2 Chronicles 28-36
The kings continue to be generally wicked, with a few faithful kings sprinkled in. This is the case with king Ahaz. God even continue to sends prophet after prophet. Truths like this make it impossible to say that God was not patient and careful in dealing with his people.
But, not all the kings are as wicked as Ahaz. King Hezekiah is generally seen as a good king. He knows that there have been funds for the upkeep of the temple that have not been used. He organizes the priests to do something about it. Hezekiah has them restore the temple as the funds allow. Because the temple is in good shape again, it has reinvigorated a desire to follow the festival calendar. After the temple is restored to good condition, the people practice the Passover. It might seem like a strange thing to mention such a regular practice, but it actually wasn’t that regular. When wicked kings reigned, and when good kings didn’t enforce it, the festival calendar, even the Passover, went ignored for years, or decades, at a time. Now that the temple is restored and the festival calendar is being address, Hezekiah clarifies the organizational structure of the priests. All of this, the most basic components of the religious life of Judah, has been ignored all this time.
Despite Hezekiah’s best efforts, the people do not remain faithful. As God had promised and warned about again and again, foreign nations will invade as punishment and discipline. That’s exactly what Syria does. King Sennacherib tells the people that their own king won’t fight him or defend them, so they might as well surrender. But seemingly for Hezekiah’s sake and for his own name, God defends Judah and casts out Syria. Hezekiah had, over time, become quite a prideful king. But with such a fearful incident, he humbles himself before God. He dies as a good king, and his son Manasseh takes his throne.
There are kings who fit the in-between category; one of those is Manasseh. He begins heading in the opposite direction of his father, and he rebuilds the faraway altars, or the high places, throughout the land. Syria/Assyria is still sore from their last defeat, and because God is still having his prophets ignored, he send Syria in again to discipline and punish Judah for the violations of the covenant. But in this case, discipline had its intended effect. Manasseh repents of his own sin and restores the covenantal worship practices in the temple.
In almost a passing sort-of note, we’re told that Manasseh’s son Amon becomes king when Manasseh dies. But he is so wicked that even the people want him dead, so they take matters into their own hands.
Since Amon is killed so soon after taking the throne, his son Josiah becomes king at age 8. He will be a good king, however. Like few before him, he will restore temple worship. There are unused temple-restoration funds, so he orders the priests to make use of them. During those days of restoration, the book of the law is found, which is likely Deuteronomy (or at least sections of it). Think of it—all this time, for God knows how long, no one has seen, known about, or read the books of Moses!
When the book of the law is read to Josiah, he weeps for Israel and the glory of God. They have been fools before God, worshiping the idols of the nations around them. Though he is restoring the temple, the people are not responding in faithfulness. The prophetess Huldah meets with Josiah and foretells of Judah’s destruction. Josiah calls the people to faithfulness, and they make a covenant (which is better interpreted as covenant renewal) with God to be faithful to the law. But we have been down this road ever since Moses brought the tablets down the mountain.
As before, the Passover is celebrated after a time of ignoring it. Why does the Passover keep getting mentioned, out of all the festivals? This is likely because since the Passover looks back to the exodus from Egypt, they need to remember more than ever that they will be exiled and cast back into slavery if they remain unfaithful. They will be cast into exile, awaiting another exodus. That will be a major theme once we get to the prophets.
Josiah is killed in battle. We’re told that Jeremiah lamented his death. Jeremiah is the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote both the book of Jeremiah and like the book of Lamentations.
Josiah’s son Jehoahaz is made king. In keeping with the prophecy to Huldah, Egypt invades Judah and demands tribute. In the ancient world, tribute was essentially a fee you paid to a more powerful nation to not destroy you. Pharaoh Neco removes Jehoahaz and installs Eliakim as king and brings him to live in Egypt. Neco (or Necho, or Nico) is well attested to in writings and artifacts from the ancient world as being the pharaoh of Egypt at the same time as Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.
It’s at this time that Nebuchadnezzar sacks Jerusalem. He installs his own king, Zedekiah, who eventually rebells against him. God sends more unnamed prophets; every morning he wakes up and send another prophet that the people dismiss or kill. Again, God is not careless or impatient with his people. We read, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 38:15). Jerusalem is burned to the ground, and many are taken away into captivity in Babylon. But we read about a spark of hope in God keeping his promises by moving the heart of King Cyrus in letting his people return to Jerusalem, but not yet. God is upholding the safety of his people and the glory of his name.
2 Chronicles ends with the reminder that God would not totally destroy faithless Israel; he would always preserve a remnant, along with all the corresponding components of religious life. During the almost 70 years of exile, the empire of Persia took control of Babylon. So the Jews went from Judahites to Babylonians to Persians. Nebuchadnezzar is gone, but he will come back up in the book of Daniel.
Cyrus, king of Persia, was simply the means by which God preserved his remnant. Cyrus decreed that all of those who wanted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple could do so. They could even take the previous metal vessels back with them.
In that day, it was believed that all deities were local. Why couldn’t Cyrus just let the Jews build a temple in Babylon? Because that’s not where he thought the God of the Jews vested his authority. So he permits the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem to appease the God of the Jews. But note, he’s not freeing anyone. No matter how far they are from Persia, the Jews are still considered exiles. Chapter 2 gives us a census of sorts, showing that of all the people in exile, only about 50,000 returned to Jerusalem. No explanation is given here, but in the book of Jeremiah we might get some clues. Jeremiah tells the people to settle, have families, and work hard. Also, some of the people who were children when exile began are now too old and frail to make the journey. Those that do go back in their advanced age will weep when they see that the second temple pales in comparison to the glory of the first.
When the first group arrives back in Jerusalem, the priests begin to immediately rebuild the altar. Once that’s complete, they start the basics of the sacrificial system. Instead of hearing about the Passover, we are now told that they kept the Feast of Booths. This festival was designed to remind them of their time in the wilderness after the exodus. They lived in makeshift, temporary structures to endure the wilderness. Now that they are in exile, even back in Jerusalem, they start by living in makeshift, temporary structures. They are in the wilderness, regardless of their physical location. Prophecies from the major prophets and the book of Daniel go into greater detail about how this is a wilderness and how one-yet-to-come will put an end to it.
After two years, they are ready to start the process of rebuilding the temple. The priests build the foundation and hold a ceremony to celebrate. But this will not continue without persecution and opposition. There are some in Israel, or Samaria, who insist they want to help rebuild the temple in order to worship there. But the Jews know better. They do not worship the same God, and they will not participate in the worship of idols. So these Samaritans bribe the new king Artaxerxes and other officials to stop the building of the temple. If they finish the temple, they will rebuild the city. And if they rebuilt the city, they will most certainly rebel against their oppressors in Persia. Artaxerxes responds by commanding that work on the temple cease. For the time being, the Jews abide by that order.
Festus has explained Paul’s situation to King Agrippa, so Agrippa is ready to hear from Paul. Paul is brought before Agrippa to give an account of who he is, his conversion, and a short summary of the gospel. There is one gospel, and it was preached even from the prophets and Moses. There are frameworks of interpretation, such as dispensationalism, that attempt to make it so that there were different objects of faith in different dispensations. For instance, in the dispensation of the law (the time when Jews were expected to keep the Mosaic law), the object of faith was the law. But Paul unequivocally says here that there is one gospel by which men are saved, and it has been preached even during the time of the law.
