The Persistent Persecution and Prevalence of Prosperity

Acts 14:19-28

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. And they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.

While persecution persists, Paul and Barnabas proclaim the gospel to the gentiles. Notice that Luke writes, and I am merely quoting and paraphrasing him; “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” While this blog is supposed to be all about mining for gold in the Scripture, using the CAGED method, it has also become a defensive tool to expose the mega-churches and dogmatic doctrines unfounded in the context. TV, radio and the internet are flooded with false prophets and with false doctrines. Therefore I write, not as much to change anyone’s mind (which would be great) but so that future generations see our mistakes in our hermeneutical methods and lack thereof.

However, let’s suppose for a moment that the dogmatic dispensationalists are correct in that the land of Palestine belongs to the Jewish people. That is the major tenet of dispensationalism, other than the pretribulational rapture and that the gospel fails to fill the earth and subdue it, that the descendants of Israel (Jacob) have the right to the land of Israel. Let’s take our vitamin E and see this promise.

In Exodus 23 we read the words of the Lord; “I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land. And I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea (Sea of  Reeds) to the sea of the Philistines, (Mediterranean) and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. They shall not live in your land, lest they make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” Or was it Genesis 15; “‘And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.’ And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.” Or was it Genesis 26; “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.” Or was it; “And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.'” Or was it, “Your southern sector shall extend from the wilderness of Zin along the side of Edom, and your southern border shall extend from the end of the Salt Sea eastward. Then your border shall turn direction from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim, and continue to Zin, and its termination shall be to the south of Kadesh-barnea; and it shall reach Hazaraddar, and ccontinue to Azmon…As for the western border, you shall have the Great Sea, that is, its coastline; this shall be your west border…And this shall be your north border: you shall draw your border line from the Great Sea to Mount Hor. You shall draw a line from Mount Hor to the Lebo-hamath, and the termination of the border shall be at Zedad; and the border shall proceed to Ziphron, and its termination shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your north border”

We have a lot to discuss but my two main points, concern questions and they are as follows: which one of these descriptions is the promised land to future Israel? And, is Lystra within any of those borders? We know from the greater context that Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, a Greek city in present-day, southern Turkey. Even with a very liberal interpretation of the borders of Israel, Lystra would probably be just outside of the border of Israel. Nevertheless, with the actual, implemented borders of Israel through its foundation until now, Lystra is well outside the borders of Israel. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Yet Paul was a Roman citizen speaking in a Roman city. Why then did the Jewish people leave their jurisdiction of Judea, of which their jurisdiction was ever decreasing since Solomon, and enter into Roman territory to stone Paul? Don’t be deceived, for the Jewish people stoning Paul and for the dogmatic dispensationalists it is not really about region but religion.

Paul and Barnabas were outside of any of the borders of Israel. Israel was not even a country at the time. Even under levitical laws, Paul and Barnabas were outside of their jurisdiction. But especially in their epoch, the Jewish people had no reason or right to stone Paul, a Roman citizen, in Lystra. We see that it had nothing to do with land but everything to do with religion. The context confirms this. “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes…” It was not their land, they had to win over the people present. The stoning of Paul is another indication that it was religious in nature and not about Paul corrupting their land. The punishment for blasphemy, according to the Law of Moses, was stoning.

“They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'” Because of the sheer amount of events that Luke tells us, we have to slow down to make sure we don’t gloss over the context. Outside of any semblance of jurisdiction, the Jewish people stone Paul and drag him out of the city, believing he was dead. These are not stupid people, they would see his heart beating and his chest moving as he breathed. Paul was all but dead, and quite possibly dead as a door nail for a very short time. Paul was not faking dead, he was stoned by angry people and then dragged out of the city–imagine the sight. But when the disciples stood around him, he pops up and goes back to the city. We have to see this as miraculous and in being miraculous, we have to understand that of which Paul proclaimed. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Sure Paul survived and we see the hand of God upon him but at this point I would be scared to be a disciple. In fact, when minor persecution and tiny tribulation entered into my life, I told God that if this was what it meant to serve him, count me out. But look at what Luke wrote about that which had happened after Paul said this. “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Even under extreme persecution from foreigners, churches were established outside of Israel with form and structure. This is nothing short of amazing. Not only did they see the stoning of Paul and hear his promise of persecution, they fasted and prayed, going without food and bending their knees to the Lord. Can the same be said of us?

Look at what Luke continues to write; “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. And they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.”

Opened the door? Paul was stoned nearly to death by uber religious people outside of their jurisdiction! But I am getting way ahead of myself and the context with my knee-jerk reaction. We see that Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey has come full circle. And now that they are back in Antioch, the city that sent them in the Spirit, they are happily reporting all that had happened. We remember back, in only but a few paragraphs, that by prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to set apart Paul and Barnabas for this mission. Nevertheless in actual time, probably a year or so has passed. We don’t know how many synagogues in which Paul and Barnabas preached but we know that it was many. We also don’t know the exact number of converts from the Jewish people or the gentiles but we know that it was many. Even so, many more opposed their teachings. Yet we notice that the report they give, as recorded by Luke, doesn’t include those who disbelieved. Rather they spoke of the open door God gave them to the gentiles.

We notice a pattern developing here in the middle of Acts. Between Peter and Cornelius, and Paul and Barnabas, amazement appears with the gentiles turning to Jesus. I will leave it at this. Although the Old Testament is repleate with references to all nations, the gentiles, all of the Jewish apostles seem to be astounded that the believing gentiles are one and the same as believing Israel. And it looks like it took them almost ten years. We see clearly that the gospel went to “the Jew first and also to the Greek.” But that “there is no partiality with God.” I have much more to say but will let the context of Acts unfold, Lord willing.

 

 

 

 

 

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