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Acts Chapter 11

Acts Chapter 11

Acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s work among the non-Jews

The apostles [church leaders] and brothers [other believers] in Judea heard that the non-Jews had also received the word of the Lord [and had become followers of Jesus]But when Peter[, accompanied by the six fellow believers from Joppa,] returned to Jerusalem[, reporting back to where the church started and where the majority of believers still lived], those of the “circumcision” [Christians who were of the opinion that you had to be circumcised and become a Jew to follow Jesus] criticized him, saying, “How could you go into the house of the uncircumcised and eat with them?"

Acceptance of the Holy Spirit's work among non-Jews

[According to the traditions of the elders, eating with non-Jews might cause you to participate in idolatry since much of the meat was from animals offered as sacrifices to idols. Though this restriction was not in the scriptures, it was the prevailing interpretation of the Law. Jesus held that the traditions often went against the intent of the scriptures (for example, Mark 7:9-13). The “circumcision” party wanted to keep Christianity Jewish to make the Good News more acceptable to the Jews.]

But Peter started at the beginning and recounted [to the church in Jerusalem] the whole story of what took place [that demonstrated that the Lord wanted non-Jews also to follow Jesus], “I was in the city of Joppa, praying, when in a vision, I saw a sheet lowered by its four corners from the sky to right where I was. And when I looked closely, I saw in it both domesticated animals and wild beasts, reptiles, and wild birds. Then I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean or impure!’ But the voice from heaven spoke again saying, ‘What God has cleansed, don’t call unclean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet was withdrawn back into the sky.

11 “Immediately after that, three men came into the house where I was, sent from Caesarea to me, 12 and the Spirit told me to go with them without hesitation. [For I had learned my whole life to keep apart from non-Jews. Now he was telling me to go to their house and even stay and eat with them. I had to trust God in spite of how I felt.] These six believers from Joppa [who are before you now] accompanied us to Caesarea, and together we entered the house of the man[, Cornelius, who had sent for us]13 He explained to us how an angel had appeared to him and told him, ‘Send to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will speak the words that will save you and your household.’ [With that as an introduction,] 15 I began to speak, and the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning [on the Day of Pentecost].

16 “Then I remembered the word of the Lord [Jesus], how he told us, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with Holy Spirit.’ 17 So just as he had done for us, he gave this gift to those who believed in the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. Who was I to stand against God?”

18 When they [the Jerusalem believers who had criticized Peter] heard these things, they ceased their objection and praised God, saying, “Then God has also given to the non-Jews the ability to change their thinking and receive [eternal] life.”

Establishment of the church at Antioch

19 At this same period of time [as Peter’s experience with the non-Jews], believers had spread as far as Phoenicia [modern day coastal Lebanon], Cyprus [a large island in the Mediterranean south of Greece], and Antioch [then capital of the province of Syria], due to the persecution that began with [the killing of] Stephen, but the message [of the good news of Jesus] had spread only to the Jews. 20 However, there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene [Libya] living in Antioch who shared the news of the Lord Jesus with the Greeks [non-Jews]21 And the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

Establishment of the church at Antioch

[Antioch was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and so there were people from all over the world. The Good News about Jesus had already spread through Jews traveling to many places in the Greek-speaking world. Now men whose faith had been sparked were sharing the word with other Greek speakers in Antioch. People were hearing about Jesus without a well-known teacher or evangelist preaching to them. This is how the church began in Antioch. At least some of the Greek-speakers who believed were non-Jews.]

22 This news [of the word spreading to Antioch] came to the ears of the gathering of believers in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabus to Antioch. 23 When Barnabus came and saw the grace of God [on the believers there], he encouraged them all to set their hearts to stay close to the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and many people were added to their number.

25 Then Barnabus left to go find Saul in Tarsus, 26 and when he found him, Barnabus brought Saul to Antioch. For a whole year the two of them led the assembly of believers there and taught them much. Antioch was the first place that followers [of Jesus] were called Christians [“Little Anointed Ones”]

27 During this period, prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and foretold that there would be a great famine throughout the [known] world, and [in fact] this happened during the time of [the Roman Emperor] Claudius [around 46 A.D.]29 The disciples [the believers in Antioch] decided to send as much help as each was able to their brothers who lived in Judea [the southern part of Israel that includes Jerusalem]30 When they had completed [gathering the money], they sent it to the church leaders [in Jerusalem] by the hands of Barnabus and Saul.

Discussion questions

1. Does it make sense that first century Jews thought believers in Jesus should become Jewish and observe the Law? If a twenty-first century believer is Jewish, do you believe he should give up his Judaism? Should a Muslim or Hindu who decides to follow Jesus give up their former religious practices?

Acts Chapte 11 discussion questions

2. What was the evidence to the Jewish believers that made it legitimate to Jewish believers that non-Jews could be believers as well yet not become Jewish?

3. Who started the church of Antioch? Why do you think Barnabus brought in Saul to help grow the church? What would be your guess as to what the followers of Jesus in Antioch were doing that earned them the title, “Little Anointed Ones”?

Acts Chapter 12

Acts Chapter 12

Herod’s persecution of Jerusalem church leaders

Around this time, King Herod began to persecute the church [the followers of Jesus] especially leaders. He had James [one of the twelve apostles appointed by Jesus], the brother of John [another of the twelve], killed by the sword. Because this pleased the Jews [the ones who stood against the new movement of those who followed and believed in Jesus], Herod escalated his efforts by arresting Peter as well, during the Days of the Unleavened Bread [the Passover Feast]And when Peter had been taken into custody, Herod put him in prison, turning him over to four four-person squads of soldiers to safely keep him, intending after Passover to put him on public trial before the people [and gain their favor].

Herod's pesecuton of the Jerusalem church leaders

Though Peter was securely kept in prison, prayers were made continually by the assembly of believers to God on his behalf. The night before Herod would have put him on display publicly, Peter was sleeping between two prison guards. He was bound with two chains and there were more guards posted outside the door to the prison. [Peter and John and already been supernaturally released once from prison (Acts 5:19-20), so Herod was taking no chances.]

Peter’s rescue by the angel

[Even with all of Herod’s precautions, he couldn’t prevent supernatural intervention.] An angel of the Lord appeared and there was a light inside the prison. The angel poked Peter in his side and woke him, saying, “Quickly get up”. And the chains dropped off his hands. The angel said to him, “Tighten your belt and fasten your sandals. After he had done so, the angel said, “Wrap yourself with your cloak and follow me.”

Peter's rescue by the angel

Peter followed him out of the prison, not sure whether what the angel was doing was really happening, or if he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed by the first guard station and then the second and came upon the iron gate which leads to the city. The gate opened for them by itself, and they went out and proceeded down the street. At that point, the angel departed from Peter.

11 When Peter all of a sudden got a grip on himself, he said, “Now I know that this has truly happened. The Lord has sent his angel and delivered me from Herod and from what the Jewish people had planned to do to me.” 12 When he realized what had happened, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

13 As Peter was knocking at the outside door, a woman named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so joyful she didn’t open the door, but ran to tell everyone that Peter was there, standing at the gate! 15 And they said to her, “You’re crazy!” But she insisted it was true. And they replied that it must be his angel [appearing on his behalf]16 But Peter kept knocking. When they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Motioning to them to be quiet, he explained to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison.” [He told them,] “Tell what has happened to James and the community of believers with him.” Then he departed himself and went to another location [to spread the good news][At some point, Peter must have told the entire story about his rescue by the angel.]

18 As soon as the next day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had asked for Peter to be turned over to him and he wasn’t found to be there, he had the guards interrogated, and ordered they be put to death. [Herod was very frustrated to lose Peter, and so punished the soldiers with the same punishment Peter would have received.]

