Acts Bible Study

Acts: Stephen’s Death

Acts 7:54-60 New International Version (NIV)

The Stoning of Stephen

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

The men in the Sanhedrin were very angry. They had very much hate and their faces showed this hate. But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. He turned his face towards heaven. He saw a wonderful vision and he described the vision to those men.

‘The Son of Man’ (verse 56) was a special name that Jesus used for himself. It had many meanings. In Mark 14:61-62, Jesus used it to answer the high priest’s question. The high priest asked him if he was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus said, ‘I am.’ Then he added, ‘You will all see the Son of Man. He will be sitting at Almighty God’s right side. (‘Almighty’ means ‘the Lord of everything’. Or it means ‘totally powerful’.) The Son of Man will come with the clouds that are in heaven.’ There is a similar description in the Old Testament, in the book called Daniel. There, Daniel describes ‘someone like a son of man’ (Daniel 7:13-14). The prophecy in Psalm 110 is also similar. In Psalm 110:1, God invites Israel’s king to sit at his right side.

Stephen’s vision showed that Jesus’ words about himself were true. Jesus was at God’s right side. But when Stephen saw Jesus, Jesus was standing. Jesus was not sitting then. Some students say that this was because Jesus was giving another chance to the Jews. They could accept him as their king before he sat down on his throne. Other students say that Jesus had stood up to welcome Stephen. This was because Stephen would be in heaven soon. Or perhaps Jesus was standing because he agreed with Stephen’s words. Perhaps in that way Jesus was showing that he agreed.

Stephen’s vision annoyed the men in the Sanhedrin even more. They did not want to listen to Stephen. So, they covered their ears with their hands. To them, Jesus was a criminal. And there was something even worse than that. He had died on a cross. Jews believed that God rejected a person, if that person died on a cross. But Stephen saw that Jesus was at God’s right side. This meant that Jesus had the same authority as God.

The Jews killed people who had done very bad crimes. In order to kill such a person, the Jews threw big stones at that person. The witnesses were the first people that threw the stones. That was what happened to Stephen. Some students think that the Jews acted against the Roman law when they killed Stephen. This was because the Jews had not asked the Roman rulers about it first. But the Jews did not always have to ask the Roman rulers before Jews did such things. For some crimes, the Romans allowed them to decide whether the person should die. Those were some crimes that people did against the Temple. It was probably legal to kill Stephen. If it was not legal, probably Luke would not have mentioned the witnesses. Luke also mentioned Saul. This was the first time when Luke mentioned him. Saul took care of the witnesses’ coats. So, he approved of what was happening.

As Stephen was dying, he said a prayer. Before Jesus died, he also said a prayer. Stephen’s prayer was like Jesus’ prayer. Jesus said, ‘Father, I put my spirit into your hands.’ (‘Into your hands’ means ‘into your care’.) Stephen asked Jesus to receive his spirit. Jesus asked his Father (God) to forgive the people who were killing him. Stephen also asked for this.

Stephen died in much pain. But he was calm. He did not speak words that were angry or unkind. He saw the Lord Jesus. Jesus was waiting for him in heaven. So, Luke wrote that Stephen ‘slept’ (verse 60).

Stephen was the first Christian martyr. There have been many martyrs since then and there are even more martyrs today. Tertullian was a man who wrote books in about AD 150. He wrote that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’. Often, when people kill martyrs, the martyrs lose blood. The blood may fall to the ground, like a seed falls. But when a seed falls to the ground, a plant can grow from it. Similarly, when people persecute Christians, the church grows. People kill Christians because they want to destroy the church. But instead, the church becomes stronger. This has always been true and it is true today.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Stephen’s Speech

Acts 7:1-53 New International Version (NIV)

Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin

7 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”

To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’[a]

“So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even enough ground to set his foot on. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child. God spoke to him in this way: ‘For four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’[b] Then he gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him eight days after his birth. Later Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs.

“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So Pharaoh made him ruler over Egypt and all his palace.

11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. 12 When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit. 13 On their second visit, Joseph told his brothers who he was, and Pharaoh learned about Joseph’s family. 14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. 15 Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. 16 Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.