Agrippa’s wife, Bernice, was a Jew. By this time in his life, he had acquired a good amount of knowledge about Judaism. Because of that, Agrippa can keep up with Paul’s argument. He even thinks that Paul is trying to convert him to Christianity right then and there! During these hearings, Agrippa and his council can find nothing with which to charge Paul.
So it’s off to Rome he goes, along with his companions, to include Luke (27:1). Paul warns the crew of the ship that there will be danger because of the weather. It doesn’t appear that Paul is even prophesying; he’s simply reading the skies. But he is ignored; after all, even though he’s on his way to meet Caesar, he’s still considered a prisoner. While they are at sea, Paul receives a word from an angel confirming that there will be no loss of life. Even though Paul is assured of God’s sovereign hand over the upcoming events, he still must warn the crew to do what he tells them to. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility must be held together in an unbroken relationship.
Two weeks after setting sail, with two weeks of bad weather, they are finally about to shipwreck. They are preserved by throwing the cargo overboard, lightening the load of the ship. Paul is not the only passenger who is also a prisoner. The soldiers in charge of the prisoners decide to kill all of the prisoners so they are not charged with letting any prisoners get away. However, the centurion in charge of the soldiers is friendly with Paul and refuses to let his men do that to any of the prisoners.
They make it to an island called Malta. One of the first things Paul does is get bit by a snake. The natives of Malta, a civilized society, believe that Paul is guilty of some great sin to have been bit like that. However, he survives with no problems. So instead of thinking Paul is some great sinner, they now think he’s some great god.
A man named Publius was the chief of the island. He welcomes at least Paul and his company into his home. He allows them to stay with him until they can leave. Publius’s father is there as well, and he is deathly ill. In an act of mercy, Paul is able to heal him, winning even more of Publius’s and the peoples’ favor. They stay for three months and are granted all the supplies they will need to get to Rome. Even in the midst of a near-fatal shipwreck, God has supplied all that was necessary to accomplish his divine will.
As Paul continues to sail to Rome, he is greeted by some fellow Christians in a port along the way. He stays with them for a week. The gospel is spreading! Upon landing in Rome, he is able to have an audience with the elders of the Jews. As was the case in just about everywhere else he went to preach, there were those who believed and those who increased in their hardness of heart. He tells them what he has told the Jews everywhere else: he will now spend his time focusing on preaching to the Gentiles. Paul stays there for two years, supporting himself the whole time.
We’re not told how Paul’s life ends. There is a tradition that says he was beheaded in the mid 60’s. It also seems as though he never made it to Spain as he hoped. Rome would be his last stop. So why does Acts not tell us how Paul’s life ends? Well, much like the abrupt ending of the gospel of Mark, we might we wise to ask ourselves why the book ends the way it does and why that might matter.
Perhaps in contrast to the gospel of Mark, Acts ends on a high note. Paul didn’t just die in Rome; he lived in Rome for two years. And not only that, but during those two years, by the Spirit’s power, he proclaimed the kingdom of God and all that Christ taught “without hindrance.” He didn’t pull any punches. Hindrance is not the same as opposition. In the face of opposition, the powerful message of the cross will not be hindered. Paul fought until the end. And during those two years, he also wrote several letters, four of which we know. His “prison epistles” are Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. Instead of focusing on the drama of his death, Luke focused on the growth of the kingdom, as should we.
The apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans right before the midpoint of his missionary activity. 1 Thessalonians would have been first, around AD 52, and 2 Timothy would have been last, around AD 67. Romans is typically placed around AD 57. He’s probably in Corinth when he writes Romans.
Unsure if he’ll get to Rome, Paul writes to reconcile the Jewish and Gentile Christians. The emperor Claudius had kicked out the Jews, regardless of their relationship to Christianity, between the years of AD 49-54. Once that edict ended, the Jews who returned to Rome found themselves in a purely Gentile church governed by Gentile sensibilities and preferences. As one might imagine, this was an environment ripe for infighting.
Paul begins by saying how happy he is to be able to write to Christians in Rome; in the most pagan city in the world, God has people. He insists that the same gospel saves both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). The only thing that saves us, regardless of our heritage, is the righteousness of God given to us through faith. It makes no difference if we are Jews, Greeks, Hoosiers, or Canadians; if we are in Christ, we are one. That is not accomplished by the law of the Jews or the ignorance of the law of the Greeks. It is only won by Christ and his righteousness. To make his point stick, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, showing us that even if the Greeks had no prior knowledge of the Old Testament, it was where the gospel was first preached.
Why is this righteousness necessary? Because God is preparing to pour out his wrath on unrighteousness. Mankind is unrighteous because we “suppress the truth.” No one weighs all the facts, meditates on them, and comes to the conclusion that there is no God. It is not an intellectual decision. It is a posture of the heart. “The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). So no one is truly ignorant of the existence of God. We simply refuse to act on it in order to satisfy our sinful desires. No intellectual, social, or emotional reason is enough for a debased mind to turn from their sin and turn to God.
Because of that, Paul says God has permitted man to live according to his own desires. God gave us up to our lusts: to impurity and dishonor. We turned from natural things to unnatural things. Men and women turned from natural passion for the complementary gender to unnatural passion for the same gender. God permitted these things to happen because we have denied the clear truth of God for the lies of the adversary. Every person who has ever been born knows God’s righteous decrees concerning the law; and not only do we do those things we know we ought not to do, but we give others permission to follow us in our sins. Do not let the false confidence and condescending tone of those who practice these things and permit these things to fool you.
2 Chronicles 11-27
The remainder of the book focuses almost entirely on Judah, because that is where most of the religiously significant events take place. The covenants that have come down the line from Abraham, Moses, and David will continue to be fulfilled through the faithful remnant in the southern kingdom of Judah. Chapter 10 ends with, “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.”
Rehoboam wants to rule harshly, and he ostracizes those Israelites who are farthest from him. The kingdom splits in response. And we see here the importance of reading Kings and Chronicles together. In 1 Kings 11, the prophet Abijah tells Jeroboam that he will reign over the northern ten tribes. Jeroboam is a skilled artisan in charge of the temple workers. Because of this prophecy, Solomon wanted to kill Jeroboam, so he fled to Egypt.
Now with Solomon dead and his son Rehoboam coronated, Jeroboam returns to Jerusalem to confront Rehoboam with his oppressive tactics. Because the religious life is primary, it’s important to us that Jeroboam removed all of the legitimate priests from the northern kingdom once he created his own throne. The priests flocked to Jerusalem, along with those people (read, the remnant) who truly loved and obeyed the Lord, “the god of their fathers,” David and Solomon.
But for all the priestly presence, Rehoboam continued in disobedience. The nation of Egypt came in and sacked Judah as a divine judgment. Though Rehoboam was generally judged as evil at the end of his life, we do see here a moment of humiliation that led to a successful and peaceful Judah for a period of time. It is proof that humility before God leads to peace.
Rehoboam’s son Abijah reigns in his place. The only mention of Abijah is 2 Chronicles is a major battle where half as many of Abidjan’s men defeat Jeroboam’s men. It is evidence, again, of the faithful remnant in the south. Of the 800,000 of Jeroboam’s men, only 300,000 walked away. God is defending his own name by defending his people.