Herod’s displeasure and death

After this, Herod left Judea and spent some time in Caesarea. [Herod had been gaining in popularity and had hoped his persecution of the church would continue to increase his standing.  But he could not have been in a good mood as he left Jerusalem and arrived in Caesarea.  Caesarea was a regional seat of power for the communities along the shore, including Tyre and Sidon.] 20 Herod was ready to take out his displeasure on the people of Tyre and Sidon, so they sent a united delegation of representatives. They appealed first to Blastus, one of Herod’s officials, asking for terms of peace, since they were dependent on grain from King Herod’s realm.

Herod's displeasure and death

21 And during a festival time, Herod was dressed in his royal clothing, sat upon his throne, and made a speech before them. 22 And the people[, including the delegation from Tyre and Sidon, wanting the King’s favor,] gave him a standing ovation, and declared, “This is the voice of a god and not a man!” 23 At once, the angel of the Lord struck Herod down because he [had the opportunity but] did not give the glory to God. [Apparently,] he had been consumed by worms on his insides, and so he died. [Herod had persecuted the church and then made himself a god rather than acknowledging God who was giving favor to the church.  God ended Herod’s life, and thus gave a period of peace to the believers.]

Spread of God’s word

24 Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread and grow. [The reports about who Jesus was and all he was doing among his followers caused many to come into God’s kingdom.] 25 Barnabus and Paul completed their mission [of delivering relief funds to Jerusalem], and returned from Jerusalem [to Antioch], taking John Mark with them. [It appears that the execution of James and the imprisonment and angelic rescue of Peter likely happened while Barnabas and Saul were on their way to Jerusalem since there is no mention of interaction between Saul and Peter. They likely arrived during the time of celebration of Peter’s rescue, which took place at John Mark’s family home. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin, according to Colossians 4:10.]

Spread of God's word

Discussion questions

1. Why do you think there was such a resistance to the Christian movement among the Jews? In what ways did this harm or help the movement?

Acts Chapter 12 discussion questions

2. When people pray, is there any limit to what can be overcome? Have you ever seen God intervene in amazing ways? What problems seem to you insurmountable right now? Do you believe God can do anything to help you?

3. Though God rescued Peter, the guards paid a price, and the residents of Tyre and Sidon nearly experienced Herod’s wrath at Peter’s escape. How do you understand the spiritual forces at work in such “collateral damage”? What is the individual’s responsibility in such circumstances?

Acts Chapter 13

Acts Chapter 13

God’s appointment of Barnab1s and Paul as missionaries

In the assembly of believers at Antioch there were prophets [inspired speakers of God’s truth and plan] and teachers [explainers of God’s word], such as Barnabas, Simeon the Black, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who grew up with Herod the Governor), and Saul. As they spent an extended time before God while fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set aside for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” When they had completed their time of fasting and prayer, they laid hands on the two of them and sent them on their way. [This appears to have been a time of seeking the Lord by the leadership of the Antioch assembly of believers. During this time, it became clear that the Lord was calling Barnabus and Saul out away from Antioch to carry the “good news” to other locations. The other leaders, and possibly the whole assembly of believers gathered, the leaders laid hands on Barnabus and Saul, to bless and empower them, and sent them off.]

God's appointment of Barnabas and Paul as misionaries

The first missionary journey

Barnabas and Saul, having been sent forth by the Holy Spirit, traveled first [overland] to [the Syrian port city of] Seleucia, and sailed from there to the island of Cyprus [which is where Barnabus was from]After they arrived at Salamis [a large port city in Cyprus], they preached the word of God in the synagogues among the Jews. They also had John Mark with them to help. [John Mark had been with them in Antioch, and so was probably with them from the beginning of the mission trip.]

The first missionary journey

Governor receives faith

After they crossed the island to Paphos [the capital city of Cyprus], they found there a magician named Bar-Jesus [“Son of Jesus”, not related to Jesus the Lord], who was Jewish and a false prophet [acting as though inspired but not truly hearing from God]Bar-Jesus was an advisor of the proconsul [governor] of the country, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul was an insightful man, so he called for Barnabas and Saul, desiring to hear from them the word of God. 8 But Elymas [which means “the sorcerer”] stood against them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from faith [in Jesus].

Governor receives faith

Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit [which gave him both discernment and boldness], looked straight at Elymas. [From this time he was called only Paul, not Saul. Perhaps to a Roman, “Paul” was easier to pronounce. As Paul began to be well known, he was known by this name rather than by his Jewish name. Barnabus had been the leader of the team and therefore earlier was mentioned first, but it now is Paul’s team and he is mentioned first.] 10 He said to Elymas, “You are full of lies and deception, you son of the devil, and opposer of what is righteous. Stop trying to turn people away from the true path to God. 11 And right now, the hand of the Lord will be upon you, and you will be blind and will not see the sun for a time!”

Immediately, there was a mist and shadow that fell upon him, and he had to find someone to lead him by the hand. [Paul had a similar experience himself for having resisted God when Jesus revealed himself on the road to Damascus recounted in Acts 9:3-9. However, though we are not told that Elymas became a follower of Jesus like Paul, his blinding made a great impression on Sergius Paulus.] 12 When the proconsul saw what had been done, he believed, because he was shocked by the [power of the] teaching concerning the Lord.

Departure of John Mark

13 Now when Paul’s team set sail from Paphos they arrived at Perga in [the province of Pamphylia on the mid southern coast of modern Turkey]. John [Mark] left them and returned to Jerusalem. [No reason is given for why John Mark left Paul and Barnabas, but in Acts 15:37-39 it appears that Paul felt John Mark had abandoned them. It may be that John Mark felt that Paul had usurped the lead missionary role from his cousin and mentor Barnabas. Later, Paul and John Mark reconciled, as indicated by 2 Timothy 4:11.]

Departure of John Mark

Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia

14 Then they traveled from Perga to Antioch near Pisidia [an inland province north of Pamphylia], and they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day and sat down. [Even though Paul and Barnabas recognized their assignment was primarily to the non-Jews, still they desired to reach the Jews whenever possible.] 15 After the readings from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue leaders sent a message to them, “Brothers, if you have a word to encourage the people, you are welcome to speak.” [In the synagogue service, after the initial prayers, there was a reading from the Law (the first five books) and then a reading from the Prophets. The message could be given by anyone in the synagogue as a commentary on the readings, but strangers likely would have something new and different to say.]

Paul's sermon in Antioch of Pisidia

16 Then Paul stood up, gesturing with his hand, and began, “Fellow Jews and others who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of our people Israel chose our ancestors [Genesis 12-17] and grew their numbers [Exodus 1:7] when they were still foreigners in the land of Egypt. And with his arm lifted high, God [performed powerful works] to lead them out of that land [Exodus]18 He sustained them for forty years in the desert [Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]. 19 And when he had destroyed the seven nations of Canaan [Joshua], he assigned the land to them by lots so that they could reside there [Joshua 18-19]. 20 All of this took about 450 years.

“After that, he gave them judges [leaders who rose up during a crisis or for a particular need as described in the book of Judges] until Samuel the prophet [who provided strong spiritual leadership]21 From that time, they began to desire a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man out of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 But after removing him [for his lack of obedience], God raised up David for them to be their king, for whom he also gave this testimony, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out my desire’ [1 Samuel 13:14]

23 “From this man’s seed [David’s descendants], to fulfill his own promise, God has raised up for Israel a deliverer, Jesus. 24 But before Jesus came, John [the Baptist] preached the need for all the people of Israel to change the way they think [and submit to God] in [the water of] baptism. 25 And when John completed his mission, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? Not [the one you are looking for], but he is coming after me, and I am not worthy to even untie his sandals.’

