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Acts 1-5: The Early Days of the Church

Original Publication Date
May 12, 2020
Updated
Nov 5, 2022 3:47 PM
Tags
Chapter StudyActsCainAbelDiscipleshipLyingProphecyMoneyThe ChurchPeterTheft
Bible References
Acts 1-5
Status
Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on May 12, 2020 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Electing a 12th Apostle

The number 12 should stand out to you. It’s the number of sons Jacob had. It’s the number of tribes in Israel. Little known fact: its also the number of sons Abraham's first son, Ishmael, had as well. After Judas betrays Christ, the 12 disciples became the 11 disciples. We could speculate for all eternity why 12 men were needed, but the fact is, God sees something in the number 12. If He started a nation with 12 tribes (Israel) it makes sense that He'd launch His Kingdom with 12 disciples.

To do this, the remaining disciples had to select Judas' replacement. It's a daunting task to choose someone for spiritual positions, but here we see an example. They gathered together all the people who had been following Christ, a total of 120 people. All of them prayed together and got on one accord. They nominated two choices from within this group, and then allowed God to show them which man to choose.

Terminology

What's the Difference Between an Apostle and a Disciple?

Reading these chapters we see a greater use of the term apostle applied to anyone: the 12 Disciples shift to the 12 Apostles. I was quick to ask myself what is the difference? Who is an apostle and who is a disciple? I found differing opinions online and have linked some of the articles I found in the references section. Below is a what I took away from my research.

Apostle

The word apostle is actually heavily tied to Christianity and usage of the word before Christianity is very rare.[2] It refers to someone who is sent on a mission, more precisely someone with authority sent to preach the Word of God.[3] Generally speaking, it is usually applied to those who directly communicated with Christ. The 12 disciples and Paul, though Paul is only referred to as an apostle in his own letters. It seems to be a "promotion" from disciple.

Disciple

A disciple is both a student and a teacher. Part of discipleship is the act of spreading the message, just as an apostle would.[4] It seems to me that a disciple, though spreading the word, could refer to someone who has not come into his own yet and is not ready to teach without supervision.

The Seven Chosen to Serve

Within the body, there's a lot that needs to be done. We need to take care of each other. We need to spread the Word to non-believers. We need to teach and nurture believers who haven't become spiritual adults yet. Prioritization can easily trip us up if we aren't careful. As the disciples began to spread the Word, they were accused of neglecting the widows and had to determine how to handle the situation. It's important to realize that the first step was acknowledging that there was a problem. They didn't shirk the responsibility or argue that it wasn't important. However they did assess its priority within the larger mission. Since it was a task that didn't need to concern everyone in the body and could be completed with a handful of workers, they chose to select a small group for the task.

Notice that even though the group is small, each member is picked based on spiritual qualities. When we form groups (or ministries) within our local body we should be sure to pray about the people we chose and look for people that are spiritually sound.

Resistance

36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. 37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. 38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

In Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:9 Jesus warns the Apostles that they will be hated for following Him. In John 13:16, Jesus asks if a servant is greater than his master. We know that Jesus was hated and killed; if that's what the world did to Jesus, why wouldn't we expect the same treatment? In Acts, we see that the Church was persecuted from the beginning. The leaders in the community are not happy with the disciples and quickly move to silence them. They are thrown in jail, threatened, and forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus. Yet, they continue steadfastly in carrying out the mission Christ set for us.

The Stoning of Stephen

The leaders are so bent out of shape about the spread of Christ's teaching that they are willing to do anything to stop the disciples, even kill an innocent man. Stephen, one of the 7 men chosen to serve the widows, is the unfortunate person chosen to be killed. Stephen was performing miracles and becoming well known, so they accused him of blasphemy. The leaders even went through the trouble of setting up false witnesses to testify against him. There was a full out campaign to spread misinformation and turn the people against Stephen (just as they had done with Jesus). You will see that after Stephen is stoned, the focus shifts from preaching to the Jews to preaching to the world.

πŸ™ŒπŸ½
This is often pointed to as the a fulfillment of prophecy from a Historicist view of the end times. I discuss this more when I cover the 70 weeks prophecy in Daniel.

In the Name of Jesus

When I was in high school, I remember I was asked to give a prayer and they cautioned me not say "in Jesus' name" at the end because it might make some people feel uncomfortable. I don't remember wether I complied or not (I was still a babe in my faith then), but I do remember wondering why "God" is OK and "Jesus" is uncomfortable. There is power in the name of Christ and it is a clear sign of what God you are worshipping. It is a sign of allegiance and reminder to Satan that the battle has already been won. We must be like the disciples and continue with what God has called us to do despite what man is requesting.[6]

But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.