When Abijah dies, his son Asa becomes king. Asa will be a generally good king, but the focus is still on the covenant God made with David. David will have a son on the throne. Asa begins in a faithful manner, but he does not end so well. Throughout all of these kings, the point is to see God’s faithfulness amidst his peoples’ faithlessness. He does begin a series of reforms by destroying the idols in the land of Judah and Benjamin. We’re told that he entered into a covenant with God, but this is really a covenant renewal. There is no additional “Asaianic” covenant. Covenant renewal is a common Old Testament theme, so it is fitting that it appears in a book about religious interpretation of history. But the good things that Asa does stand out among his fellow kings.
During the final days of Asa’s reign, his contemporary in Israel, Baasha, builds up some critical cities to keep Judah from selling and trading. Asa enlists Ben-hadad king of Syria for help. He convinces Ben-hadad to break any covenant or treaty with Israel so that Israel is forced to retreat. Because Asa sought help from foreign kings instead of God, God will make Asa’s last days full of war.
Scripture continues on listing out the history of Judah’s king’s. Some of the kings truly sought the Lord and sought to reform the religious life of Judah. Jehoshaphat “walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices for Israel” (2 Chronicles 17:3-4). The religious significance is that idolatry was tampered down, the king obeyed the law, and the southern kingdom was not like the northern.
We even see collaboration between north and south for a moment. King Ahab in the north seeks out help from Jehoshaphat in the south against Syria. It is a gesture of goodwill from Jehoshaphat, but it turns out to be judgment on Ahab. The prophets tell Ahab that this is a design from God to draw Ahab out into a battle to remove him from the throne. Ahab is a schemer, so he disguises himself to hide from the king of Syria, who has told his army to only go after Ahab and no one else. God actively protects Jehoshaphat and sends a “random” arrow between Ahab’s armor.
The collaboration between north and south was not the good that God intended. The Chronicler wants to make sure that we see the northern kingdom of Israel has truly turned into a pagan society. They hate God. Jehoshaphat found out there is such a thing as practicing discernment in generosity. It may be difficult, but not everyone is in need of your help. This awakening sends Jehoshaphat into reform mode. He sets us good judge to ensure the law of God is practiced justly and courageously. God blesses the kingdom with military protection and goods.
Jehoram was a wicked king who brought the judgment of God on his people. He rebuilt the altars used for idol worship throughout the land. The prophet Elijah to tell Jehoram that God’s judgment will be in the form of a plague on the people and his own family. Jehoram himself will become so sick that he dies. He’s the only king who gets the epithet, “And he departed with no one’s regret” (2 Chronicles 21:20). This is the result of idolatry.
Jehoram’s son Ahaziah follows in his father’s footsteps, as if he had learned nothing. But in that day, in the pagan world, a new king meant that a new god could be worshiped. The king stood in the “image” of a god. So if Ahaziah simply changed the name of the god or gods whom the people worshiped, we understand, at least intellectually, why he made the same mistakes. He refused to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and instead chose to worship a false god.
Athaliah’s mother wants him to be king instead of the rightful king, Joash. But Joash’s sister hides him to protect him until he’s older. Seven years later, Joash’s family forms an alliance with the priests and commanders to remove Athaliah from the throne. He is executed, and Joash becomes king at seven-years-old. The rightful king is now in place. The Davidic dynasty is a promise.
Joash is a good king and begins repairing the temple, which has sat in disuse while wicked kings practiced idolatry. The only stain on his reign that’s mentioned is his refusal to stand up for the priest Zechariah. Zechariah had preached against the sin of the people, the people revolted, and Joash permitted the people to stone him. In judgment, God permits the Syrian army to kill Joash. When the king permits the people to live in sin, one can hardly expect anything other than God’s judgment. The religious implications are that preaching must not hide from naming sins found among the people, and those in authority must not prevent that from happening.
Amaziah, much like many other kings, begins well. He follows the law of Moses and calls the people to do so, as well. He is noted as a courageous king who can capture thousands of enemies. But after a series of successes, Amaziah becomes full of himself and begins worshiping false gods. He wants to be the same as the nations around him, so he sets himself up as one who bears the image of pagan gods. But in his patience, God sends a prophet to call him to repentance. Instead of repentance, Amaziah interrupts the prophet and threatens to kill him. Now the prophet simply pronounces God’s judgment which will not change; God will destroy Amaziah. God’s judgment will come swiftly.
Amaziah seems to want to fight the northern kingdom. Israel does not want to fight, so king Joash of the north tells Amaziah to go home. But “it was of God”, so Amaziah insists on fighting, and he loses dreadfully. Joash wipes the temple treasury clean and takes home gold and silver. He returns home wealthier than when he came. Judah is defeated.
Amaziah’s life ends in destruction, as God promised. The people are furious that their king has led them to a slaughter. He flees, but they pursue him and kill him. But because he was a king, as with all the others, he was buried with the other kings.
And because of the covenant nature of Jerusalem’s king, he must be in the lineage of David. It is right that Amaziah’s son Uzziah become king. Like Joash, he was a young king, only sixteen years of age. Zechariah is still a prophet, as he was with Uzziah’s father. Under the guidance of Zechariah, Uzziah sought the Lord. He rebuilt major cities and his military, all the things you expect a king to do. But in a time of peace, he grew prideful.
Since the time of David, no king would also be a priest. Those who were two distinct roles fulfilling different purposes. Combining them would usher in a host of problems. But Uzziah took it upon himself to burn the priestly incense in the temple. He was not content to have governmental authority; he wanted religious authority, as well. Pride always convinces us that we deserve more. What’s interesting is that there seems to be no initial disciplinary measure besides being told of his wrongdoing. But Uzziah is angry, and it’s only when he became angry with the priests did he show to have leprosy. It was clear this was a judgment of God, and he was leprous for the rest of his life. There could hardly be a more embarrassing situation for a king, whose entire life was public. Now he must seclude himself. He would remain king, but his son Jotham served in the name of his father. When Uzziah died, he was buried away from the other kings because of his leprosy. The prophet Isaiah mentioned in 26:22 is the same prophet who wrote the book of Isaiah. But the book mentioned is not this prophetic book but another one we do not have. Isaiah received his call to be a prophet in the final year of Uzziah’s life (Isaiah 6:1).
Jotham’s reign is given little attention. But it is clear that he is to seen in stark contrast to his father. It is to Jotham’s credit that he receives such a commendation from the Chronicler. He lived a holy life, took care of the city and the people, and was rewarded by God through the generosity of foreign nations.
Paul goes to Jerusalem, visits James, arrested in the temple, speaks to the people, before the tribe, before the council
Paul is head for Jerusalem. He knows that there will persecution if he goes, but he cannot disobey the Holy Spirit. He would rather die that drive the Spirit of God. This becomes even more difficult for him, because his peers do not want him to go. They are well aware of the intentions of the Jews in Jerusalem. A prophet even confirms what Paul already knows: this is the beginning of the end for him.
In Jerusalem, it makes sense that Paul would want to visit with the elders of the church. There is still some resentment among the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles Christians are not required to keep the Jewish law. But neither are the Jewish Christians! The problem is that it would be difficult to say that both groups are Christians, but the very thing that has been the core of your identity is no longer in force. You, as a Jew, might feel as though your whole life has been a sham. So to assuage the resent of the Jewish Christians, the Jerusalem elders have Paul pay for the sacrifices that would normally end a vow taken by a Jew of some of the local Jewish Christians. Paul is happy to do so. He will not unnecessarily offend anyone.