26 “My brothers, you who are children of Abraham and all of you who worship God, God is now sending to you the word of this salvation. 27 For the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him [the savior Jesus]. And even though they heard the voices of the prophets that are read every Sabbath Day, they did just what the prophets had predicted by condemning Jesus [because it was these very prophets (Isaiah 53:6, Daniel 9:24) who declared that the Anointed One would remove our sins through his execution]. 28 And though no just cause for death was found in him, they demanded of Pilate that he be executed, 29 and when everything had been done to him that had been written [Psalms 41:9, Psalms 22:16, Isaiah 50:6, Zechariah 12:10], they took him down from the tree [where they had nailed him] and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead. 31 And he was seen for many days by those who had followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to all the people.

32 “And we declare to you the good news that what was promised to our fathers 33 has now been fulfilled for us, their descendants. When God raised up Jesus, it had already been written in the second psalm [Psalms 2:7], ‘You are my son. Today I have brought you forth.’ [This verse is quoted in Luke 1:35 concerning Jesus’ baptism, and again in Hebrews 1:5Romans 1:4 explains that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is what proved he was the son of God. Thus God claimed him as son first as a physical man at his birth into the world, then as a spiritual man at his baptism and infilling by the Spirit, and finally as a resurrected man. And this is also the path for each of us.]

34 “And concerning [the prediction that] he would rise from the dead and no longer be subject to decay, he said, ‘I will give to you the [fulfillment of the] faithful holy promises made to David.’ [The quote is from Isaiah 55:3. The primary promise made to David was that a descendant of his would reign forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Though David’s understanding of this promise was that his line of descendants would rule on Israel's throne with unbroken continuity, the rabbis understood that this referred to a single descendant of David who would come and rule forever.]

35 “And it says in another psalm, ‘You shall not allow your holy one to see decay’. [This is from Psalms 16:10, which had become understood by the rabbis as applying to the Anointed One.] 36 In fact, when David had served his generation through the plan of God, he died, was buried with his fathers, and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God resurrected [Jesus] did not decay. [Paul’s point is that the only one that could reign forever is one who was given a resurrection body and would live forever.]

38 “Furthermore, my brothers, may you understand that because of [what] this man [did on your behalf] that we can declare to you the forgiveness of sins. 39 And, even though you never could achieve righteousness by following the Law of Moses, those who believe in him are made righteous.

40 “Be careful, then, that what the prophets declared not happen to you, 41 ‘Look, you unbelievers, be amazed and experience your own destruction. For I am doing something in your day that you think impossible even though it is being declared to your face.’ [Paul is quoting Habakkuk 1:5, which predicted that the Babylonians would destroy Israel for their lack of belief and obedience to God.]

42 As they [Paul and Barnabus] were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them back the next Sabbath Day to tell them more about these things. 43 And when the congregation was leaving, many of the Jews and religious students [non-Jews who were in the process of converting to Judaism] followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke with them and encouraged them to continue in the grace of God [since they were beginning to receive the truth and understand it].

Rejection of the word by the Jews and the gladness of the non-Jews to receive

44 And the next Sabbath Day, nearly the entire city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with envy, and they contradicted and spoke against the things that Paul said. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew even more bold and said, “We felt we needed to speak the word of God first to you [our fellow Jews], but seeing how you reject it [the Good News of what Jesus has done for you] and render yourselves undeserving of eternal life, we now turn our attention to the [non-Jewish] peoples. 47 For the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have appointed you to be a light to the [non-Jewish] peoples, so that all the world may be saved’ [Isaiah 49:6].”

Rejection ofthe word by the Jews an the gladness of the non-Jews to receive

48 And when the non-Jews heard this, they were glad, and honored the word of the Lord, and believed [the Good News], all the ones who were ready to receive eternal life. 49 And the word of the Lord was carried throughout the region [by Paul and Barnabas as well others who now believed]50 But the Jews agitated the religious noblewomen and the leading men of the city and stirred up persecution against them and had them thrown out of the area. 51 So Paul and Barnabas shook off the dust from their feet [as a judgment] against them and came into Iconium [to the east of Antioch]52 And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. [They were glad to suffer and be rejected in obedient service to the Lord.]

Discussion questions

1. What is the value of a team fasting and praying together like the leaders of the church of Antioch? How did this lead to Barnabas and Saul being sent out as missionaries?

Acts Chapter 13 discussion questions

2. Do you think that it is common for political leaders to have advisors who are involved in occult power like the proconsul had with Bar-Jesus? What does it take to disarm such an advisor?

3. In Paul’s sermon to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch, why was the resurrection of Jesus so important? What does Paul say it proved?

4. Have you ever been rejected or persecuted for sharing the truth about Jesus? What was Paul and Barnabas’ reaction to this kind of rejection?

Acts Chapter 14

Acts Chapter 14

Continued responsiveness amid persecution

The same sequence occurred in Iconium - they went into the synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both the Jews and the Greeks [Greek-speaking non-Jews who were learning the Jewish faith] believed [the good news about Jesus]But the Jews who didn’t believe stirred up the minds of the non-Jews and turned them against the [believing] brothers. They [Paul and Barnabas] stayed for a long time, speaking boldly in [the power of] the Lord, who backed up their message of his grace by giving them the power to perform miracles and amazing acts.  The people of the city were divided, some agreeing with the Jews and some with the apostles. Then, some of Jews and non-Jews banded together with some of the leading men of the city with the intention to stop the apostles by stoning them. When the apostles heard about it, they fled to the region of Lyaconia [southwest of Iconium and a part of Galatia] where the cities of Lystra and Derbe lay.  And they preached the good news there.

Paul heals a lame man

In Lystra, there was a man whose feet were paralyzed – in fact, he had been lame and unable to walk since birth. The man was there to hear Paul speak. Paul looked at him intently and saw he had the faith to be healed, 10 so he said in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he jumped up and walked! 11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lyaconian language, “The Gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 They gave Barnabas the name Zeus [the chief God of the Greeks] and Paul the name Hermes [the Greek messenger God]13 Then the priest of Zeus [who performed his duties at the temple] just outside the city brought oxen and garlands of flowers to the people so that they could perform a sacrifice [before the two gods they believed had come to earth].

Continued responsiveness and persecution
Paul heals a lame man

14 When the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, heard about this, they tore their clothes and quickly found the people, crying out, 15 “Why are you doing this [making a sacrifice as though we were gods]? We are men, just like you, who were sent to you to turn you away from worthless things [like the idols and gods you worship] to the [true and] living God who made the sky, the land, the sea, and all the things in them. 16 God used to allow all nations to walk in their own ways, 17 though he always gave witness to himself by his goodness, sending us rain and making plants grow, filling us with food and our hearts with gladness. 18 By explaining things this way they still barely restrained the crowds from making the sacrifice before them they had intended.

Paul stoned but healed by the disciples

19 After that, there were Jews from both Antioch and Iconium who [came and] turned the people [of Lystra against Paul and Barnabas] and having stoned Paul [who had been the chief speaker], they dragged him outside the city gates and left him, thinking he was dead. 20 However, when the disciples surrounded him [and prayed], he rose up and came into the city, and managed to leave the next day with Barnabas to go to Derbe.

Paul stoned but healed by the disciples

Establishment of leaders in the churches

21 They preached the Good News to that city [Derbe] and instructed many [in the ways of the Lord][After a time in Derbe,] they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and [Pisidian] Antioch. [This required great courage as only a short time earlier Paul had been stoned by people from Antioch and Iconium.] 22 [In each location,] they strengthened the disciples, encouraged them to stay true to the faith [under persecution and testing], [explaining] that it is through many trials that we enter the kingdom of God. [A great part of faith has to do with trusting God to remove obstacles or strengthen you to bear them.] 23 When they had ordained elders in every assembly of believers, and prayed and fasted with them, they committed them to the Lord, in whom they all believed. [The apostles would not see them for some time, so it was very important to establish leaders and entrust them to God.]