17 “As the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased. 18 Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.’[c] 19 He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.

20 “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child.[d] For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.

23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’

27 “But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’[e] 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.

30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’[f] Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’[g]

35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.

37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’[h] 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.

39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’[i] 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
    forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’[j] beyond Babylon.

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.[k] 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.

48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’[l]

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Stephen’s speech, part 1: Abraham’s faith in God, 7:1-8

Stephen’s answer to the high priest’s question is the longest speech in ‘Acts’. In it, Stephen showed that God wants people to worship him everywhere, not just in one special place. God is everywhere. Stephen talked about people whose stories are in the Old Testament. The men in the Sanhedrin already knew these stories very well. But Stephen was not just repeating the stories. He was using the stories to teach them new things. Stephen used examples from Jewish history to teach about real faith and worship. The Old Testament showed that Jesus, the Messiah, would come. Stephen told the men how it showed this. Jesus used the Old Testament like that, too. (for example, Luke 24:27).

Stephen began his speech with a greeting that was polite and friendly. He called his audience ‘brothers and fathers’. This reminded them that he was a Jew too. Then he started his lesson from history. Abraham was among the earliest people in all the Jewish history. And he was among the most important people in it. Stephen showed how Abraham had great faith. When Abraham lived, the Jews did not have their own nation or Temple. They did not get those until many hundreds (100s) of years later. But God showed himself to Abraham. God told him to leave his country. Abraham did not know where he was going. But he obeyed God. People who want to obey God must always be willing to leave. They must go wherever God leads them. Stephen showed that God can appear in front of people anywhere. They do not have to be in a special place.

Abraham arrived in the country that God had promised to him. He trusted God again. Abraham had no children. But God said that Abraham’s descendants would own the country. Abraham believed all God’s promises. And all God’s promises became true. Abraham did have children and their descendants were slaves in Egypt. They did leave Egypt and they did live in the Promised Land.

Circumcision was a sign that showed God’s covenant with Abraham. It was the only sign that people could see for that covenant. So, circumcision was very important to the Jews. Here, Stephen was reminding them why it was so important. God had given this sign to them. Abraham had a special friendship with God. God had made this covenant because Abraham had trusted him. And Abraham had obeyed him.

‘Our famous ancestors’ means Jacob’s 12 sons. These were the ancestors of the 12 great families in Israel.

Stephen’s speech, part 2: Joseph, 7:9-16

Stephen continued his lesson about history. He told the story about Joseph. Joseph was Jacob’s favourite son (Genesis 37:3). Joseph had dreams that he was superior to his brothers. His dreams showed that later he would rule over them (Genesis 37:5-11). His brothers were jealous of him. They hated him and they sold him as a slave.

But Stephen showed that nothing could stop God’s plan for Joseph. Although Joseph was in a foreign country, God was with him. ‘Pharaoh’ was the name that people always called the kings of Egypt. Pharaoh did not believe in God but God used him. Pharaoh gave to Joseph what he needed. Joseph became an important ruler, too.

The men in the Sanhedrin knew this story about Joseph very well. But Stephen told it in a new way. He showed how well God looked after his people. God told Joseph to get ready for the famine. God told him about it 7 years before it happened (Genesis 41:25-32). At the right time, Jacob (Joseph’s father) heard that there was food in Egypt (Genesis 42:2). There, God provided food for the Jews’ ancestors. It was in a country that was not their own country. To emphasise this, Stephen mentioned Egypt 8 times in this story. God had promised that the Jews would have their own country. But that promise had become too important to them. They could not make God stay in one place. They could not do that, even if that place was special to them. God is with his people wherever they live. Stephen was teaching this wonderful fact to them.

Stephen’s speech, part 3: Moses, 7:17-43

God had warned Abraham about what would happen. And what God told him had become true (Acts 7:6). The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. But God had not forgotten his promise. This promise had two parts.

1. God had promised that Abraham would have many descendants. This had already happened. ‘Our people in Egypt had increased in number.’

2. God had promised to give to his people their own country. This had not happened. And it did not seem likely now, because they were slaves in Egypt. Things had become worse.