The paying of vows takes place with the priests in the temple. Some non-Christian Jews see him enter with these four men, and they think he is bringing unclean Gentiles into the temple. This would of course normally be a great violation. But they are simply confused, or they might be attempting to get rid of Paul. If it’s no longer necessary to obey the law, so they think Paul says, then it stands to reason he’s laissez faire about who can go in the temple, as well.
From this point on, Paul is on the defensive. “All the city was stirred up, and the people ran together” (21:30). A mob forms because of the lies being spread about Paul. When a lack of order erupted, the Roman soldiers took over. One of the soldiers in charge is surprised that Paul knows Greek, but he’s even more surprised to find out that Paul is a Roman citizen. All Paul wants to do is address the Jews who started the mob, and the Roman tribune permits him to do so.
Paul this this opportunity to recount the Lord meeting him on the road to Damascus. The people are willing to entertain Paul’s history, to a point. Once he mentions that he’s been sent to preach to the Gentiles, insinuating they are equal before God with the Jews, they can stand it no longer. They want him dead. The Jews get the centurion holding custody of Paul to beat him, but Paul again tells this man that he’s a Roman citizen. Beating a citizen was not permitted, so if the centurion and tribune continued, they would possibly be in danger of losing their own lives. The most they can do is detain him.
The tribune is flabbergasted as to why Paul is causing such a hysteria. He seems to be meek, not saying anything that is worthy of the mob. As he’s before the Jewish council, Paul takes off the gloves. Though he should not have spoken so harshly to a priest, he is right to call him a whitewashed wall—clean on the outside, dead on the inside.
Paul finally gets to answer that he is on trial because of his message, that Jesus died and rose again. As if it wasn’t already heated enough, the two groups that made up the council, Pharisees and Sadducees, completely disagreed about the truth of the resurrection. The Pharisees affirmed the resurrection of the dead in the age to come while the Sadducees disagreed. The situation again turns violent, and the tribe gets Paul out of there. Let the Jews fight their own fights
Paul is reassured by the Lord himself. The confession of the faith is based not on feelings or emotions, but on facts. Christ tells him that Paul has “testified to the facts about me”. Nothing Paul has said was untrue. Christianity is based on objective truth, not experience or emotion.
But locking Paul won’t stop the mob from being a mob. They want him dead and will stop at nothing to accomplish that. Paul’s nephew catches wind of the plot and gets a message to him. Because of Paul’s Roman citizenship, the tribune knows that he must keep Paul safe at all costs. He’s already on thin ice by detaining him. He needs to get Paul out of there to keep him safe; also, Paul’s case is a bizarre one.
The tribune sends an entourage with Paul to the local governor, Felix. The tribune relates the short history he has with Paul in a letter. Not only will Paul get to address the governor, but so will his detractors. They will have a proper day in court. Paul is kept under close watch while everyone waits for the Jews to arrive.
Only the high priest, a spokesman, and a group of elders came to accuse Paul in court. They charge him, in front of Felix, with disrupting the peace and profaning what they held sacred. Paul is permitted to give a response. His basic argument is that even if the Jews don’t like what he has to say, he’s done nothing to disrupt the peace. If anything, these Jews are the ones disturbing the peace. Paul’s message lines up perfectly with their own Scriptures. Can the elders actually point to an instance of breaking the law, or are they just furious with Paul?
For two years, Paul is kept in prison. Well, his prison is more of a light house arrest. Basically, Paul is determined to not be a flight risk. Felix had a basic understanding of Christianity, so he wasn’t going to be too hasty in making a decision. He liked what Paul had to say. Now what Paul has to say is beginning to alarm him. Not only will there be a resurrection, but the resurrection precedes the final judgment. But Felix’s wife was Jewish, so he’s not going to completely disregard the Jews in this case. He’s going to leave Paul is prison so as not to aggravate them.
Another group of priests and elders of the Jews attempt to kill Paul. They want to ambush him. Festus takes over after Felix leaves office. Festus wants to meet Paul, as well. It is in this travel time that the ambush has been planned, so Paul is given plenty of security on the way. Paul again argues for his innocence and the truth of the gospel message. He’s getting impatient after these couple of years on house arrest, because no official charges have been laid against him. So he finally insists that his case go to Caesar. His life is in danger, and no one cares to do anything about it.
Nothing in government moves too quickly, then or now. Paul is still waiting to go to trial before Caesar when King Agrippa (kind of like a governor of governors) and his wife Bernice visit Festus. Festus tells Agrippa about Paul, and he peaks Agrippa’s interest. Soon, Paul will relate the same essential testimony again to Agrippa.
Psalm 146: Trust in the Lord, not any earthly power.
Psalm 147: God cares for those who have been brought low.
Psalm 148: All of creation will praise the Lord.
Psalm 149: God will bring justice to the earth.
Psalm 150: Praise God for all that he has done!
1 Chronicles 25-29
The books of Chronicles are primarily focused not on exact history but on the religious significance of that history. We shouldn’t be surprised when there are lengthy sections that deal with the temple, which was the center of all religious activity for Israel. The musicians would worship in song during the time of daily sacrifices. The temple musicians were skilled singers and instrumentalists. The leader of the musicians trained the other musicians.
These musicians were not just volunteers; they were chosen from among the Levites, the tribe who were already chosen to be priests. They were experts in the law, and the music reflected theological accuracy, not just emotional expression. 1 Chronicles 9:33 tells us that they served day and night. If you’ve ever had professional musical experience, you understand the level of commitment and time required to become proficient. Music as entertainment has its place; that place is not in worship of God.
The gatekeepers shared similar responsibilities to what we might call a trustee. They guarded the entrances to the temple, as well as all that was inside. It was not just a security detail; they guarded the sanctity of God’s house. There were an incredible amount of details that went into the right worship of God, especially the sacrifices. The gatekeepers were charged with both the security of the temple as well as the necessary physical components of the entire system.
The temple required an extreme amount of organization. The priests also functioned as treasurers, officers, and judges. Like the priests, commanders of the army served for periods of time. This tempered the burden of serving in a role that required constant preoccupation.
Once the necessary temple officials are in place, David begins the final process of handing responsibility over to the officials and his son, Solomon. He calls all of those officials together to charge them to remain faithful to all that their duties will require. In the same place, David charges Solomon to also remain faithful. David knows that building a temple will not be a quick or painless process. Even if there is a plan and a host of officials already in place, no building project is without its opposition. Solomon must be confident in his kingship and lead the officials. The king will be the primary covenant-keeper in Israel. As the king goes, so goes the nation.
David’s final act is to pray over the people. David recognizes, finally, that everything he has comes from God’s good pleasure. All we do is give what he has given to us back to him as a measly offering. Can that rightly even be called a sacrifice?
Solomon is anointed a second time to confirm in front of everyone that his coronation is unchangeable. David has reigned for forty years, and now he dies. His life is summarized as “full of days, riches, and honor” (29:28). The author even recognizes that if a person wants a full accounting of David’s reign, he should look elsewhere. This is a purely religious document, outlining why the nation of Israel is in the state it is.
