfully and amazingly to plan.
Remember, though, that Revelation isn’t a book for Bible scholars. Don’t be put off if the Old Testament is still foreign territory to you. As we study Revelation we’ll be learning together. And remember: we’ve already learned the book’s clearest message, which is that Jesus wins. The rest, as they say, are just the details.
Know the Times
John wrote for his first readers. That much is obvious. And although the book is written for all of God’s people, and so speaks to us today, we must remember its original context if we are to get its full meaning and apply it to our lives.
The persecution John was suffering was mirrored in the lives of many fellow believers. As we see in the book of Acts, persecution originally came from Jewish authorities, focused through the synagogues. As the first century wore on, the Roman authorities hardened their opposition to Christianity: this irritating new sect was growing at an alarming rate, and turning into a troubling challenge to Roman power. It must be stopped. Now the church was being persecuted from two sides, and that opposition got more deadly when they joined forces. As Jesus Himself warned, and as the church was starting to discover, all men really were hating His followers.
Jesus gave another warning, though, that God was going to do something unthinkable in the minds of Jews and Christians: He was going to bring His wrath upon those who rejected the Messiah, and upon the focus of that opposition, Jerusalem. Jesus gave a long discourse on this, which the Gospel writers recorded at length (see Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). Read those passages carefully, and there’s no doubt that Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem. And His words came true. In AD70 God’s patience with the city ran out, just as the Roman authorities’ patience did. God’s wrath on a faithless people who rejected His Son was unleashed. The city was destroyed by Roman armies in scenes of utter horror.
This is the backdrop of John’s book. John is warning believers that persecution will actually get worse before God’s decisive strike against it. In language that is both veiled but clear (a beast and a harlot, anyone?), John tells us that Jerusalem and Rome will work together to destroy the church, before Rome turns on Jerusalem and devours her. Jerusalem’s end will come, and Rome’s is sure to come, too. That proud Empire will pass away. This crisis is the backdrop of Revelation.
A Book for us!
Knowing John’s times, and knowing that the burden of his writings was for his immediate times, does nothing to diminish the relevance of his book for us. Quite the opposite: we read Revelation and we see that God’s hand was at work, as Jesus promised and as John recorded, to bring deliverance for His church. We see persecution now, and Revelation’s message is equally powerful: hold on! We can have deep confidence in a God who does what He promises, as we see here, and who is always on the throne.
And the final vision of Revelation is of a new city, a New Jerusalem. John leaves us where we actually find ourselves living now, knowing the dwelling of God with us, knowing His peace, comfort and joy. The vision overlaps the ages, though: we taste God’s love here, but remember that this lasting new community will be experienced fully in the age to come. The King is coming for us, to take us there, and we will be at home with Him forever.