The new king did not know about Joseph and he did not respect the Israelites. He thought that they were too many in number. So, the king made them kill their male babies. (Look also at Exodus 1:22.) And he forced them to work.

Stephen now introduced Moses into the story. Moses was a very special child. God had chosen him to rescue the Israelites. So, God had saved his life by a miracle (Exodus 2:1-10). Stephen said good things about Moses here. The Jews had accused him of talk ‘against Moses’ (Acts 6:11). Perhaps that is why he said those good things now. Stephen wanted to show that he admired Moses very much.

Stephen told this part of the story in a new way. He showed that the Israelites had tried to stop God’s plan. They did not realise that Moses would save them from the Egyptians. They did not realise that God had chosen him. Later, the Jews rejected God’s other prophets. Then they rejected their Messiah, the Lord Jesus. In the first century, Jews were very proud of their nation and their culture. They thought that they were superior to all other nations and cultures. But Stephen showed that the Jews’ great leader Moses had been born in a foreign country. When Moses was a child, a foreign woman brought him up. He learned from a foreign culture. Stephen praised this culture. He called it ‘the knowledge that the Egyptians knew’ (verse 22). Not everything that the Egyptians did was right. Stephen was not saying that. But not everything that they did was wrong. So, he was not saying that, either. In the first century, Jews wanted to keep themselves completely separate from Gentiles. This caused arguments in the first church. Stephen was showing that Jews could mix with Gentiles. It did not make the Jews less holy.

Moses had killed an Egyptian. He was defending someone who was from his own people, the Israelites. So, he ran away from Egypt. Like his ancestors, Abraham and Jacob, Moses left his home and he lived ‘as a foreigner’ (verse 29). (Look also at Exodus 2:22.)

God spoke to Abraham and Joseph when they were far from their own country. Moses was far from the country that God had promised to the Israelites. But now, this Gentile land was ‘holy ground’ (verse 33). This was because God had spoken to Moses there. A long time before God’s people (the Jews) built their Temple, God had shown himself to them. He had shown himself to them in foreign countries. Holy places are holy because God is there. They are not holy because of the country that they are in. God can show himself to people anywhere.

God showed that he had not forgotten his covenant with Moses’ ancestors. He was still ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (verse 32). God’s people were suffering as slaves in Egypt. He cared about that and he would rescue them. God told Moses that he was sending him. Moses would act with God’s authority.

Again, Stephen emphasised that the Jews had rejected Moses as their ruler at first. But he had led them out from Egypt. God showed the people that he had chosen Moses. The proof was that Moses did miracles. He did not do miracles in just one place. He did them in Egypt. He did them at the Red Sea. And he did them in the desert. God showed that he was with Moses wherever he went.

Stephen repeated Moses’ words about a prophet (the Messiah). This prophet would be ‘someone from among your people’, like Moses. (Look also at Acts 3:22.) As those people had rejected Moses, so Jesus’ own people rejected Jesus.

The Israelites were in the desert. They were far away from the Promised Land. But God was there with them. He was speaking to them by means of Moses. But they did not obey God. They rejected the leader whom God had chosen. They were very ungrateful.

Then the Israelites rejected God. God was giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. But while he was doing that, the Israelites made an idol. They worshipped something that they had made. They stopped worshipping God, who had made them!

‘The book that contains the prophets’ messages’ includes the book by the prophet Amos. The verses that Stephen uses here are from Amos 5:25-27. These verses show how the Israelites worshipped many false gods. At first, they had worshipped one idol in the desert. God allowed them to do what they wanted. God always allows us to choose what we do. We can choose to do good things. Or we can choose to do bad things. The Bible shows to us what is right. And it shows to us what is wrong. The Holy Spirit guides us. But we are free to choose. God never forces us to obey him.

Stephen’s speech, part 4: People who do not obey, 7:44-53

This tent was called the ‘tabernacle’. The ‘tabernacle’ was like a temple that people could carry with them. God had given the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Its words were on two pieces of stone. These pieces of stone were big and flat. They were in a special box inside the tent. The people believed that they must have this special tent with them. Then God would be there too. They carried it in the desert. They took it with them into the Promised Land. And they had it for several hundred years.

