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.