Two Herod Agrippas, father and son, ruled parts of Palestine during the period of the early church, touching the ministries of James, Peter, and Paul. While they won over many first-century Jews, they had far less success with Christians, whom they persecuted from time to time to curry favor. Their history fills gaps in the Bible's depiction of this critical period.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of the resurrection of the dead (and the capacity of the earth to sustain the combined populations of all who have ever lived), examining pertinent scriptures on the resurrections. The scriptures suggest that massive land reclamation and landscaping efforts (coupled with dramatic climate changes) will occur to prepare the earth for such a volume of humanity. As chapter 25 opens, Festus replaces Felix as governor. Paul, again defending himself from the two-year old spurious sedition charge, exercising his right of Roman citizenship, appealed to Caesar (in an effort to remain in protective custody). Festus, seeking the counsel of King Agrippa II, (providing Paul yet another opportunity to connect the Jewish hope of the resurrection with the Christian message), sends Paul to Rome. Ironically had Paul not appealed to Caesar, Agrippa (moved by Paul's testimony and convinced of his innocence) would have set him free. But God evidently had other plans for Paul.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of exercising ones legal rights, examining scriptures pertaining to the subject, including taking a brother to court, submitting to civil government, paying taxes, responding to lawsuits, and dealing with corrupt court systems and unfair settlements. As Paul (through the brave intervention of his young nephew) is miraculously rescued (by half a cohort of Roman soldiers commanded by Lysias) from the mob in Jerusalem (who had taken a rash vow to murder Paul) and taken to Caesarea (where he was tried for sedition before Felix), he uses every trial as an opportunity to bear witness to Christ, preaching the Gospel. As Paul successfully confutes the spurious sedition charges, he introduces Felix to the particular (exculpatory) tenets of The Way.Felix (fearing a possible insurrection of the Jews) puts Paul in protective custody. After a private conversation, Paul unwittingly pricks the conscience of Felix, keeping himself incarcerated until the appointment of the next governor, Festus, to whom he would appeal (as a right of a Roman citizen) to Caesar.
John Ritenbaugh explores the possibility that the book of Acts, in addition to its role in continuing and advancing the Gospel or Good News, could well have been assembled as an exculpatory trial document designed to vindicate the Apostle Paul and the early Church, demonstrating that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman Empire as Judaism had asserted. The book of Acts also serves as a conciliatory, unifying tool, endeavoring to heal breaches that had emerged in the church through rumor or gossip. A key theme of Acts (appearing more than 70 times) concerns the particulars of receiving and using God's Holy Spirit. Acts also provides insights on the Commission to the Church, the relationship of Jesus with His physical brothers, significant contributions of women in the Church, and the emerging roles, organizational patterns, and responsibilities of the disciples.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the startling uniqueness of John's message that God could become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In order for Christ to be our savior, He had to become subject to the pulls of the flesh in order to empathize with those He would later serve as High Priest and Advocate. Those who would become sons of God (qualifying for roles as kings and priests) must learn to trust or rely on Him, conducting their lives according to His name, conforming to the character that name represents. If we follow the living example of Jesus Christ, using the gifts of God's Holy Spirit, we will find inexhaustible resources for overcoming, serving, and growing in grace and knowledge, conforming to Christ's righteous and genuine character. Those who wrote the Gospels were eyewitnesses to the spectacular events (none of them done in a corner) in the life of Jesus Christ, providing a testimony that we may believe and develop iron-clad faith. Many extra-biblical sources such as Tacitus, Seconius, Justin Martyr, Pliny, and Josephus substantiate, corroborate, and validate the veracity of the biblical accounts of the historicity, identity, and divinity of Jesus.
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