2 Chronicles 1-10
God offers Solomon anything; Solomon asks for wisdom and is given much more (1). Solomon makes preparations for the tempe (2). The temple is built and furnished (3-5). The ark is brought to the temple (5). Solomon dedicates the temple (6). God sends fire from heaven to consume the first sacrifice (7). The temple is fully dedicated, and Solomon prays (7). The author recounts Solomon’s greatness over the course of 20 years of building the temple (8). The queen of Sheba is in awe of Solomon’s greatness (9). Solomon dies (9). Rehoboam is anointed king (10). Jeroboam begins to undermine Rehoboam’s reign (10).
1-2 Chronicles were originally one document, later divided into two for readability. The division is neat and tidy; David dies at the end of 1 Chronicles, and Solomon begins his reign in 2 Chronicles.
We rightfully praise Solomon for asking for wisdom. But we should also recognize that it was God’s offer to give anything to Solomon that precipitated his request. Solomon has surely heard all about Saul’s spiritual disaster of a reign. He witnessed firsthand the problems that stem from a lack of self-control in a king in his father. In humility, he asks for wisdom to do better than his predecessors in spiritual matters. The author of 1-2 Chronicles wants us to see that it was God’s gift of wisdom that made Solomon so great, nothing inside of Solomon that he could claim as his own. To show how generous God is, God gives Solomon far more than he asks for. Much of it came from foreign lands, possibly signifying Israel’s role in both being blessed by the nations as well as being a blessing to the nations.
Because the temple is so central to what it means to be an Israelite, Solomon spends considerable time in preparation to build it, much like his father David. He calls for the best material and expert craftsmen. In an interesting note, Huram-abi of 2 Chronicles 2:13 is supposed patriarch of the fantasy-laden Freemasons. But that’s a post for another day.
Over the course of a few chapters, Solomon completes the construction of the temple. Like the building plan for the tabernacle in the wilderness, it is set in great detail. Of note is the description of the Most Holy Place. There is gold everywhere. Two cherubim, or angels who are given a guardian function, are incredibly ornate and covered in gold. Expensive blue and purple fabrics line the area. This is God’s earthly throne. We must be told how intricate and beautiful God’s dwelling place is. Take note of how often the quality of the materials is mentioned. God is worthy of the best.
Then the ark is brought into the temple. The moment is full of pomp. It is placed in the Most Holy Place, the sanctum sanctorum, under the wings of the cherubim. At this time, an innumerable amount of animals are sacrificed. Note that the priestly musicians are worshiping at this time, as well. These musicians were not leading a congregation in worship as we do in Sunday morning worship. They were simply given a charge to worship God in music because is worthy of it. A cloud is often used as an image of the presence of God. At the completion of the building of the temple, God fills his house with his presence. Much later, the prophet Ezekiel will see the presence of God leave the temple because of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Ezekiel 1). The temple will then be destroyed during the time of the exile. Once it is rebuilt, there is no mention of God’s presence filling the temple; that is, until Jesus Christ comes in the fullness of God. That is why Simeon and Anna are worshiping and praising God; he has come to fill his holy temple.
Solomon addresses the people with a brief historical reminder of what has brought them to this time and place. We should take note of how often biblical characters do this. History is context. Why are the people dedicating a temple? Because of their own desires or hard work? No; it is because God made a promise to Abraham, then to Moses, then to David. God is the living God of Israel. God makes and keeps his promises. God made a covenant with Israel on Sinai, and the evidence of it is kept in the ark in the Holy of Holies. There is no God like our God. Solomon’s prayer is that the people would turn to God in repentance when they sin and that God would settle in the Holy of Holies among his people.
The temple will serve as a type, or a foreshadow, of Jesus Christ. When he says that he will rebuild the temple, he is saying that upon his resurrection, he will actually be the temple (John 2:19). He will be the place where we worship God. When we come to Christ, we come to the temple. In the age to come, there will be no temple because Christ is our temple (Revelation 21:22).
For seven days, the people feasted and celebrated the presence of God in their midst. It’s at this time that God speaks to Solomon again. He warns Solomon that when the people neglect his house and sacrifices, or they practice this superficially or selfishly, he will close the skies and the ground so that nothing grows. But, in an act of mercy, if the people humbly repent, he assures Solomon beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will forgive them instantly. There is no question that God loves to forgive his people. God also makes a promise to Solomon that if he neglects his kingly responsibilities and the divine law, he will remove Solomon just as quickly. It will be a clear sign of kingly abdication.
But again, this is about religious instruction. The author shows us how awesome Solomon was, as a type of man who lives in a way that honors the Lord and as a man whom the Lord honors. Solomon is so great that exceptional people from foreign lands come just to witness his greatness, hence the Queen of Sheba. The greatness of the kingdom of Israel takes her breath away. Solomon is wealthy beyond measure. This is the end, however, of Solomon’s story, as far as the Chronicler is concerned. The major religious concerns have been told, and now it’s time to move on. Solomon’s death is quickly recorded. Like his father David, Solomon reigned for forty years.
Paul preaches again in Ephesus to some who are already disciples but have not heard of the Spirit (19). Paul stays for two years to preach and debate (19). A family of exorcists are overpowered by a demon, which leads to many withes, etc., to burn their books; the word of the Lord increases (19). A riot breaks out because of the damage done to the idol-making business (19). Paul goes to Macedonia; he preaches all night, and a young man falls asleep and then out of a window; he dies, but Paul is able to miraculously resuscitate him (20). Paul addresses the elders of the Ephesian church; urges them to guard against incoming wolves (20).
Paul’s missionary journeys continue. He finds himself in Thessalonica with his crew. For every warm welcome Paul receives, he receives two public stonings. Paul addressed the Jews of the city for three Sabbaths. They rejected the gospel, and a mob formed to throw them out of town. Instead of the Jews coming to faith, we’re told that many Greeks, both men and women, confess Jesus is Lord. Apparently, Paul’s message consisted primarily of how the Messiah would have to suffer before entering into his kingdom. That by itself is not so much the controversy. But think, how did the Messiah suffer? By whose hands did he suffer? We might understand why the Jews took offense. Regardless, they refused to believe.
We’re not given hardly any information about Jason. But suffice it to say that the original readers surely knew who he was, or his place in the story would have made no sense. This is one of the many evidences for the reliability of the Scriptures. The original readers did not challenge either the historicity of the events or the reality of the characters.
After preaching to the Gentiles (and presumably setting up a church), Paul and company leave for Berea. The Bereans are noteworthy because of their insistence upon corroborating Paul’s gospel with the Scriptures, or the Old Testament. The New Testament commends the Bereans for doing so. This means that we should also search the Old Testament for Christ. All of Scripture is a single story of God’s redeeming plan for creation. Some interpretive frameworks, such as dispensationalism, overextend the discontinuity between the testaments/covenants. On the other hand, interpretive frameworks such as covenant theology overextend the continuity. It is enough o say that Christ is concealed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament.
Nota Bene: I have found the interpretive framework of “progressive covenantalism” to be a compelling way of reading the Scriptures as a whole. God progressively works his plan of redemption through the successive covenants, culminating in the new covenant in Christ’s blood. I have some excellent book recommendations for those who are interested.