King David wanted to build a temple instead of the tent. At that time, the Jews had their own country. They thought that they would always stay there. They did not need to carry the tent with them. It was Solomon, David’s son, who built the first Temple. The Jews’ enemies destroyed it in 587 BC. Then the Jews built a second one. The Romans destroyed the second Temple in 63 BC. The Temple in this book called Acts was the third Temple. King Herod the Great had built it. He started it in 19 BC. But it took many years to finish. It was the most magnificent Temple. But Stephen reminded the Jews that God was bigger than any Temple. Stephen said some words from the book by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2). God is bigger than heaven and earth. He made all things. He cannot stay in one place only.

Both the Law and the Temple were very important to the Jews. Stephen showed that although the Law and the Temple were important, God was more important. And God was much bigger. Their idea about God was too small!

The people in Stephen’s audience were proud about their religion. They thought that they were very holy people. They studied the scriptures. But they did not hear what God was saying. They thought like people who do not know God. They were exactly like their ancestors. Their ancestors had rejected the prophets. Now the Jewish leaders here had rejected ‘God’s righteous Servant’, the Messiah. And there was something even worse than that. They had killed him. Peter had already said twice that they had killed the Messiah (Acts 4:10; 5:30). Stephen also said that they had not obeyed the Law (verse 53). God had chosen the Jews for his special purposes. He had given the Law to them. He had sent his Messiah. But they had opposed both the Law and the Messiah.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Apostles Choose Helpers

Acts 6:1-7 New International Version (NIV)

The Choosing of the Seven

6 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

At this point, there were two groups of Jews in the first church.

1.         One group of Jews spoke Greek. They had come from different countries. Probably they had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost. And then they had joined the church there. Many such Jews had been born in foreign countries. Their ancestors had also lived far away from Israel. So, they did not know how to speak Hebrew. They spoke Greek because it was the most common language.

2.         The other group of Jews spoke Hebrew. They spoke the Jews’ language and they were very proud about Jewish traditions. They lived in Jerusalem or they lived in the areas round it.

The church was growing quickly. Soon there was a problem between the two groups of Jews. It was an argument about the Jewish custom to help widows. (Look at Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18.) Women whose husbands had died did not have a regular income. Those women could not buy food. So, in the first church, they continued the custom to help them. Some people wanted to help, so they gave money or possessions. Every day they gave something to the widows among them. They gave to them whatever they needed. But the Jews who spoke Greek complained. They complained that the Hebrew widows were receiving more than the other widows. Perhaps they did not trust each other much. That may be was why they quarreled.

The 12 apostles realized that this small problem might become much bigger. They did not have time to organize all the practical matters. They needed time to preach. Jesus had told his 12 disciples that their work was to preach. If they did not do this, the church would not grow bigger. They knew that they must do something about this problem quickly.

But the 12 apostles did not just tell everyone what to do. Instead, they ‘called the whole group of believers together’. They told the whole church about the problem.

The 12 apostles said, It is not right for apostles to distribute the food. But they did not think that they were too important for this task. They did not mean that to preach is better than practical help. To give practical help is also good. God calls people to do different things. God had called the 12 apostles to tell everyone the good news about Jesus.

The apostles suggested a solution. They wanted the Christians to choose 7 helpers. These must be spiritual men who were also sensible. Then the 12 apostles would not have to worry about this responsibility. They could continue to preach and they could continue to pray.

The believers chose 7 men. These men all had Greek names. Because of this, some students think that they all spoke Greek. Then it would show that the Christians wanted to be fair to the Greek Jews and their widows.

‘The apostles said a prayer and they put their hands on the men’ (verse 6). This showed that they were giving authority to the 7 helpers. And God was giving authority to the helpers. This work was very important. So, the helpers needed authority to do it.

Verse 7 shows that the first part in ‘Acts’ has ended. The first part is about how the church in Jerusalem grew.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: The Apostles Persecuted

Acts 5:17-32 New International Version (NIV)

17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.

