Martin Collins asserts that miracles and signs from God, while certainly generating awe and fear, seldom lead to righteousness, but more likely to continued rebellion. Jesus points out that only an adulterous generation seeks after miracles and signs. No greater period of miracles took place in history than at the time of the Exodus, including the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Yet, the stiff-necked Israelites rebelled against God on ten separate occasions. The longest period of growth and stability in Israel occurred under David's and Solomon's reigns, a period attended by no miracles. Elijah and Elisha performed godly miracles during a massive apostasy. John the Baptist, proclaimed by Jesus as the greatest of men, performed no miracles whatsoever. The miracles and signs Jesus performed were received with awe, but also with much ridicule and scoffing from the religious leaders. Axiomatically, the spiritually weak need miracles; the more spiritually mature one becomes, the fewer signs and wonders he needs to sustain faith. God blessed the Corinthian congregation with spiritual gifts (of discerning prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, etc.), but the vanity which these gifts produced led to party-spirit and jealousy. In the future, the False Prophet and Beast will lead many astray by miracles and signs, deceiving most of the world. As God's called-out ones, walking humbly with God should displace any desperate need for signs and wonders.
The concept of power brings many different ideas to mind, any and all of which may certainly be valid. David Grabbe, however, concentrates on the 'little strength' of the church of the Philadelphians, suggesting that Christ commends them for being 'faithful in little' and will reward them with much.
John Ritenbaugh initially focuses upon the execution of Ananias and Sapphira for their deceit and hypocrisy (an event parallel to Aachan's deceit and execution), pretending to have sacrificed more than they actually had. In this same account, Luke records the volatile confrontation of the Apostles (who had been instructed by an angel to stand their ground and not back down) and the Sanhedrin. Amazingly, the Apostles found an ally in a prominent wise Pharisee named Gamaliel, a grandson of Hillel, advocating tolerance to a group he had considered another sect of Judaism. In Acts 6, a bifurcation of the responsibilities of physical serving (such as serving the widows) and spiritual serving (prayer and preaching) takes place (with the understanding that both aspects of serving are intertwined). One of the new appointees to the new physical office, Stephen, boldly proclaimed that Christianity was not just another sect of Judaism, thereby bringing down the wrath of the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
John Ritenbaugh highlights how the witness of the apostles, particularly miraculous healings performed in the name of Jesus Christ, brought them into conflict with the established Jewish leaders, the entrenched Sadducees and the Sanhedrin. Peter used the startling impact of these healings to draw attention to the fulfilled prophecies pertaining to Jesus—the source of the healing power—whom the crowds Peter was addressing had crucified in ignorance. As the veil of ignorance is lifted, they (and we) have the responsibility to act on this knowledge of culpability in His crucifixion and fully repent—undergo a total change of life. Focusing on his predominantly Jewish audience, he affirms that belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament will lead to belief in Christ. Being in Him makes us heirs of the promises to Abraham.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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