After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.” And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
I say and write this a lot, because all Scripture is God breathed and useful, but this really is one of my favorite passages. Not only because of the simple story with plot twists and irony but because it demonstrates our ability to gloss over the text and not consider the context. Before you read any more of my words, go back and read this passage, being very careful to consider the context and to not gloss over anything. Seriously, do it. Come back to this point after you chuckle, after seeing it. If you continue to read without seeing it for yourself be forewarned–spoiler alert: when the Jews in the synagogue resisted and blasphemed, Paul proclaimed that he was finished with them and going to the gentiles, he stormed out to find followers, and did, right next door. Notice; “And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.’ And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue.”
I have fond(ish) memories of watching my former co-youth-director teaching teenagers this truth. After reading the passage, he asked them, “after Paul left the synagogue, where did he go?” “To the gentiles” was the first answer. “But where was this specifically?” Two or three answered at once, “in Corinth.” His response; “true, but even more specifically than that, where did Paul go after leaving the synagogue?” Silence; other than maybe a few crickets chirping. I, the ever patient one, exclaimed, “look at the text!” Several seconds that felt like an eternity passed and then a soft, almost questioning voice answered, “‘the house of a certain man named Titius Justus?'” Almost entirely losing my mind I yelled, “keep reading!” Remember, I was not the one teaching. The good news is that I learned something and they learned something; after we force-fed it down their throats. I learned that people really do gloss over the text, not reading the Bible as literature with super stories, but think that it is a boring manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla. They learned to consider the complete context…eventually. “Paul walked out, took a few steps, turned left, and founded a church!” They still did not get it. Slowly we read, “next to the synagogue.” Then, in unison, they got it. I love when the light goes on in the mind of the christian as the context is considered. But I will be honest, it boggles my mind a bit how so many don’t consider the context, that we come up with all kinds of crazy dogma.
This is why we take a long view of Scripture, utilizing a Biblical hermeneutic such as the CAGED method, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. This text is packed with little yet important and interesting details of which we will often gloss over. Let’s look at another–one that the mega-church pastor could distort for his own personal gain and we could also as easily misinterpret without taking a long view of Scripture. Being short sighted is how we get all sorts of crazy dogma and traditions.
“And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads!'”
One could say; “we notice that while Paul worked as a tent-maker, the Jews were listening to him but as soon as Paul resumed fulltime ministry, he left his time honored tradition of teaching in the synagogue every Sabbath. Others, mega-church pastors mostly, will see that Paul’s destiny and favor came when he was financed by others in fulltime ministry. Obviously I can’t distort it to the degree of the mega-church pastors–I like to think that I can manipulate my mind as a mega-church pastor but I can’t–they never cease to amaze me with their outlandish claims. It also never ceases to amaze me how for two or three sentences, the mega-church pastor can make perfect sense, delving deeper into doctrinal discourse, only to completely corrupt his congregation in contradiction. But it’s like the old idiom says, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The indication is that for the rest of the 22 hours, nevermind minutes and seconds, it is completely wrong. And the further time gets from the hour and minutes of which the clock displays, the more wrong the clock is, until time gets closer and closer to what the clock reads. Eventually the clock is correct again but the cycle starts over again until someone repairs the clock. This is a good example of how the context can correct the mega-church pastors. Problem, it doesn’t scratch the itchy ears of the congregation. It is extremely difficult for a man to admit when he is wrong. It is extremely difficult for people to abandon their positions and traditions. While it is usually very easy to repair a stopped clock, sometimes it’s as simple as a battery replacement, people are much more impenetrable. We have to change their power source from twisted Scripture, inflated by their fleshly minds, to the Holy Spirit, who wrote the book.
Let’s look at another piece of today’s puzzle; “And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.” If the leader of the synagogue was converted to christianity, why did Paul, finally, do as he promised back in Pisidian Antioch? That is, while he told them that he was turning to the gentiles, several months and probably years have passed and Paul continued to teach in the synagogues. Yet in today’s text, after preaching in the synagogue at Corinth for many weeks, Paul once again says that he is turning to the gentiles. Titles and traditions tell us that Paul has already abandoned the Jewish people and gone out to the gentiles. But this is not what the context tells us. Consistently Paul has kept going to the synagogues, from city to city, preaching Jesus as the Messiah. Some believed and others persecuted Paul, beating him and stoning him and driving him out of their cities, so that Paul would go on to the next city’s synagogue. The synagogues, the mega-church pastors, the dogmatic dispensationalists and the charismatic collectives are the stopped clock; Paul is time. The synagogues, the dogmatic dispensationalists, the charismatic collectives and especially the megachurches are stuck in their dubious dogma while Paul is part of Scripture, moving forward from the new beginning in the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. Scripture is living and sharper than a two-edged sword, and Paul is living out what Jesus told the twelve–being the last apostle, even the twelve were apprehensive of Paul at first. But they came to understand that the Lord chose Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews, as the apostle to the gentiles. Nevertheless, starting with the Jewish people but progressing to all peoples, Jewish people still included, Paul preaches the Message of the Messiah. Paul never abandons the Jewish people but completely abandoned Judaism. In fact, he would come to call his tribe, circumcision, teaching, traditions and training all refuse, garbage or rubbish, compared to knowing Jesus. Paul never abandons Jewish people, but he consistently is either banished by a certain synagogue or he leaves on his own accord from others; almost always over blasphemy.