25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The high priest and the Sadducees were angry because they had told the apostles not to speak in Jesus’ name any more. But the apostles had not obeyed them. The Sadducees did not like the apostles’ message about Jesus’ resurrection. They were jealous because the people liked the apostles. Large crowds came to see the apostles. So, this time, the Sadducees arrested all the apostles.

But God helped the apostles to escape. He sent an angel to open the prison doors. The Greek word for ‘angel’ (aggelos) means someone who brings a message. This angel told them to go back to the Temple. They had to preach there again. The apostles obeyed immediately. They were very brave. They knew that this was a dangerous thing to do. It was dangerous because the Sadducees would probably put them into prison again. But they knew that they must obey God.

‘This new life’ (verse 20) means the new life that only Jesus can give to us. We can have this new life if we believe in him.

Everyone expected that the apostles would be in the prison. The doors were not open. The guards had not seen anyone go. The apostles’ escape was a surprise. The men in the Sanhedrin were worried. And they did not understand how the apostles could have escaped.

The apostles were not hiding. They were in the Temple again! They were teaching the people. So, the officer and his men arrested them again. But the officer and his men were afraid of the crowd. They did not want to make the people angry. So, they were polite to the apostles and they did not hurt them. They did not use that method to make them come.

The men in the Sanhedrin did not want people to hear about Jesus. The apostles were spreading the good news. The Sanhedrin could not stop them. However, the Sanhedrin did not want the Romans to know that. The Romans let the Sanhedrin rule over their own people (the Jews). But the Romans might not allow this to continue because the Sanhedrin could not control the people. The Sanhedrin could not stop the good news about Jesus’ resurrection. All the people in Jerusalem knew about it.

The high priest said ‘in this man’s name’. Because he did not want to say the name ‘Jesus’, he called him ‘this man’. Perhaps he knew that the Sanhedrin really caused Jesus’ death. Perhaps he felt guilty. Some people today do not like to say the name ‘Jesus’. But Christians should be happy to say it. And they should be proud to say it. It is the most beautiful name.

Peter spoke for the whole group. They were only doing what God had told them. Sometimes, when we obey God, people do not like it. We must not worry about this. We must always obey God.

Again, Peter repeated the message that the apostles were preaching. It had 5 parts.

1.         God had sent Jesus. God was ‘our fathers’ God’. ‘Our fathers’ were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had started the nation called Israel.

2.         The Jewish leaders had killed Jesus, the person whom God had sent.

3.         God had put Jesus up in a high position, so that Jesus was now sitting at God’s right side. Jesus was now Ruler and Saviour.

4.         Now, people would have to repent. If they did that, God would forgive them. That was because of what Jesus had done.

5.         The apostles knew that this message was true. They had to tell it to everyone. People would have to believe the message and they would have to repent. Then they would receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: The Apostles Heal Many People

Acts 5:12-16 New International Version (NIV)

The Apostles Heal Many

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

The believers were meeting in the place where the Sanhedrin had arrested Peter. The apostles’ message was more than just words. Miracles were being performed.

Some people did not want to be seen with the believers. They kept away from them. Those people were afraid. Perhaps they had also heard what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. But those people respected the believers. However, many other people joined the church.

It is often like that today. Some people do not want to go to church. They do not want to mix with Christians. But they are not the church’s enemies. Sometimes, they are afraid. They do not want their lives to change. Perhaps they do not realize that their lives could be so much better! Other people are bolder. They are not afraid to give their lives to the Lord. When they have done this, they have his joy. And they are quiet inside themselves. Then they see the wonderful things that he can do.

In his Gospel, Luke told how a sick woman touched Jesus’ clothes. Immediately, she got well. Jesus said that her faith had cured her (Luke 8:48). The apostles were continuing Jesus’ work. People believed that God would cure them, even by means of Peter’s shadow. Like the sick woman, they had faith in Jesus’ power.

People from outside Jerusalem heard about the miracles. They brought people who needed help. Some people were ill. Other people had evil spirits in them. They all became well. God showed his power to cure people’s bodies and minds. He also showed his power to free them from evil spirits. Whatever is wrong with us, God can make us well.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Sharing What God Gives You

Acts 4:32-37 New International Version (NIV)

The Believers Share Their Possessions

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

In verses 32-34, the members of the first church cared about each other. They did not just say that they cared. They showed their love by what they did. They would share their things with anyone who needed them. Some believers owned land or houses. If anyone needed money, these people sold their land or houses. Nobody forced them to do this. They wanted to help each other.