Paul reaches Athens and addresses many of the philosophers in the town square. Many of them are not impressed with Paul or his message, calling him a “babbler” (17:18). Some theologians have taken the snippet of Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 to the Greek philosophers as evidence that we do not need to turn people to Jesus, per se, just to God. It’s a way of softening the exclusivity of Christianity. But that attempt falls on its face, because in 17:18, Luke clearly tells us that Paul preached “Jesus and the resurrection.” What we have here is only a summary statement of Paul’s sermon, not a transcript. When we share the gospel, we preach Christ and him crucified.
Again, Luke makes note of both men and women coming to faith in Christ. Why does Luke keep adding the short phrase, “and not a few women,” to his narrative? He is showing that while faith in Christ is exclusive, it is also inclusive. Christ is the only way to the Father, but all people are called to repent of their sins equally. While some arguments are horrendously overblown, it is true that women were often second-class citizens in Greek/Roman/Western cultures. Christianity exploded primarily because of the Spirit’s work, but secondarily because of the inclusive message of redemption.
Paul continues to move about and preach to both Jews and Gentiles. But the Jew continue to reject Christ. Finally Paul tells them that they have judged themselves, and their blood is on their own hands. There are times in the life of the church when we shake the dirt off of our feet and move on, as heart-wrenching as it may be. We are most faithful when we honor the gospel.
As the Jews attack Paul, they attempt to involve the civil authorities. They approach the proconsul Gallio. A consul is a government leader an emperor puts in a place of authority in a location far from the center of the empire to be the emperor’s eyes and ears, and a proconsul is something of a deputy of the consul. Bureaucracy is nothing new. Don’t be surprised when those who hate the gospel use every tactic they can. Even today, there are those who wish to use the full force of the state and federal government to silence the gospel message.
One man Paul meets in Ephesus is Apollos. We’re told he’s from Alexandria, which is not a small detail. Alexandria was a significant center of education and philosophy in the ancient world. It was the ultimate cosmopolitan locale. You’ve probably heard of the famous library of Alexandria. This is Apollos’s hometown. He’s an exceptionally bright man. He’s a bold preacher. His problem is that his understanding of the things of God, the gospel, are unpolished. True intelligence is the ability to polish your thoughts so that they’re clear, and that’s exactly what Priscilla and Aquila do for Apollos.
Acts 19 is perhaps the greatest evidence that humor is a divine attribute. It contains one of my favorite stories in all of Scripture. These Jewish exorcists, the sons of Sceva, have a exorcism business. They have made quite a living doing so. These seven sons of Sceva begin to believe they can exorcise demons in Jesus’s name. In one attempt, they lose control of the situation. The demon says to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” There has never been a line in a movie as perfect as that. Immediately, the demon takes the lunch of each of the seven sons of Sceva, strips them naked, and sends them running through Ephesus. Go ahead and take a minute to enjoy that mental image.
This results in the magicians, witches, warlocks, sorcerer supremes, scarlet witches, and any other dark artists burning their books in the center of town. The value of those books was 50,000 pieces of silver. Inflation aside, that’s a huge amount of money. It’s not a surprise that this sparks a riot in Ephesus. A silversmith who made silver shrines is suddenly out of business. He gathers his fellow tradesmen together to riot against Paul and his cohort. There is another attempt to involve the government, but there just aren’t any charges that will stick. The Christians are good people who live in peace in the city, but that doesn’t stop their enemies from trying to destroy them because of the gospel.
The riot died down, and Paul left for Macedonia. He continues to strengthen the churches and evangelize. In one such instance when Paul is preaching, he goes a little long. It’s noteworthy that the Christians are gathering to hear the word preached on the first day of the week (20:7). This has been the case ever since Christians began meeting, to worship on the first day of the week, the Lord’s day.
Since Paul only has time to stay for one day, he wants to say everything he can. So, he goes well into the night. Eutychus, a young man, is doing his best to stay awake, but the day is long. He it sitting in a window sill, falls outs, and dies. Paul rushes down, picked him up, and he was resuscitated (resurrection is reserved the the end of the age).
Paul heads to Ephesus to continue strengthening the churches. While there, he addresses the elders/bishops/overseers. He urges to pay close attention to the people, their flock. One of an elder’s/pastor’s main jobs is to guard the flock from emotional and intellectual wolves. There will be teachers who try to twist the word of God to make it say what it clearly (or not so clearly) does not say. Their goal will be to draw away people from the faith once delivered to the saints. Your pastor’s job is to guard you from that happening through the preaching and teaching of the word, prayer, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper.
Psalm 141: I will keep from doing evil by seeking the Lord.
Psalm 142: The Lord is my peace.
Psalm 143: I am weak, but the Lord will guide me.
Psalm 144: The Lord blesses his people with all good things.
Psalm 145: God is great, everlasting, and righteous.
1 Chronicles 8-24
It’s worth repeating the the gospel is preached through historical record. We see God’s providence, guiding and directing all things to their appointed end. That is true of the the big picture, and it’s true of a single family’s genealogy, such as Benjamin’s in chapter 8.
It won’t be long before the nation of Israel splits into two kingdoms. The southern kingdom will consist of the tribes of Judah and most of Benjamin. These two tribes will be the kingdom that gets bombarded by Babylon. After king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon permits the exiles to return to Judah to rebuild, they are the descendants of those tribes. Those names are listed in chapter 9. Most important to the life of the religious community were those who could regather the people—the priests, Levites, and gatekeepers.
1-2 Chronicles can seem like they are random stories or histories thrown together without much thought. Chapters 1-9 are a genealogy that ends with the return from exile. Chapter 10 begins a new section going all the way back to the time of King Saul. And don’t 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings both describe this same time period?
The books of Chronicles are less concerned with a blow-by-blow historical account of Israel’s history and are more concerned with the religious implications of that history. You read comments like, “So Saul died for his breach of faith” (1 Chronicles 10:13). Saul’s whole reign is summed up in a couple of paragraphs, because the focus is on the the religious meaning of his reign.
Even King David’s life is only a few chapters, more of an executive summary. The author is focused on identifying Saul’s reign as a failure and David as the first true king of Israel. His shortcomings are minimized and his military victories are magnified. David is also identified with establishing right worship in Jerusalem. He is shown to be responsible for bringing the ark, the sign of the presence of God, to Jerusalem. The placing of the ark in the tent of worship is only given four verses when it is told in 2 Samuel 6:17-20. But in 2 Chronicles, it receives a significant part of chapter 16. The religious implications of Israelite history are the sole focus of the books of Chronicles.
Chapter 17 in its entirety confirms the everlasting covenant God made with David. In this covenant, two components are established: a son of David on the throne, and a house for worship of God. David will not build the temple, but that will fall to his son Solomon. This covenant sets up the expectation of a future son of David, one who will lead his people into true righteousness and obedience. In the same way Jesus fulfills that expectation, he also fulfills the expectation of a temple for worship of God. Jesus is the earthly king and the heavenly temple.
David has another series of military victories. Again, these are not so much historical records as they are religious instruction. Throughout the narration of his victories, we’re told about David’s justice and equity among his people (see 18:14). David is also embarrassed or disgraced by another king, but they are quickly destroyed.
Because the author’s focus is religious instruction, he’s not unconcerned with David’s faults if they have a valuable lesson and show God’s providence. David orders a census, which the author tells us is inspired by Satan, in order to build up his army. God disciplined David by sending a pestilence upon the people. In response to God’s judgment, David purchases some land to build an altar where he can sacrifice to God. This is the future site of the temple which Solomon will build. The covenant made to David is progressing.