Establishment of leaders in the churches

Return to Syrian Antioch

24 [On the way back towards home,] passing through Pamphylia, they arrived in Pisidia. 25 They preached there in Perga, and then went down to Attalia [just west of Perga]26 From there they sailed [home to Syrian] Antioch, where they had been first entrusted with the grace of God for the work they had completed. 27 And when they arrived, they gathered together the assembly of believers [in Antioch] and reported all that God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith for the non-Jews. 28 And they stayed there a long while with the disciples.

Return to Syrian Antioch

Discussion questions

1. What was the pattern that Paul’s team established for evangelizing a city? How well did it work? Do you think that they would have been as successful without at the same time stirring up trouble?

Acts Chapter 14 discusion questions

2. When Paul healed the lame man in Lystra, what part did the faith of the man play in his own healing? How do you think Paul could tell the man had faith?

3. What are some of the problems the disciples encountered as they shared the good news? Is it worth it to risk death, or at the other end of the spectrum, being worshipped by the people, in order to share the good news?

4. What is the importance of follow up visits to people and places you have shared the good news? How would you pick elders at each location?

Acts Chapter 15

Acts Chapter 15

The circumcision controversy

And there were some men who came from Judea [which was still the primary center of the growing worldwide church of all believers] and taught the brothers [the believers in Antioch] that unless you were circumcised according to [the Law of] Moses [Genesis 17:10-14], you cannot be saved. [In other words, according to these men, you had to become a Jew to be a follower of Jesus and to receive eternal life.] When Paul and Barnabas argued with them and disputed their teaching, they [the church] decided to send Paul and Barnabas along with some of the others [who believed in the necessity of circumcision] to the apostles and elders [of the assembly of believers] in Jerusalem concerning this issue.

The circumcision controvesy

The council in Jerusalem

They [Paul and Barnabas] were sent on their way by the assembly of believers [in Antioch], and as they went [south towards Jerusalem] through Phoenicia [Lebanon] and Samaria, Paul and Barnabas reported [to the assemblies of believers along the way] on how the non-Jews had turned to God. This news brought great joy to all the believers. And when they arrived in Jerusalem, after they were welcomed by the assembly of believers and the apostles and elders, they reported on all that God had done with them. But some believers [in Jesus] who were members of the religious party of the Pharisees stood up and said that it was necessary to command them [the non-Jewish believers] to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. 

The council in Jerusalem

The apostles and elders met together over this issue. After much searching for a solution, Peter rose up and said to them, “Brothers, you know how quite some time ago, God chose to use my mouth [as the instrument by which] non-Jews would hear the word of the good news and believe. And God, who knows all hearts, gave his approval to the non-Jews, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he had to us. He defined no difference between them and us, and so purified their hearts through faith [just as he had for us when the Holy Spirit first came]10 Now, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we are saved by the gift of the Lord Jesus just as the non-Jews are. [A yoke was placed on oxen or other beasts of burden for them to pull a heavy load. The burden described here is the observation not only of the Law written in the Bible but all the ceremonial traditions that the Pharisees were so fond of. Peter was saying that observing the Law had not gotten the Jews closer to God, and that they were going against God to require it, since the Holy Spirit was the proof the non-Jews were acceptable to the Lord simply on the basis of their belief.]

Decision to not impose the Law on non-Jewish believers

12 Then, all the crowd [present for the discussion] kept quiet [rather than continuing to argue] and listened to Barnabas and Paul describe the miracles and amazing acts God had performed among the non-Jewish peoples through them. 13 And after Barnabas and Paul had finished, James [the brother of Jesus and leader of the church] spoke, “Brothers, listen to me! 14 Simon [Peter] has declared to us how God from the first has clearly chosen to make the non-Jews a people to bear his name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this. It is written [Amos 9:11-12], 16 ‘“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent, and I will rebuild it from its ruins and raise it up again, 17 so that the remainder of mankind, the non-Jewish peoples, may seek the Lord and be called by my name”, says Yahweh, who will accomplish these things.’ 18 All of which was known by God from the beginning. [Amos prophesied that God was describing the future restoration of Israel and how it would lead to the spreading of faith to all men including non-Jews. James was perceiving that this restoration had been planned by God long ago and then carried it out through the life and atoning death of Jesus, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the restoration of faith to the Jewish community, and that faith was indeed now spreading to all of mankind.]

Decisin to not impose the Law on non-Jewish believers

19 “So, my judgment is that we do not make a problem for the non-Jewish people who turn to the Lord. 20 We will write to them that they should avoid defilement from idols, [abstain from] sex outside of marriage, and [restrict themselves from eating] strangled animals or blood. 21 For [these practices of the Law of] Moses have been preached since olden times on the Sabbath Day in every town [and therefore this is standard practice among well behaved people everywhere].” 

[The issue was that in most pagan societies, there were many customs related to worship of idols, that included sexual relations with priestesses, and rituals using the blood of animals. The Law of Moses forbade each of these – idolatry itself (Exodus 20:4), sex outside of marriage (Exodus 20:14, Leviticus 18), and eating of strangled animals (where the blood was retained - Genesis 9:4), or the blood itself (Leviticus 17:13-14). Because these actions were so ingrained among the Jews, it was difficult for Jewish and non-Jewish believers to be in fellowship without some common rules having to do with meals. James is not saying that a believer is actually defiled through meat that is sacrificed to idols, only that to Jewish believers the idea is disgusting.  Paul uses a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 8.]

22 This was pleasing to the apostles and elders together with the whole assembly of believers [in Jerusalem], so they chose two highly respected men, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, as their representatives to send with Paul and Barnabus to Antioch. 23 And they wrote to them [a letter to carry and read to churches that included non-Jewish believers], “From the apostles and elders and brothers [in Jerusalem] to the brothers among the non-Jewish people in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia [modern Turkey]. Greetings! 24 We have heard that some have come to you from here and upset you with their words. We gave them no such instructions!

25 “It seemed good to us, when we were together and in complete agreement, to choose some men and send them to you with our beloved Paul and Barnabas, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. 27 Therefore, we have sent Judas and Silas who will tell you the same things face-to-face. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these [few] things. 29 Abstain from meat offered to idols, from blood, from strangled animals, and from sex outside of marriage. If you do these things, you will have done well.”

30 When they [Paul and Barnabas] were released to leave [by the apostles and elders], they returned to Antioch and, when they had gathered together all of believers, they read the letter [from Jerusalem]31 After it was read, they all rejoiced and were encouraged. 32 Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets [who had accompanied Paul and Barnabas from Jerusalem], spoke a long time with them, and strengthened and encouraged them. 33 After they had stayed for a while, they were let go in peace by the brothers [in Antioch] so they could return to the apostles [in Jerusalem][Some manuscripts include a verse 34, “But it seemed good to Silas to remain there”, which makes sense since verse 40 indicates he joined Paul for the next journey.]

Disagreement of Paul and Barnabas

35 Paul and Barnabas continued teaching and preaching the word of the Lord in Antioch, along with many others. 36 After a period, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go again and visit our brothers in all the cities where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 And Barnabas [agreed] but was determined to take John Mark along with them. 38 But Paul thought it was better not to take him, since John Mark had left them in Pamphylia [Acts 13:13] and had not accompanied them in all their work. 39 So there was a sharp disagreement between them and they went their separate ways. Barnabas took [John] Mark and sailed to Cyprus. [Barnabas and John Mark were going to Barnabus’ homeland. However, after Barnabus left Paul, he is not mentioned again in Acts.]

Disagreement of Paul and Barnabas

Second missionary journey

40 But Paul chose Silas, and after they were committed to the grace of God by the brothers, they departed. 41 Paul [and Silas] went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the assemblies of believers. [Paul was taking an overland route back to Asia, so he proceeded north through Syria and then into Cilicia (far western Turkey). The assemblies of believers he visited in these areas were probably not founded by him. His hometown Tarsus was also in this area.]

Discussion questions

1. What do you think of how the early church solved this dispute about the necessity for circumcision? Have you observed disputes in your day, either within your own church or in the wider church? What could we do differently today to resolve these issues?