Luke reminds us about Jesus’ resurrection. This was the reason why the church began. It is the reason why the church is here today. Jesus is alive!

In verses 35-37, the Greek words here mean that people would put the money down ‘at the apostles’ feet’. This showed that people were offering it to God.

Luke mentions Barnabas’s gift. Barnabas was from the large group that were all Levi’s relatives. Each Israelite belonged to a large group or tribe like this. There were 12 such large families, the 12 tribes of Israel. Levi’s group served God in the Temple. Later in ‘Acts’, we can read more about Barnabas. He traveled with Paul and he worked with him.

A lot of times we hear about what we ought to be doing for God. But in reality, God has done way more for us that we could ever repay. God continues to give and give and give, and we need to continue to receive and receive and receive. Because they were such receivers of God’s grace, they were also great givers to the needs around them.

The key to giving is receiving.

I wonder if some of us have stopped being so gracious towards each other because we’ve stopped receiving God’s grace in our lives. Not that He isn’t still giving grace, but we have stopped recognizing it.

It’s not that everybody who had any property were being forced to sell all their possessions and give everything to the church. Those that sold and brought money into the church did so on their own, of their own will, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (we’ll see this in Acts 5:4)

2 Cor 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Giving should not be done because somebody twists your arm, but because God has put it on your heart, and because you have a cheerful desire to do it.

It’s not necessarily how much you give, it’s how willingly and cheerfully you give that counts.

If a person in the church had a real need, the apostles’ would help by distributing some of the funds toward that need.

It’s kind of like what we do as a church, when we are made aware of a need, the elders have a fund to work with to help meet the needs within our body.

But please, don’t lay any money at my feet!

Acts Bible Study

Acts: The Place was Shaken

Acts 4:23-31 New International Version (NIV)

The Believers Pray

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

After they were released from prison, Peter and John went back to the other believers. They told them what had happened. Then they prayed together. When we have a problem, we should always pray about it.

We can also learn from the way the believers prayed. First, they called God the ‘Lord of everything’. They were reminding themselves that he made everything. God rules over everything. Often we need to remind ourselves about this. He is bigger than any problem and he can do anything. But we must ask him.

The believers were Jews. So, they called David their ‘father’ because he was a famous king in Israel. They said words from a psalm that David wrote (Psalm 2:1-2). He wrote this psalm about 1000 years before Jesus’ birth. His prophecy there about the Messiah had now happened. And some people in the psalm wanted to stop Jesus. This was so that he would not preach. So, they had made plans to stop him. Together, with their king (Herod Antipas) and their ruler (Pontius Pilate), they had killed Jesus. But they had not stopped his message. He had become alive again. The apostles were curing people in his name. His church was growing and many people were hearing the good news. What had happened had been in God’s plan.

The Sanhedrin had done bad things to the believers. But the believers did not pray that God would stop the Sanhedrin’s actions. Instead, the believers asked God to give courage to them when they continued to tell people about Jesus. They asked God to show his power when they spoke with Jesus’ authority.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit had come and he had filled everyone. Here, the Holy Spirit came and shook the place where they were meeting. God answered their prayer immediately. They all spoke God’s message in a bold manner. Oh how powerful the Holy Spirit is to shake their meeting place. Have you been shook lately? Shook so much you can’t help but tell others?

Christians can ask the Holy Spirit to fill them many times like that. It does not just happen once. When the Holy Spirit has filled a person, we know it. We know it by how they behave. The Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us to do things for God that we could not do alone. HAVE YOU BEEN SHOOK?

Acts Bible Study

Acts: the Sanhedrin Listen

Acts 4:13-22 New International Version (NIV)

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

Before Peter and John met Jesus, they were fishermen. The members in the Sanhedrin had gone to special schools where their, ‘rabbis’ had taught them everything about the Jewish religion and Moses’ Law. They thought that they were cleverer than Peter and John. So, they were very surprised. when Peter and John were very confident. Peter and John even explained the scriptures. Usually, only rabbis did this.