Relationship

Within these first six chapters of Acts, we get a great picture of the relationship between the followers of Christ. It is mentioned 5 times that they meet daily (Acts 2:46-47;3:2;5:42;6:1). While they did meet at the Temple, they did not confine their relationship to that location. They met in each other's homes and shared meals together. I googled "the significance of sharing a meal" expecting to see information on Jewish culture of Biblical references, instead I found secular sources proclaiming the importance of sharing meals. From child development sites expressing the importance of family meals to mental health sites expressing the effect of eating with others on our mental health.[1] It seems everyone agrees that sharing a meal has a profound impact on our relationship with others.

Money

The disciples didn't just give 10% of their income and consider themselves sufficient, they gave all they had. People sold their homes and land to pool together their resources!

Communal Living

When I think about communal living, honestly, I think about cults. It is a common trend for cult leaders to move their followers out of the normal world, away from family and friends, and into the confines of their control. In this way, the cult leader has full access to his followers, ultimate authority, and no one distracting his followers. Knowing that the early church sold their belongs, including their homes, to fund each other and make sure everyone had sufficiently for their needs, it's easy to see why the Roman and Jewish leaders thought of it as a dangerous cult. Think about it: if a group from your church suddenly began meeting every day, sold everything they had, and pooled their money together, would you think that was dangerous and be wary of them?

When I think about it in full, from an ideal standpoint, I get the appeal. In a perfect Church system, no one would be without. For instance, right now as people suffer job losses from COVID-19, in a communal system, bills would still get paid by those able to work. There may be less food, but instead of one family having a surplus of food and another family starving, both families would have something to eat. Furthermore, it emphasizes selflessness and the concept of a Church family. Most parents would give the clothes off their back for their own child, but what about their neighbor's child? What about the child across town? Building a Church community that functions more like a family forces people to get on one accord and behave as a family. There's both beauty and power in this.

Of course, as I mentioned from the beginning, the dangers of it becoming cult-like are very real. We aren't perfect and we often stray from the teachings God has given usβ€”primarily the commandment to worship God alone. Mankind is prone to worshipping mere men. Many churches today worship their pastor, and those in and out of the faith idolize celebrities. This habit of elevating humans is dangerous. This is what gives cult leaders their hold on people.

So what are we supposed to do? What would this look like, practically? A system like this could only work if everyone was cultivating their relationship with Christ individually. This is necessary to develop the discernment from the Holy Spirit (to identify false prophets). Each person would also have to develop the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and renounce greed. Checks and balances with leaders would be necessary as wellβ€”we all know when one man or woman has all the power, things don't end well.

Ananias and Sapphira

Probably the 2nd most popular (or well known) incident from this section is the death of Ananias and Sapphira. This married couple sold their belongings like many of the other disciples, but chose to give only a portion to the group and ended up dead. The context of this is important, because people can easily misuse this passage to instill fear into people. The break from chapter 4 to chapter 5, in my opinion, is misplaced. Acts 4:32-37 should not be separated from Acts 5:1-11, because it all goes together. In Acts 4, we learn that many of the disciples were freely giving what they had to the group. A man named Joses (who may or may not be the same as Joseph mentioned inActs 1) was lead to sell his land and give everything he had. It is in the midst of this culture that Ananias and Sapphira lie about how much they were given for their possession and withhold a portion for themselves.

Joses and the couple are given as examples, one as the ideal, and the other as what not to do (just like Cain and Abel). As such, we should notice the similarities and differences in each scenario.

The Similarities

  1. Neither was commanded to give
  2. Both involved the sale of something and remitting the money to the group
  3. Both sold land

The Difference

  1. Joses gave everything; Ananias and Sapphira kept a portion for themselves
  2. Joses told the Apostles he was giving everything and actually gave everything; Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they were giving

The key components in this instance are freewill and trust. Peter reminds the couple that the possession was theirs and in their control the whole time. Imagine, you see everyone around you selling everything they have that is valuable to give to people who are complete strangers. You can bet that some people were not so comfortable and ready to do the same. However, those who did were probably praised and admired. If the majority of the group is doing this, those who weren't quite ready would likely feel pressured to do the same even though know command had been given. In this, we see giving akin to Cain and Abel, where Abel gave the best he had freely and Cain held back. Essentially, they didn't trust their new family enough to give all they had to the cause.

The question I have is, would it have been different if they had said "we have sold our possession and we would like to give half"? Peter seems the most outraged that they lied, not that they didn't commit to giving the whole portion. If they had said, "we aren't ready yet," would the group have prayed for them and been encouraging?

41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

References and Footnotes

  1. "Search: The Significance of Sharing a Meal".Β Google; visited March 9, 2020
  2. "Apostle".Β Bible Study Tools; visited May 9, 2020
  3. "Apostle".Β Merriam-Webster; visited May 9, 2020
  4. "Disciple".Β Merriam-Webster; visited May 9, 2020
  5. Jonathan Potter. "Apostles vs. Disciples".Β Bible Odyssey.
  6. Today there are serious arguments between members of the church about the use of β€œJesus” as opposed to Yeshua, the Hebrew name of Messiah. I will cover this more deeply at some point, for now my thought are abbreviated under β€œbeliefs”.

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