David is now an aged king, and he is preparing Solomon to replace him. Note that none of the drama between the remainder of David’s sons is given here at all. It’s all about religious instruction. In his final days, David organizes the religious leaders into their divisions. This includes everything from the priests to the musicians. Each of these sections is given significant space.
David gives a final charge to the people of Israel to keep the law and follow the rightful king of Israel. This is the only hint we get that there is dissension among his children about who the rightful king might be. He simultaneously presents a public charge to Solomon to stay faithful.
Paul and Barnabas continue to preach primarily to the Jews first, but they will turn away no Gentile who desires to hear and obey. We could say that the Jews are being divisive by making people choose sides. But that’s exactly what the gospel does. It expects action on one of two roads: the wide or the narrow way.
The Greeks were known to be extremely religious people. Though they were also known for their philosophers, they did not discount the supernatural. When Paul heals a lame man, the people think that their pantheon of gods has descended upon them. Paul takes this opportunity to explain to them the biblical worldview that has a sharp division between the divine and human. God has shown patience to those who blur that line in the past, but now, he calls us to repentance. It was God’s kindness that blessed even those who rejected him.
More Jews are determined to destroy Paul and put an ends to his message. A group of Jews stone Paul and leave him for dead. Whether it was a miracle or not, we are left to wonder. But Paul gets up and continues to preach. He is not wishy-washy about the kind of life the Christian has to look forward to. Many of them will experience the kind of persecution that he himself has faced, even to death. But Paul’s ministry looks similar wherever he goes. He strengthens the churches and sets up solid leadership wherever he goes.
The conflict between the Jews and Gentiles has come to a head. Essentially, there were Jews who were amenable to the Christian message with one caveat: you must become a Jew first. Why was that? There were several sects within first-century Judaism. None of the primary sects followed a particularly captivating personality, but they were more idealogical. Those who saw Christians as purely idealogical had no problem subsuming them under the banner of Judaism.
But the Christians won’t stand for that kind of misunderstanding. They truly believed that the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile was eradicated, never to be rebuilt. Instead of a complicated initiation into Judaism, Gentiles could place their faith in Christ alone. Salvation is from the Jews, but the Jewish Messiah is the one Messiah for all people. Enter the Jerusalem council.
Peter relates his experience from chapter 10 with Cornelius. As an apostle, his experience is authoritative. He received a vision and saw the Spirit fall. Because of this confirmation that the Spirit is being poured out on the Gentiles, the council makes the judgment that all that Gentiles need to do is not to offend their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Some have argued that James adds to list of demands beyond the gospel. But all that he says shows that he is not adding anything but actually lessening the burden upon the Gentiles who live among Jews. They should not take part in civic idolatry, abstain from sexual immorality (which is a sin for everyone, regardless of ethnicity), from unclean carcasses, and from blood, which may have had a ritualistic/cultic emphasis. We might summarize the outcome of the Jerusalem council like this: have nothing to do with any idolatrous practices, with a few examples given.
Even the apostles did not agree on everything beyond the gospel. Paul and Barnabas disagree on the best way to move on after John Mark had gone his own way at some earlier point. Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul disagreed. This was not the end of their ministries; in fact, they both continued to strengthen the churches. Sometimes, disagreement is not the end but simply a complicating factor. This same John Mark will write the gospel of Mark as a protege of Peter.
While Paul takes Silas instead of Mark, he meets Timothy. Timothy had both Jewish and Greek heritage, so he was someone likely to have an impact as the wall dividing Jews and Greeks was coming down. Paul, Silas, and Timothy continue to strengthen the churches and winning more people to Christ.
We’re told that the Holy Spirit forbade them from going to Asia. Why in the world would the Spirit not want apostles to go a certain place? It’s not that the Spirit didn’t care about Asia, but more that the Spirit already had a plan for this group of missionaries. Paul receives a vision of a man telling Paul to come to Macedonia and to preach there. We’re not told how close in time these two events were. It likely wasn’t that long, but even in the face of being stopped from their desired travel, they continued moving. They wanted to go to Bithynia, but when that was not allowed, they went through Mysia to Troas. If they couldn't do what they wanted, they would do what they could. One setback was no reason to grow despondent and to quit.
Up until this point, besides Cornelius, we haven’t had a great number of stories of individual conversions. But here we have a few in quick succession. The gospel is shown to spread to whole families and cities, and now we’re seeing the impact of the gospel on individuals. Lydia is a successful businesswoman who worshiped God but did not know him as savior. While in prison, Paul and Silas’s jailor is converted. Jailors were not among the wealthiest people in that society, so we see the same gospel moving powerfully in the lives of everyone who believes, regardless of anything about them.
Psalm 136: God created all things and saved his people from slavery.
Psalm 137: Even in captivity, we will sing praises to our Lord.
Psalm 138: Everyone will one day acknowledge the Lord.
Psalm 139: I am completely known by God.
Psalm 140: God will one day destroy the wicked.
2 Kings 20-25
God had told Hezekiah that his time on this earth is coming to a close. Hezekiah is distressed, so he prays for recovery. God sends the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah to assure him that God has heard his prayer and will give Hezekiah 15 more years of life. It is not because of Hezekiah’s greatness or piety, but because of God’s covenant with David that he will protect the city. Isaiah goes to Hezekiah with assurance and food.
Hezekiah is somewhat a fool. The king of Babylon goes to him and asks to see his treasury and armory, to which Hezekiah obliges. Because of this foolishness, Isaiah assures Hezekiah that Babylon will one day possess the land. It will only be a temporary possession, but a possession nonetheless. The people will go into exile, and Babylon will rule over the people who are left. Eventually, Persia will overtake Babylon, but the Jews will still be in exile, just under a different empire. King Darius of Persia would permit the Jews to go back and rebuild, but they would still be considered a people under Persian rule. Even in Jesus’ day, the Jews were considered under Roman rule. After the time of Hezekiah, the Jews are never again considered a free people.
Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, take his place. He is a wicked king to end all wicked kings. He builds altars to idols, and he does so in the temple. By this point in Jewish history, they were considered by God to be even more wicked than the Canaanites he told them to push out in the days of Moses and Joshua. Manasseh is a pagan king ruling a pagan people. The image of a plumb line is an image of judgment. God is measuring his people and finds them wanting.
We get a glimpse of hope in the reign of Josiah. After all these years, when the people have rejected God and his righteous law, the book of the law is found hidden in the temple. Josiah is cut to the quick and demands reform. Are we finally on the right path? His reforms are successful. The altars are cut down, the Passover is celebrated, and right worship is reinstated. Things are looking good!
But here we see the fickle nature of human kingdoms. One term of a king may put the nation on the right track, and the next can undo all that good work. Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, take his place. He is a wicked king, totally opposite of his father, and undoes all the righteous progress his father had made. In our own country, we should be grateful that abortion, that fetid practice disguised as human rights and choice, is no longer a federal law. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking there will not be movements by the Jehoahazes of our day to reinstate the fetal holocaust, many of which are already underway. America is not Israel, but God would be just in sending Babylon our way should we permit this to happen.