Second missionary journey
Acts Chapter 15 discussion questions

2. What do you think affected Paul and Barnabas to cause them to have a dispute. Do you think they could have been affected spiritually by being in an atmosphere of dissension?

Acts Chapter 16

Acts Chapter 16

Timothy becomes a disciple of Paul

[Eventually,] Paul [and Silas] made their way back to Derbe and Lystra [in Pisidia – south central Turkey]. There was a disciple named Timothy, son of a Jewish woman, who was a believer, and a Greek father. Timothy had a good reputation among the brother believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to take Timothy with them, so he had Timothy circumcised, because all of the Jews in the area knew that his father was Greek.

Timothy becomes a disciple of Paul

[Timothy had been exposed to Jewish faith through his mother and had become a follower of Jesus, but he would not have easily been accepted by Jews because he was not one of them. Paul was helping Timothy “become a Jew to win the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20). This was ironic in that Paul and Silas were carrying the letter from Jerusalem that permitted non-Jews to become Christians without requiring them to be circumcised.]

As they [Paul, Silas, and now Timothy] went through the cities, they delivered [to the believers] the decrees which had been decided by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, so they could follow them. As a result, the assemblies [of believers] were strengthened in the faith and grew in number daily.

Call to Macedonia

They [Paul’s missionary team] traveled through the boundary area of Phrygia and Galatia [just northwest of Pisidian Antioch in what today is central Turkey] because the Holy Spirit would not allow them to preach the word in Asia [the west central part of Turkey including Ephesus][As a result, they decided to preach further north.] But when they came to the boundary of Mysia [northwestern Turkey] and tried to go into Bithynia [north central Turkey], the Spirit of Jesus [Holy Spirit] would not let them. [Since the Spirit appeared to be urging them westward,] they travelled without stopping through Mysia to get to Troas [the famous ancient city of Troy on the northwest coast of modern Turkey]

Call to Macedonia

[Eventually Paul would preach in many of these areas he now bypassed. It appears that God’s plan was to have them bypass both northern and western Turkey for the time being so the Good New would reach Macedonia and Greece.]

[In Troas,] Paul had a vision in the nighttime, in which a man from Macedonia appeared to him and stood, asking him, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Right after he had this vision, we tried to gain passage to Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea], all of us believing the Lord had called us to preach the good news to them. [This is the first point in the account that the author changes from “they” to “we”, so it is likely that now Luke, the author of the account, has joined Paul’s team.]

11 Launching forth by ship from Troas, we sailed directly to [the island of] Samothrace and the day after to Neapolis [a Macedonian seaport]12 From there we went to Philippi [about 40 miles north of Neapolis], a city in the first district of Macedonia, [which itself was] a colony [of Rome]. We stayed there several days.

Ministry in Philippi

13 On the Sabbath Day, we went out of the city to the riverside, where there was [a regular gathering for] prayer, and we sat down and talked with the women who gathered there. 14 And there was a woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira, who had a business selling purple cloth. She was one who worshipped God and her heart was open, so she received the things that Paul spoke about. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she asked us, “If you have found me faithful to the Lord, then come to my house and stay.” And she convinced us to do so. 

Ministry in Philippi

16 One of the times we were on our way to prayer, we encountered a serving girl who had a spirit of divination which brought much profit to her masters through fortune telling. [Paul or one of his team could easily discern that a demon was controlling her.] 17 This young woman followed Paul and the rest of us and cried out, “These men are servants of the highest God, who are showing us the pathway of salvation.” 18 And she did the same thing for many days. But Paul became angry about this, so he turned to the spirit [that was using the girl] and said, “I command you, in the name of Jesus the Anointed One, to come out of her!” And the spirit came out of her immediately.

19 When the girl’s masters saw that their hope of continuing to make money was gone, they laid hold of them [Paul and Silas] and dragged them to the public square in front of the authorities [where judicial hearings were held]20 They brought them [Paul and Silas] before the [Roman] militia and said, “These men are Jews, and they are making a disturbance in our city. 21 They are teaching people to do things which are against the law to listen to or to follow as Romans.”

Deliverance from prison

22 While the crowd rose up against them, the militia tore off Paul and Silas’ clothing and ordered they be beaten. 23 And when they had been thoroughly whipped, the militia cast them into prison, ordering the jailor to keep them secure. 24 The jailor, receiving such a serious order [and wondering how dangerous they might be], moved them to the innermost part of the prison, and secured their feet in the stocks.

Deliverance from prison

25 Around midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God, and the other prisoners heard them. 26 Suddenly, there was a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, and immediately the doors all opened and the everyone’s shackles were loosened. 27 Waking up, the jailor saw the doors of the prison open, so he drew out his sword and would have killed himself, since he was sure the prisoners must have left. [He would have been held responsible and paid with both torture and execution.]

28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, “No, don’t hurt yourself! We are all here!” 29 Then the jailor called for a lamp and rushed in [to their cell] and, trembling, prostrated himself before Paul and Silas. 30 Bringing them out [from their cell], he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And Paul and Silas said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and his household. 33 That same hour, he cleaned their wounds [from their earlier beating], and he and all of his family were baptized. 34 When he brought them into his house, he set before them a meal. And his whole house rejoiced, believing in God!

35 When it was the next day, the commanders sent their sergeants, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailor said this to Paul, “The militia has sent orders to release you. Now, please be free and go in peace.” 37 But Paul replied to those present, “They have beaten us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and they threw us into prison, and now they secretly release us? No, let them come themselves and lead us out!”

38 The sergeants told the commanders these words and when they heard that they [Paul and Silas] were Roman citizens, they were afraid. 39 So, the commanders came to Paul and Silas, asked their pardon, and led them out and requested they leave the city. 40 Paul and Silas left the prison, and went back to Lydia’s house, and when they had reassured the brother believers, they left the city [heading west for the next destination God would take them to][Even though Timothy and possibly Luke accompanied Paul and Silas, they were not considered leaders, so they were not included in the punishments that Paul and Silas endured.]

Discussion questions

1. Was Paul being a hypocrite to have Timothy circumcised, when in fact the church leaders in Jerusalem did not require non-Jewish believers to be circumcised? Why was Timothy willing to do this?

Acts Chapter 16 discussion questions

2. The Holy Spirit was not allowing Paul and his team to minister in northern Turkey, but Paul did receive an invitation in the spirit to go to Macedonia. Have you ever felt blocked from ministering in one place only to feel God’s favor or invitation to minister in a different place? How did you respond?

3. Why was Paul angry about the serving girl declaring that his team were servants of God? Can someone be controlled by evil even if they appear to be saying something true?

4. When Paul brings the jailor to salvation, how could Paul promise that the jailor’s family would be saved as well. Do you think this invitation would apply to young children as well, leading to infant baptism?

Acts Chapter 17

Acts Chapter 17

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica

After passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia [west of Philippi], they came to Thessalonica [then a crossroads port city in Macedonia but today a major city of Greece], where there was a Jewish synagogue. In Paul’s usual manner, he went into the synagogue for three Sabbath Days and reasoned with them about the scriptures. He presented and reasoned [to the Jews], “The Anointed One had to suffer [a cruel death] and then rise from the dead. The one I am preaching about is the Anointed One, Jesus. [This is not theoretical – this actually happened. He sent me here to preach about him.]

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica

Some of them were convinced and joined Paul and Silas, including a large group of Greek believers [who had been converted to Judaism] and quite a few of the leading women. But the Jews [who did not believe] were jealous, so they gathered a mob from wicked men they found in the marketplace and caused a riot in the city. They attacked the house of Jason [where Paul’s team had been staying], demanding that they [Paul and Silas] be brought out to face the people.

