Although the High Council had firmly rejected the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, had sealed it with Stephen’s blood, and had succeeded in chasing the majority of believers not only out of the Temple but out of Jerusalem as well, God was still working through his chosen people. He was continuing to fulfill the Great Commission, which we have demonstrated to be a part of Israel’s program, still in effect. Sending a special apostle directly to the Gentiles in spite of Israel was still a secret hidden in the heart of God. Yes, God had engineered the appearance of Saul (later to become Paul), but at this point in Luke’s narrative Saul was persecuting the church, not encouraging it. What we are about to learn — if we are careful to observe and think — is that the story of Philip is still demonstrative of what life in the Tribulation and Kingdom will be like, just as it was when Peter dealt with Ananias and Sapphira.
There are several reasons why I believe this about this chapter, most of which will become apparent as we proceed through the remainder of the 8th Chapter. But there is one particular aspect that needs some explaining first. If you think I’m putting interpretation ahead of observation, you’re right. But what I’m about to suggest will forearm you to recognize things you might never have noticed before. That interpretation hinges on the idea that the Kingdom message is always certified by miracles, while the mystery that will soon be revealed to and by Paul is not. The Age of Grace is characterized by the preaching of Christ crucified, and miracles gradually ceased to occur as Paul took the gospel to Gentile lands. The remainder of the Book of Acts is a gradual decreasing of Israel’s dispensation, matched by a gradual increase of something God hid from Israel — the mystery hidden in other ages. It will take the remainder of the Book of Acts to gradually accomplish this transition, the ushering out (temporarily) of one dispensation and the ushering in of another. At this point in Luke’s narrative we have to ask ourselves, “Does what we observe in this passage look more like Israel’s dispensation or the Age of Grace?” Since God hasn’t confronted Saul yet to change his heart, this passage must still be all about Israel.
Why are miracles an important clue? You know that I don’t interpret without having obervations on which to base it! Please look up these four scripture passages and read them for yourself:
- Exodus 3:10 and 4:1-9
- Psalm 74:9
- Matthew 12:38-39
- I Corinthians 1:22
Now let’s see how well you paid attention! Pop quiz!
1. Who did God commission Moses to bring out of Egypt? I___________
2. What did God enable Moses to do so that they would believe God had sent him? m________________
3. Miracles are a scientific fascination to us, but to an Israelite they c_______________ that the one performing them is s________ by G____.
4. Asaph lamented the destruction and captivity of the Southern Kingdom in Psalm 74. What did he say was missing from their experience as they were dragged away to Babylon as slaves? s_______ To Asaph, the absence of them indicated that God was no longer w______ th___.
5. What did the scribes and pharisees ask of Jesus? to s____ a s________ (Note that the verses in Matthew leading up to this one concerned the accusation that Jesus’ power came from Satan; He gave them no sign because He knew they were only looking for more ammunition to prove that His power came from Satan)
6. What does Paul say the Jews require for proof of God’s authority? s________ What do the Gentiles require for proof? w__________ (the Greek philosphers decided what was “truth” by who won the debate in the forum) Note that in the very next verse Paul says the gospel and authority of God are proved through preaching Christ crucified, something that neither Jew nor Gentile seeks!
In every case we have seen that Israel required miracles as part of the test of God’s commission, and that it was part of their law and their promises (prophecy). Israel was to recognize her Messiah by the miracles He performed. Remember that the detailed Great Commission (Acts 1:8) specified a certain geographic sequence, and the first regions outside Jerusalem were Judea and Samaria (the Samaritans were also descended from Abraham and therefore a part of Israel in God’s eyes). Those regions are exactly where the remainder of Chapter 8 take place.