Because that’s exactly what he did to Judah. Jerusalem is captured, but Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon permits a vassal king to stay there. Zedekiah rebelled against his oppressor, but he was not powerful enough to stop it. God had ordained this to happen, and there was no way out. Instead of a king, Judah now has a governor. They are now just a state within the Babylonian empire. They have no power or authority of their own. God is just in his discipline. He is not doing anything other than exactly what he said he would do in the face of a faithless nation.
1 Chronicles 1-7
If you are familiar with the genealogies in the Bible, you will see how similar they are. Matthew 1 is a purposefully shrunken version of 1 Chronicles 1-9, in order to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s history. The first several chapters of 1 Chronicles can seem like you’re reading a phone book, but you’re actually get a Reader’s Digest history lesson. We’re getting a quick look at Israel’s history through the lens of the major players. It’s okay to read these chapters quickly, but we shouldn’t miss the point. God’s people live in real space and time. They are not myths devised to present a theology. God is at work in history, progressively revealing himself and what is true.
The primary struggle of the early church was the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers. Did Jews have to stop being Jewish to be a Christian? Did Gentiles have to become Jews first to be a Christian? Wouldn’t that make them primarily a Jew?
Fairly quickly in church history, because of these questions, Christianity became its own religion apart from any ties to the Judaism of the first century. This even took place before the temple was destroyed in AD 70. Nero blamed the Christians, not the Jews, for the fire that destroyed parts of Rome over the course of almost a week in July of AD 64. An author named Pliny the Younger talked about Christians without ever mentioning any Jewish heritage by the latter decades of the first century. And besides that, after the temple fell, the Judaism of post-AD 70 had almost no ties to the Judaism of the first century. Jews without a temple venerated the Old Testament, but they relied solely on the books called the Talmud and the Mishnah to interpret the Old Testament for them.
In Acts 10, Peter is confronted with the reality of Gentile believers being indwelt by the Holy Spirit in the same way as he fell on the Jews of the diaspora at Pentecost. He is praying at his regular daily time, and it is then that he receives a vision from God declaring all foods clean. But even then, in declaring all foods clean, God is speaking in a greater way, declaring there are no longer distinctions between Jew and Gentile.
This of course does not mean that all men are saved automatically but that the ethnic dimension of God’s kingdom is no longer central. Gentiles could always enter into Israel by circumcision as a sign and seal that they had done so. But the new covenant is a circumcision of the heart. It is a work of God on the interior of a man or woman. Therefore, as Paul is about to find out, “Israel” is no longer an ethnic term but a broader term that signifies all those who are in union with the true Israelite, Jesus Christ.
Cornelius, a Gentile, also receives a vision of a man coming to preach to him, which will be Peter. Once Peter and Cornelius meet, Peter gives a clear presentation of the gospel. Preaching is the means by which people hear and believe. Note the order of events. Peter preaches, and the Holy Spirit falls. No one asks for the Spirit to fall; he simply does what the Spirit does. There is no telling where the wind will blow, and in the same way, the Spirit moves where he pleases.
After there is clear evidence of the Spirit’s presence in the new believers, they are baptized. The Spirit fell “on all who heard the word.” Because they have the Spirit, there was no longer any reason to withhold the waters of baptism. In Acts 10:2, we read that Cornelius and his household feared God. Acts 11:14 is where we read that the household in its entirety was saved. We can assume they were all baptized, as well, even though it’s not explicitly mentioned. Regardless, two things are true: the Spirit fell on them all, and they were all baptized. No one was baptized without belief in the new covenant made in Christ’s blood.
We’re briefly reminded of the martyrdom of Stephen. Because of his murder at the hands of the Jews, the Christians are fearful. One man’s persecution led to the persecution of many more. But that’s just some context for what comes next: people kept preaching the Lord Jesus. Many came to believe, even amidst the persecution going on. It’s so unbelievable that the elders in Jerusalem send Barnabas to confirm. Only in the mind of God would persecution lead to the strengthening of the churches. We’re told, almost in a throwaway note, that it’s under persecution in Antioch that disciples were first known as Christians.
The emperor Claudius reigned during the 40s-50s AD. He is mentioned in chapter 11 as a time-hack for the famine that Agabus foretold. The famine is to be over the “whole world”, but that is a technical term for the world inhabited by the Greek as opposed to the barbarians, IE, the civilized world.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, but he was not the last. King Herod continued on with the persecution from the people, and it resulted in James’s murder. As an apostle in Jerusalem, he was a prominent figure. His murder would be a clear example to the common man what results from being a Christian.
Not only is an apostle murdered, but an apostle is imprisoned. Peter is captured also by Herod, sent to prison, and kept under a special guard. During his stay, he receives a vision of an angel. He is miraculously set free from his chains and told to leave the cell. Peter actually thinks he’s dreaming! When he’s outside the prison, the angel leaves him, and he realizes that what he’s experienced was real. Peter heads to John Mark’s mother’s house. Many disciples were meeting in homes, probably to avoid public persecution. Because the persecution has resulted in the death of so many, it’s reasonable for Rhoda to think that Peter is dead and that she’s seeing his angel.
The belief in “guardian angels” is not totally unfounded as long as it’s qualified biblically. Even as far back as Daniel 12, we’re told that the arch-angel Michael is the “prince” of Israel, or the protector of the people. So we do not need to necessarily think that every person has their own guardian angel, but simply that God utilizes angels as guardians. For instance, this is the specific function of a type of angel called the cherubim. A cherubim guarded the entrance to Eden after the exile of Adam and Eve, and a carving of two cherubim guarded the entrance to the holy of holies in the tabernacle and temple. Jesus even says in Matthew 18:10 that there are angels in heaven, who have unfettered access to the throne room of God, who are charged with keeping watch over his people.
King Herod, who has increased the amount of persecution on the church, finally meets his match. He is out in public, addressing a crowd, and they want to see him as divine. God immediately strikes him down. Herod is no god; he is worm food.
The evangelistic work of the church is now getting ready to set sail out from Jerusalem for good. Paul and Barnabas are commissioned by the church at Antioch to preach the gospel to foreign nations. When making this huge decisions about a person’s life and vocation, we recognize two actors. One is the Spirit, who makes the initial call. The other is the church, who confirms the call.
Note that the confirmation is not an immediate thing. It is during a period of fasting that the Spirit speaks. Prayer and fasting are commonly held together as a means of controlling physical appetites in order to rightly order our spiritual needs. There is clarity of mind often given by God during a period of more intense devotion, which is characterized by prayer and fasting.
Ministry is anything but boring. The first adventure for Paul and Barnabas puts them face-to-face with a magician who wants to stop them preaching. To make a show of the power of God, Elymas the magician is blinded for a short period of time.
The missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas began in the Jewish synagogues wherever they went. In preaching the gospel, Paul shows Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God’s plan. His sermon to the Jews in Acts 13 may seem redundant and boring, but theologically, it’s perfect. Much like how the genealogies are a history lesson in God’s sovereignty, so are Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 and Paul’s here in Acts 13. Moses’s song in Deuteronomy 32 serves the same purpose. The gospel must be understood not in a vacuum but as Jesus Christ being the fulfillment of God’s promise made in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is Christ concealed; the New Testament is Christ revealed.
Psalm 131: The mind of God is infinitely higher than my own.
Psalm 132: There will come a time when all God’s people worship him on his holy mountain.
Psalm 133: God’s people are strong in their unity.
Psalm 134: We are blessed by the Lord when we bless the Lord.
Psalm 135: The Lord is the only eternal being.