But when the attackers didn’t find them there, instead they dragged Jason and others among the believing brothers in front of the city officials, claiming, “These are the men who have turned things upside down all over the world, and now they have come here, and Jason has kept them in his house. They are acting against the commands of Caesar, claiming there is another king named Jesus.” And this upset all the people and the city officials when they heard these things. After fines had been paid on behalf of Jason and the others, they were let go.

Paul and Silas in Berea 

10 The brother believers that very night arranged for Paul and Silas to leave the city heading towards Berea [towards the south]. When they arrived, they went to the synagogue. 11 The Jews there were more open than in Thessalonica, receiving the word with a willing mind, searching the scriptures daily to see whether the things Paul said were true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, including many Greeks, and quite a few noble women and men.

Paul and Silas in Berea

13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was now preaching the word of God in Berea, they came there also and stirred up trouble among the people. 14 At once the brother believers sent Paul away to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed there [in Berea]15 The men who took Paul [by boat] to Athens received [from him] instructions to Silas and Timothy to come join him as quickly as they could, so they departed.

Paul in Athens

16 While waiting for them in Athens, Paul was stirred in his spirit when he saw how completely idolatrous the city was. 17 Therefore, he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and those devoted to God, and daily in the marketplace with whoever came by. 18 There were also teachers [known as] Epicureans and Stoics who debated with him. [Epicureans were materialists who did not believe the gods intervened in daily life and accordingly emphasized sensual enjoyment. The stoics were equally indifferent to divine intervention but promoted acceptance and detachment from pain and pleasure as well as virtuous behavior.] Some of them said, “What is this man babbling about?” Others answered, “He’s talking about gods from other lands”. This was because he was preaching to them about Jesus and the resurrection.

Paul in Athens

19 They took him to Ares Hill [the place named after the Greek god of war where the Athenian Council met and decided what should be publicly aired] and said, “Would you explain to us this new doctrine you have been speaking about? 20 For some of the things you’ve brought to our ears seem strange, so we would like to know what you mean.” 21 All the Athenians and even the foreigners who were there spent their time doing nothing else than talking or listening about the latest new thing, [so their interest in Paul's teaching did not necessarily mean they were being drawn to Jesus].

Paul’s sermon to the Council of Athens

22 Now, Paul stood in the middle of the council at Ares Hill and said, “Men of Athens, I noticed as I was passing by that you are religious in all things. 23 I was considering your various objects of worship and I found an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown God’. The one you worship without knowing him I declare to you 24 is the God who made the world and everything in it. He is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in manmade temples. 25 Nor does he need anything we can make for him, for he himself gives us life and breath and everything we need. 

Paul's sermon to the Council of Athens

26 “And from one [man], he has made every people group that lives on the face of the earth, and he has set the times and boundaries of their dwelling places, 27 so that they might desire to know God, searching for him and perhaps finding him. Though he is not far from any of us, 28 since in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your poets[, for example Epimenides,] have said, ‘We are all his children.’ 29 And since we are his children, we should not think that God himself is anything like things shaped by the art and skill of man with gold, or silver, or stone. [God is our Father and wants to be in relationship with us.]

30 “And this time of not knowing [him up to now] has been allowed, but now God is commanding everyone everywhere to reform how they think [and to understand who God is]31 Because God has an appointed a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has chosen [Jesus], having given witness to that man by raising him from the dead [Romans 1:4].”

32 When they heard Paul speak about the raising of the dead, some made fun of him, but others said, “We want to hear about this again.” 33 So Paul left the council meeting. 34 However, some continued with him, believing. Among them were Dionysius (a council member), a woman named Damaris, and several others.

Discussion questions

1. Do you think Paul’s strategy to speak at synagogues to the Jews was effective even though he encountered stiff resistance in every city? What strategy has the Lord revealed to you or your church for reaching those who do not know the Lord in your city?

Acts Chapter 17 discussion questions

2. Would you say that there were different degrees of openness and/or resistance to who Jesus is in different cities? How would Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens rate in terms of openness or resistance? What factors do you think had an effect on people’s openness?

Acts Chapter 18

Acts Chapter 18

Paul’s establishment of the church in Corinth

After all this, [Paul] departed from Athens and arrived in Corinth [an important Greek port city which was the Roman provincial capital for all of Greece west of Athens]There he found a Jewish man named Aquila, born in Pontus, who recently had moved from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius [the Roman emperor] had commanded the Jews to leave Rome [possibly because of disturbances caused by traditional Jews against Christian believers]Paul came to them [Aquila and Priscilla] because they worked at the same trade [that he himself used to make money].  Paul stayed with them and worked with them, for they were tentmakers by trade.

Paul's establismen of the chuch in Corinth

And every Sabbath Day, in the synagogue, Paul reasoned and sought to bring to agreement both Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself to preaching the message to the Jews that Jesus was the Anointed One. [It seems likely that Silas and Timothy were able to support Paul so that he no longer needed to work at tentmaking to support himself.]

God’s encouragement of Paul

But they resisted and spoke against him, so he violently shook his robe [to indicate a lack of agreement] and said to them, “Your blood is upon your own heads, I am clean from it.[I have tried my best to help you see the truth.] From now on I will go to the non-Jewish peoples. He left them and entered the house of a man named Justus who worshipped God and lived next to the synagogue. And the chief leader of the synagogue, Crispus, came to belief in the Lord along with his whole family. And many of the Corinthians heard the message, believed, and were baptized. Then the Lord spoke in the night by a vision to Paul, “Don’t be afraid, but speak and don’t hold back, 10 for I am with you, and no man shall be able to oppose you to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And Paul continued there for a year and six months, teaching them the word of God.

God's encouragement of Paul

12 When Gallio was made the [Roman] governor of Achaia [the primary province of Greece], the Jews [saw their chance], banded together, and took Paul to court, 13 saying, “This man tries to get people to worship God in ways that are against the law [since the Roman law made the emperor a God].” 14When Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If this were a matter of some crime, irresponsible behavior, or evil that were done, I would have a reason to listen patiently to you Jews, 15 but since it’s a question of words, and names, and of your own law, you figure it out, for I will not judge matters like that.” 16 And he threw them out of court. 17 They all grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue [and ringleader of the Jews who were standing against belief in Jesus], and beat him up in front of the court. And this did not bother Gallio at all.

18 Paul stayed on with the believers in Corinth for quite a while, then said goodbye, and sailed from there to Syria, taking with him Priscilla and Aquila. Before they left from [the port city of] Cenchrea [next to Corinth], he shaved his head as part of a vow he made.

Paul’s initial visit to Ephesus

19 When he arrived in Ephesus [in western Turkey], he left Priscilla and Aquila there, but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When the Jewish people asked him to stay there longer, he wasn’t able to do so, 21 but instead said, “Goodbye [for now]. If it’s God’s will, I will return to you.” So, he sailed from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, [after] he went up and greeted the church there, he went back to Antioch [where he had begun his missionary travels].

Paul's initial visit to Ephesus

Paul’s third missionary journey

23 After he had spent some time there, he left and went again through the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples. [Having embarked on his third missionary journey, Paul and his team were revisiting places he had originally visited either in his first journey (Acts 14:6) or his second journey (Acts 16:6). We don’t know who went with Paul in this journey, but he had in mind getting back to Ephesus where he had just barely started the work of the Lord before the completion of his previous journey.]

Paul's third missonary journey

Apollos in Ephesus and Corinth

24 [Meanwhile in Ephesus,] there was a Jewish man named Apollos, born in Alexandria [Egypt], and who was both an eloquent speaker and powerful [in his knowledge] of the scriptures, who came to Ephesus [where Paul had left Priscilla and Aquila to lead the believers there only a few months earlier.] 25 This man had been taught the way of the Lord and he was passionate spiritually, 26 so he spoke and taught with accuracy the things of God. However, he only knew the baptism of John [not having heard the whole story of what Jesus had accomplished or about the baptism n the Holy Spirit].