Then the men in the Sanhedrin remembered that Jesus had taught Peter and John. Jesus had not gone to a special school either (John 7:15). But everyone had listened to him. He had explained the scriptures as well. It does not matter to God whether we have gone to school or not. It does not matter to God whether we are clever or not. What does matter is that we obey God. He will show his power by means of us, if we let him do it.

People could see that Peter’s words about Jesus were true. The man who could now walk was standing in the court. He was the proof. The men in the Sanhedrin told Peter and John to leave the room. They wanted to talk privately about what to do.

The man who was standing in court had never been able to walk. Everyone in Jerusalem knew that. But he was walking! A miracle had happened. The men in the Sanhedrin could not argue about this.

Peter and John had not said anything wrong. Nor had they done anything wrong. The men in the Sanhedrin knew this. They could not keep Peter and John in prison. But they did not want the apostles to tell everyone that Jesus was alive. And they did not want the people to see the power that there was in Jesus’ name. So, they decided to warn Peter and John that they must not speak in Jesus’ name. Nor must they teach in his name. If they did this, bad things would happen to them.

Peter and John had to do what God wanted. Jesus had told them to go to people everywhere. And he had told them to make people into his disciples (Matthew 28:19). They could not stop talking about what they had seen. And they could not stop talking about what they had heard.

It is the same for Christians now. We know that the Lord Jesus is alive. We know him as our friend and our Saviour. We must share the good news, so that other people can know him too. We must not be afraid of what people might say about us.

The people in the court were praising God because he had done a wonderful thing. The man was more than 40 years old. Nobody had expected him to get well.

The men in the Sanhedrin knew that they must let Peter and John go. The only thing that they could do was to warn them again. They could not do anything else!

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Peter Preaches to the Jews

Acts 3:11-26 New International Version (NIV)

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’

24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Solomon’s Colonnade was like a long walkway with a wooden roof, on the east side of the Temple. Jesus had walked there and he had taught there (John 10:23).

In verse 12, the people were staring at Peter and John. They had just seen Peter and John heal the lame man. But Peter gave all the glory to God. God may use us to help someone or witness to someone. But we must remember to give all the glory to God. God is the one that gave us the means and opportunity to do what we do.

Peter used the words ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. These are the same words that God used in Exodus 3:6, This was when God introduced himself to Moses. The miracle here in Acts had happened because God had glorified Jesus. Jesus was in a special place in heaven. He had given power to his disciples to act in his name. When Jesus was on earth, he had done miracles. Now the disciples had his authority to do miracles like those.

Peter wanted to convince the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. So, he used language from the book called Isaiah in the Old Testament. It was from a part where the writer describes the Lord as a Servant who suffers (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Like Isaiah, Peter said first that God had glorified his Servant (Jesus). Then Peter talked about how the Servant had suffered. He blamed the people for this. They were responsible. Pilate (a Roman ruler) had wanted to free Jesus. But the people had asked for Barabbas instead. They had wanted Jesus to die. Jesus was their Savior. He was completely good. But they had chosen a criminal instead.

The Jews had not expected the Messiah to die like a criminal. But Peter was saying that Jesus was innocent. God had known already how Jesus would die. The prophet Isaiah had described it all when he wrote about the Servant. This was the Servant who suffered. (See Isaiah chapters 42, 49, 50, 52 and 53.) The Servant who suffered was Jesus, the Messiah. God had proved this. He had made Jesus alive again after he had died. Peter and the apostles knew that this was true. They knew because they had seen it.

Everyone could see that the man’s legs were now strong. The man had not been able to walk. But Peter had told the man to walk by Jesus’ authority. And the man had done this. Christ’s power had made the man strong because of the man’s faith. Jesus was the Servant that God had glorified. This was evidence that they could all see.

The people in Jerusalem had killed their Messiah. But they had not known that he was their Messiah. Even their rulers had not realized this. They had not expected that their Messiah would suffer. Jesus’ death on a cross was one part in God’s purpose. Isaiah spoke about God’s Servant who suffered. The Old Testament also contains the stories about men like Joseph (Jacob’s son) and Elijah. These are examples of God’s servants who suffered. So, it should not surprise the people that the Messiah should suffer too.

