The Book of Acts (part two): Chapter 6-12; Philip and Peter's Ministry in Judea and Samaria
Acts 6 and 7
Jews came to Jerusalem to oppose this new teaching about Jesus. They came from cities and provinces that had already been infected with this new teaching from Jerusalem :
- Cyrene - North Africa
- Alexandria - Egypt
- Cilicia - the province of Saul’s (or, Paul) hometown of Tarsus just northwest of Syria
- Asia – the western side of modern Turkey or Asia Minor (6:9)
Stephen, one of the seven deacons, was challenged to an argument by these Jews who came to Jerusalem to defeat Christianity. Stephen’s wisdom and the Spirit of God argued convincingly that Jesus was the Christ. Because they could not defeat him his opponents had to lie about Stephen’s teaching. (6:11-14) Charges of blasphemy were brought against Stephen and he appeared before the Sanhedrin. They listened to his long speech as he reviewed Jewish history from the scriptures for them, but when he charged them with murdering the Righteous One, or the Christ, he was stoned to death. The stoning of Stephen by the same Sanhedrin that had condemned Jesus was orchestrated by Saul from the city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia.
Saul from Tarsus of Cilicia began to lead a great persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. Saul was going house to house arresting believers and putting them in prison. Many believers fled Jerusalem for other cities in Judea and Samaria, but the apostles stayed in Jerusalem.
Philip, one of the deacons, went to Samara to preach the gospel. After many Samaritans had accepted the gospel, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John up to Samaria. Later an angel told Philip to, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” On this road Philip meets the Ethiopian man who is the official in charge of the treasury of Queen Candace in Ethiopia. After the Ethiopian hears the gospel and is baptized the Spirit of God “took Philip away”. The Greek verb used here is the aorist indicative active of the word “ ’arpazw” or “harpadzo” which means “to snatch, to carry of to a different place, to seize, to carry off by force, to rapture.” It is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that is translated “caught up”. Philip appeared at Azotus where he continued to preach the gospel in the surrounding towns. Philip settled in Caesarea. Twenty years later the book of Acts records that Philip still lived in Caesarea and had four daughters (21:8)
Who is Saul of Tarsus?
Saul of Tarsus, the first great persecutor of the church, would later be known as the Apostle Paul. Paul describes his earlier years in his own words:
- “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city.”
- “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem).”
- “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.”
2 Corinthians 11:22
- “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.”
- “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.”
- “Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and
was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.”
- “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”
- “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.”
- “As for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
- “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.”
1 Timothy 1:12,13
Paul the Persecutor
- “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them n prison.”
- “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison . . . I went to Damascus to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”
- “I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you . . . when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”
- “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth . . . On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many times I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them,
I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”
In Acts 9:1-2 Saul left Jerusalem under the authority of the High Priest. Paul had secured written authority from the High Priest to go to Damascus, Syria 130 miles north of Jerusalem to arrest the followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem for prosecution.
The resurrected Jesus appeared to Saul outside the city of Damasus. Saul could see the light and hear Jesus voice but the military escort he had traveling with him could not see anything. Saul stayed in Damascus for “several days with the disciples.” According to Galatians 1:6-17 Saul “went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” After being in Arabia for several months to a couple of years, Saul returned to Damascus and began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul’s convincing preaching in the synagogues of Damascus disturbed the Jewish community to the level that now Saul’s own life was in danger. Three years after his conversion on the way into Damascus, Saul now has to escape Damascus at night by being lowered in a basket through an opening in the wall. (Acts 9:22-25; 2 Cor. 11:32)
Acts 9 and 10
While Paul was in Arabia, Peter had left Jerusalem to travel through the Judean countryside. Peter went to Lydda were he raised a paralytic named Aeneas. In Joppa Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Word of these miracles and the good news of Jesus spread through the country side. Peter stayed in Joppa at the house of Simon the tanner. At this time an angel visits Caesarea to speak to Cornelius, a Roman centurion in the Italian Regiment. The angel tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa to get Peter. When Peter arrives in Caesarea he enters the house of the Gentile to preach the gospel to them. While Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit came on the Gentiles assembled at Cornelius’ house.
Acts 11 and 12
When Peter returns to Jerusalem from the house of the Gentile Cornelius, he has to explain his behavior and the results of his ministry to the other apostles and leaders. The Jewish believers criticized Peter for fellowshipping with Gentiles. Peter explained how the Lord had worked through angels, visions and the Holy Spirit. He ends his defense by saying, “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?” When the Jewish believers in Jerusalem heard this they had no further objections. They summed up what this experience had revealed to them by saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Although it had now been revealed to the Jews that salvation by faith was for the Gentiles, also, many would continue to require observance of the Jewish law and culture for both Jews and Gentiles as a prerequisite for salvation in Jesus.
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