Apollos in Ephesus and Corinth

26 Apollos began to speak boldly in the synagogue [in Ephesus]. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they spent time with him and taught him more completely the ways that God works [including all that Jesus had accomplished in fulfillment of God’s plan]. 27 And Apollos had in mind to go over to Achaia [Greece and Macedonia] as well to encourage the disciples there, so the brother believers [in Ephesus] wrote to the disciples [in Corinth and other Achaian cities] to receive him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who through God’s grace had become believers. 28 He was able with some passion to prove to the Jews in their public discussions of the scriptures that Jesus was the Anointed One. [This helped believers be more solid in their faith, but also helped remove the pressure from Jews who had previously believed that Christian faith was contrary to their Jewish beliefs until Apollos helped them see the truth.]

Discussion questions

1. When Paul arrived in Corinth, how did he support himself, and how did others help him earn funds?  What should the church’s attitude be for missionaries or other Christian workers' financial provision?

Acts Chapter 18 discussion questions

2. How much do you suppose it helped when Paul heard from the Lord that he didn’t need to hold himself back and that he would be protected? What eventually happened that confirmed this to Paul?

3. What roles did different leaders, such as Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos, play helping build up young churches?

Acts Chapter 19

Acts Chapter 19

Paul building up the church in Ephesus

While Apollos was in Corinth, it just so happened that Paul arrived in Ephesus after having travelled through the interior regions [the center of today’s Turkey]There he found some disciples [followers of Jesus], and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”. And they replied to him, “We haven’t even heard there is a Holy Spirit.” He said to them, “What was the object of your baptism?” They said, “We received John’s baptism [referring to John's baptism of repentance].” Paul said, “John’s baptism was for the turning away from sins, but he taught all the people that there was a man coming after him that they should believe in. He was referring to the Anointed One, Jesus.” When the men heard this, [they were willing to receive,] and they were now baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke with [spirit-given] languages and prophesied. There were twelve men in all.

Paul buildi up the church in Ephesus

[This episode makes several things clear. 1) When John the Baptist came on the scene twenty years earlier, he ignited a revival in the Jewish faith, which spread throughout the Roman empire, and included even bringing many Greek-speaking non-Jews into faith in God. 2) Baptism was how Jewish believers signified their willingness to turn from selfishness and sin towards God. 3) Shortly after John had come to Israel, Jesus came and the things he taught often were incorporated in the Jewish revival. 4) It was not until Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit that the new complete faith called Christianity was fully born. 

Starting from the time of the outpouring at Pentecost, believers in Jesus were baptized in the name of Jesus, and it was normal for them to receive an in-filling from the Holy Spirit when they were baptized. As part of their baptism, elders in faith laid hands on them for the impartation of spiritual gifts. This became the standard practice of Christians, but it took a while for believers in God everywhere and for leaders of small groups of believers to understand how it all worked. For instance, Priscila and Aquila had to explain this to Apollos. It was not surprising for Paul to find believers who needed the Holy Spirit and teaching about God. Paul recognized that receiving the Holy Spirit was essential to walking in faith, so it was one of the first things he asked when he first met believers in a new location. While Priscilla and Aquila may have explained the Holy Spirit to some individuals, it took Paul’s boldness to reach all the believers and begin to really build up the church.]

Teaching the word of God daily and performing miracles

Paul went into the synagogue and for three months discussed and sought to convince people about the kingdom of God [so they would come to faith in Jesus]But when some who were resistant to believing began to say evil about The Way [the name given to the pathway of following Jesus] in front of the congregation, he left the synagogue. Instead, he took the disciples [those who were ready to learn] and began holding discussion daily in the lecture hall of Tyrranus [a public auditorium used for teaching]

Teachin the word of God daily and performing miracles

10 This continued for about two years, so that all who lived in Asia [what is now the western half of Turkey] heard the word of the Lord [the truth about God, the lordship of Jesus, and God’s kingdom], both Jews and Greeks [non-Jews]11 God was performing unusual miracles through Paul. 12 [For example,] handkerchiefs or aprons that had been worn on his body were brought to the sick, and the sickness left them or evil spirits departed from them. [This is an indication that spiritual power and holiness are exchanged between people and the things that touch them. For instance, 1) Jesus’ saliva brought healing to those to whom he ministered, 2) The holiness of God even clings to bodies after the person dies, hence contact with Elisha’s dead body brought a person back to life, and saints’ bodies or “relics” have shown to have the power to bring healing throughout history, 3) Therefore, it is not surprising that those things worn by Paul had power associated with them.]

Importance of knowing Jesus when using his name

[Because of Paul’s great success and reputation for power and authority over darkness through using the name of Jesus,] 13 there was a group of Jews who claimed to be exorcists, who spoke to evil spirits using the name of Jesus [to attempt to cast out the spirits from afflicted people]. They would say, “We command you, through Jesus, the one who is proclaimed by Paul.” [They would use the name of Jesus as a magical formula, not as ones who walked in his delegated authority, as his followers.]

Importance o knowing Jesus when usng his name

14 There was a Jewish man named Sceva, who was a priest of some rank and authority, having seven sons who were [among the group of self-styled exorcists] who were doing this [using the name of Jesus to try to cast the evil spirit out of a man]15 But the evil spirit answered them, “I know about Jesus and I recognize [the authority of] Paul, but who are you? [You don't have authority over me.]” 16 And the man inhabited by the evil spirit jumped on them, overpowered and beat them, so that they escaped out of the house naked and wounded. [It is those who have become followers of Jesus who are inhabited by God and carry his authority (John 14:12, Luke 10:19).]

17 And this [story] was known to all the Jews and Greeks [non-Jews] living in Ephesus, so that fear fell on everyone and the name of the Lord Jesus became highly regarded.  [People realized that faith and allegiance to Jesus was no laughing matter. They now recognized that the name of Jesus was only to be used by those who followed him as Lord, and that it was indeed powerful when used by those who used Jesus’ name to walk in his authority, just as he intended.]

Evil and magic give way to the kingdom of God

18 [As a result,] many who [already] believed [in Jesus], came openly confessing and no longer hiding their [sinful] practices. 19 Many of them who had practiced magical arts collected and piled up the books [they had used] and burned them, and the value of them counted together was worth fifty thousand silver coins. 20 In this way the word of God grew in strength and power.

Evil and magic give way to the kingdom of God

21 After these things, Paul was thinking about traveling through Greece [Athens and Corinth] and Macedonia [Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea] on the way back to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there [Jerusalem], I need also to see Rome.” 22 [Instead,] he sent two of his apprentices, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed awhile longer in Asia.

Last gasp of idolatry in Ephesus

23 During that time period, once again there rose up no small uproar about The Way [of Christian faith and doctrine]24 For there was a man named Demetrius, who made silver models of the temple of [the goddess] Artemis, which brought [many of] the craftsmen no small profit. 25 Demetrius called together those who shared his profession, and said, “Men, you know that the only way we have to make money is through our craft work. 26 And I know you have seen and heard that, not only in Ephesus but through most of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that what we make with our hands are not gods. 27 Not only is our business in danger of evaporating, but there is danger that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be despised – the goddess worshipped in Asia and in all the world!”

Last gasp of idolatry in Ephesus

28 As the crowd heard these words, they were enraged, crying out, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!” 29 And the city was filled with an uproar, and they rushed as a mob into the theater [a public gathering place], having captured Gaius and Aristarchus, two Macedonians who were traveling with Paul. 30 And Paul would have entered in among the people if his disciples had allowed him. 31 Some of the provincial authorities of Asia [wealthy aristocrats who were appointed to handle public festivals for major cities and provinces but were accountable to Rome], who were his friends, sent to him messages asking him not to venture into the theater [because they knew this would cause a greater chaos].