They knew that they had done a terrible thing. They did not have an excuse. God wanted to forgive them. But first, they had to repent.

To repent means to realize you have sinned and turn away from that sin. We apologize for sins that we have done. And we decide not to do any more sins. We do what God wants. We change how we think and we change how we live.

Peter said that if the Jews repented, three good things would happen.

1.  God would forgive their sins (verse 19). The Greek word here for ‘forgive’ means that God will ‘wipe off’ their sins.

2. The Lord will give to you times when you have spiritual strength (verse 19). God would not just take away their sins. He would give rest to their spirits. And he would give relief to them.

3.  He would send Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah that God had already chosen for them (verse 20). Jesus will forgive them and he will give them strength. But he ‘must remain in heaven until a certain time. Then God will put all things back as they should be’ (verse 21). Christ would return. Then God would do wonderful things (Romans 8:19-21; Isaiah 11:6-9).

Moses was the first prophet for the Israelites. The words in verses 22-23 are from Deuteronomy 18:15. People believed that these verses were a prophecy about one particular prophet. This prophet would be like Moses. He would be like a bridge between God and the people. He would tell the people what God was saying. And he would tell God what the people wanted to say.

Samuel was the prophet who anointed David as king. To anoint means to mark a person with oil. And this shows that God has chosen that person. God made promises to David about a new kingdom. These promises became true when Jesus came. Many things that the other prophets had said about God’s kingdom happened, too.

Peter called the Jews the ‘sons of the prophets’. He meant that God’s promises belonged to them too. Abraham’s ‘children’ meant the Jews. Jesus, the Servant who came to save all the people on earth, was a Jew. He had gone to the Jews first but they had rejected him. God was giving a second chance to them. They had to accept Jesus as their Saviour. Otherwise they would not share in the blessing that God had promised.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: The First Church

Acts 2:42-47 New International Version (NIV)

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

In these verses, Luke describes the people in the first church; what their daily life was like and how they treated each other. Christians today can learn much from what he writes. Church was not just a Sunday morning affair or even just a Sunday and Wednesday event. It was a daily connection.

In verse 42, The apostles continued to teach the new believers. As Christians, we must continue to learn about our faith always. We have the Holy Spirit to teach us. But we must also listen to those God appointed teachers. It is also very important to have regular meetings with other Christians.

‘ the breaking of bread ’. Jews did this before they ate a meal. Jewish people did not cut their bread. They broke it into pieces and then they shared it. On the night before Jesus died, he ate a meal with his disciples. He broke up the bread and he gave it to them. He said, ‘Take this and eat it. This is my body.’ Then he gave to them a cup of wine. He said, ‘This is my blood in the new covenant. It is poured out for many people.’ So, to break up bread has a special meaning for Christians.

The first Christians always prayed before they did anything. They spoke to God about everything. They asked him to help them. And they asked him to guide them. Today. we need to do the same. Bring everything yo God.

Miracles happened in the first church. Miracles still happen now. When people expect God to do wonderful things, he will do wonderful things.

in some translations the word “Ewe” is excitement and fear. In the Old Testament, writers often used the words ‘the fear of the Lord’. This does not mean that people were afraid of God. (The reason for such fear would be because he might hurt them.) ‘The fear of the Lord’ meant that people respected God. They respected him because he is good, powerful and holy.

The first Church sold land and possessions. The Christians showed that they were taking care of each other. So, no Christian was rich and no Christian was poor. Each person had what he or she needed.

Verse 46 tells us the first Christians met together every day. It is very important for us now to meet often with other believers. They met in a public place to worship God. They also met in their homes as friends. The people who were richer provided a meal for the poorer people. They ate together. They broke up the bread and they worshiped God.

The first Christians were kind and generous. They were happy and they showed God’s love in their daily lives. People wanted to come to be with them.

Have we strayed from the example of the first Church? Christians should be the most joyful, loving, caring and friendly people on the planet. Are We?