32 The whole meeting was in an uproar. Some people were shouting one thing, others were shouting another. Most of them did not even know why they had come together. 33 And they drew Alexander out of the crowd, since the Jews had thrust him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand to begin a defense to the people. [The Jews apparently felt they were being blamed for Paul and his friends since The Way was seen as a sect within Judaism.] 34 But when the people saw that he was a Jew [by the way he looked and dressed], they cried out with one voice over a period of two hours, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!” 

35 Then the town clerk quieted the crowd, saying, “Men of Ephesus, everyone knows that the city of Ephesus is the keeper of the temple of the great Artemis and of that which fell down from heaven [a meteorite rock that fell from the sky and was seen as divine in origin].36 No one can deny these things! So, let everyone be quiet and not speak rashly. 37 You have brought these men here [to account for wrongdoing] but they are not temple robbers nor have they said evil things about our goddess. 38If Demetrius and his workers wish to accuse someone, the regular meeting place is open and officials can hear the charges. 39 But if there is something more you want, it needs to be considered in a legal assembly [of the citizens]40 For after what has happened today, we could be accused of inciting a riot. There is no excuse for such confusion, and we have no legal defense for it.” 41 With that, he dismissed the meeting.

Discussion questions

1. Why do you think Paul was so quick to ask the believers he met in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit? What is the connection between being baptized in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit?

Acts Chapter 19 discussion questions

2. Do you think there was a connection between Paul teaching daily and unusual miracles happening? In what ways was Paul’s ministry in Ephesus becoming like Jesus’ ministry?

3. In verse 17, the word says that Jesus’ name became highly regarded, but when the sons of Sceva tried to use Jesus’ name, it didn’t work for them. What important element is required for the name of Jesus to be powerful?

4. When the ministry of Jesus is performed by the church, then the occult and other religions no longer appear attractive. Why is the occult and Eastern and New Age religions so popular today?

Acts Chapter 20

Acts Chapter 20

Paul visits Macedonia and Greece on his way back to Israel

After the confrontation was over, Paul called his followers to him, hugged and said goodbye to them, and left for Macedonia. [Paul’s time in Ephesus of nearly three years was the longest he spent with any specific assembly of people. Now he was going to visit the assemblies he had planted in Macedonia and Achaia during his second missionary journey.] After traveling and visiting the various assemblies [in Macedonia], sharing with them words of encouragement, he traveled on to Achaia [Greece], where he stayed for three months. He was preparing to go to Syria [over the sea to his home church in Antioch], when he found out the Jews were plotting against him [with the intention to kill him], so instead he decided to go back [over land] through Macedonia.

Paul visits Macedonia and Greece on his way back to Israel

Those who went with Paul included Sopater from Berea, Aristarchus, Secundus, and Gaius from Thessalonika, Timothy from Derbe, and Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia.  [Timothy was from southern Turkey but had already been ministering in Macedonia. Berea and Thessalonika were both cities in Macedonia. Tychicus and Trophimus were from eastern Turkey (possibly Ephesus). It may be that all of them had been sent out by Paul as itinerant ministers to the churches in Macedonia and Greece. These men were Paul’s trophies of the fruitfulness of the work of God among the nations.] This group [by ship] went ahead of us [, a small team remaining with Paul and Luke still in Macedonia,] to Troas [the westernmost port of Asia].

Paul’s teaching in Troas and raising Eutychus from the dead

We [Paul and Luke] sailed from [Neapolis near] Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later we joined them [the rest of the team] in Troas, where we spent seven days. On the first day of the week [Sunday], when the people came together for the breaking of bread [a common meal including worship and sharing communion], Paul preached to the gathered assembly, intending to leave the next day. 

Paul's teaching in Troas and the raising Eutychus from the dead

His teaching continued until midnight, and there were many lamps in the upper room [making it hot and stuffy], where they were meeting. There was a young man named Eutychus sitting there in a window, who fell into a deep sleep, and as Paul’s preaching went long, as he slumped into sleep, he fell from the third story, and when they came to him, he was dead. 10 And Paul went to him and put his arms around him, saying, “Don’t be upset!  He's alive!” 11  Paul went back upstairs, shared in the breaking of bread [communion], ate, and talked [with them] a long while, until the break of day, when he departed. 12 And they [the church in Troas] brought home their young man alive, which encouraged them greatly.

13 We [most if not all of Paul’s team] proceeded to the ship and sailed to Assos [another coastal town in Asia (northwest Turkey) a few miles southeast of Troas], as Paul had directed us, since he had decided to walk and join us. [Perhaps he needed the alone time with the Lord.] 14 When he met us in Assos, we brought him aboard and then sailed on to Mitylene [the primary city of Lesbos, a Greek Island off the coast of Turkey, only a short distance south of Assos]15 The next day we passed [the Greek island of] Chios, and the following day we made it to [the Greek island of] Samos, and the day after arrived at Miletus [just south of Ephesus on the Turkish coast].

16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, not wanting to lose any time in the province of Asia, since he hoped to be in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost, if at all possible. [If he had gone to Ephesus, it would have been very difficult for him to leave quickly because of how long he had been with them and how close he was to so many.] 17 From Miletus, Paul sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him.

Paul’s final message to the Ephesian elders

18 When they came to him, he said to them, “You know how from the first day I came to Asia, the way I lived among you. 19 How, with humility and many tears, I have been the Lord’s servant, and the trials I underwent because of the plans of the Jews against me.  20 How I have not kept back from you anything that would benefit you, but instead I demonstrated it to you and taught you both publicly and house to house. 21 I have persuaded both Jews and Greeks [non-Jews] to change their way of thinking towards God and to turn with faith to our Lord Jesus.

Paul's final message to the Ephesian elders

22 “But now, look, I am compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and I don’t know what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit in every city has testified, saying that prison and persecution wait for me. 24 But none of what’s been prophesied affects me, for my own life is not important to me, except that I might finish the race and accomplish the ministry I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the good news of God’s kindness.

25 “I know that [, after this visit,] you will never see my face again, you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom. 26 So, I want you to remember this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men, 27 since I have not held back any of God’s purposes from you. 28 Pay attention then to yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you accountable, and care for God’s church which he has bought with his own blood!

29 “After I leave, [men who act like] fierce wolves will come among you, and they will not leave the flock alone [but will tear it apart by their self-serving ambition, manipulation, and erroneous teaching]30 Even from among yourselves, there will be men who show up twisting the truth and leading believers astray. 31 So, keep watch! Remember how I [set an example for you], for three years never stopped caring for every one of you to the point of tears and warning you [away from every temptation][So, you have a job to do as caretakers over God’s flock. Do not hold back but teach each person and the whole body all that they need to stand against falsehood and to walk in the kingdom!]

32 “I am turning you over to God [himself] and to his word of grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all the holy ones [who proceed you][God himself will teach you and watch over you and give you all that you need, which is what he promises to every believer.]

33 “I have desired none of the gold or silver or clothing [to signify authority or position] that others have. 34 You yourselves know that I have used my own hands to provide for my own necessities and those who ministered with me. [I have continued to work as a tent maker whenever we needed it for our provision. I haven’t depended on the church members but have paid for my own needs through tent making and by my interns' working on my behalf as well as their own.] 35 I have shown you in everything I have done that, by working hard, we help those in need. This should remind us of the words that Jesus himself said, ‘You’re more blessed by giving than receiving.’”

36 And when Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them to pray. 37 They were all weeping as they hugged him and kissed him with great affection. 38 They were saddest about the words he had said that they would never see him again. And they accompanied him to his ship.

Discussion questions

1.What was the value in v. 4 of Paul bringing with him recruits from the different churches/communities in Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia?

Acts Chapter 20 discussion questions

2. Have you ever fallen asleep when someone was preaching, to the point you could have fallen out a window? How do you think Paul felt when that happened? And yet what did he do about it?

3. If you were among the elders from Ephesus, how would you have felt when Paul said he would never see you again? What would you have thought when he said that “fierce wolves will come among you”? Have you experienced problems within a church after a long-time leader departed? What can you do in such cases?

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