Another item we gloss over is the reason Paul met Aquila and Priscilla. We focus on the fact that they were tent makers and think that is how they made their connection. But that is not what the context says. Rather we read that they made a living from making tents, which is in and of itself, another fascinating facet to focus on, but they met because Priscilla and her husband had been forced out of Rome because of persecution from Claudius. The Lord doesn’t do these sorts of things for dramatic effect, though it does make for interesting stories, but he does it so that we will see his huge hand. In a similar scenario as God using Caesar Augustus, who called himself, “son of God,” to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem from Nazareth, so that the true Son of God would be born in Bethlehem, God uses Caesar Claudius to get Aquila and Priscilla to Corinth. Persecution pushed Paul, and Priscilla and Aquila, to cross paths in Corinth. The Lord manipulates all of history to bring his plans to fruition. The question is, what is God’s plan for our lives? Is it perfect peace and prosperity or persecution and pestilence. Are we optimistic about our future or pessimisticly impatient in our lives? Do we see the sublime string and consider the context and overarching themes? Or do we follow outdated, dubious dogma which should have been dispelled by now? There is an ebb and flow in the growth of the gospel. Paul is an example, a microcosm of the history of redemption.
I take a very high view of Christ on the cross. The resurrection is proof! Jesus so thoroughly destroyed sin, that the Father raised him on the third day. So thoroughly was God’s wrath poured out on Jesus, that Jesus lives forevermore. Theologically speaking, no one understands this. Everyone has an opinion as to the ramifications but we simply cannot understand or fathom the Father’s wrath imputed on Jesus. Does this mean that there is no wrath to come? Of course not, no one, with any kind of solid Biblical background sees that God will not pour his wrath upon those who reject him. Romans 1-3 explain sin simply–one stores up wrath, awaiting judgement, apart from Christ. But we must understand that this is the wrath of individuals, from their own sins. The sins of the father no longer are passed down to the son.
This is why we take a long view of Scripture, seeing the sublime string and considering the context. This is why we started with Revelation, then went back to Matthew as proof of Revelation’s partial fulfillment in 70 Ad, and we now are going through Acts to see the build up to 70 AD. There is a method to my madness. As we watch Paul preach, reason but ultimately walk away from those who reject Christ, whether Jew or Greek, we have to understand his methods. And we must consider the context. The Jews, in a persecution-push against Paul, not only reject the Messiah, many of them were also his murderers, but push Paul into the open arms of Jesus’ true people. We find many of them in Corinth, which is ironic if you have ever read 1 Corinthians. Look at what the Lord said; “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Some were Jewish, most were utterly sinful gentiles. The connection is the faith of Abraham, the faith in Jesus as their king. These are the ones who do not scream, “we have no king but Caesar!”
Paul stays in Corinth longer than any other city to which he journeyed. Even though Paul left the synagogue proclaiming; “Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles,” God still has many people in that city so that Paul has a short time of relative peace. Meaning that the Lord has gone before him, like in the case of Joshua, preparing hearts. This is the pure milk of the word; do you want a steak? Consider the continuing context and see the sublime string. Milk is that Paul started a church right next door to the synagogue, and we even miss that. It is of no wonder then, that we also will miss the sublime string. We live in a culture of verses not context, of soundbites not sublime strings, in the west. Our daily bread is more like a weekly crumb, if that. For those in the mega-church, it’s a weekly, rotten, banana seed. It’s time to dig deeper and fill up on solid food.
In Revelation John tells the seven, literal, churches in Asia, that the things of which he writes to them will “soon take place; the time is near.” Rewind to another John, the Baptist, to the leaders of the Judean culture and traditions he says; “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Jesus says to the same people; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”
Then, after lamenting over Jerusalem and listening to the disciples as they pointed out the prominence of the temple, Jesus said to them; “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” After they ask him when, and what the signs would be, Jesus told his disciples, alone, the following: “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come…Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Jesus also told the following parable: “There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”
Notice the response; “They said to Him, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES?” Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.’ And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.” The Pharisees understood that Jesus was speaking about them, why don’t we?
After Jesus departed to heaven, saying it was better for the disciples if he went because he would send his Spirit, his Spirit did come and in the Spirit Peter proclaimed; “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” And today Paul says, “Your blood be upon your own heads!” Yet the Lord says to Paul that he has many people in that city. Why can’t we see the shift? How do we read the parables, the Olivet Discourse, Acts and then not expect a book like Revelation to come, regarding the judgement of Judean culture, tradition and religion?
I have many theories: in some ways we are worse than the Judean culture and history repeats itself so that we feel unworthy–we are. We also, as has every generation, desperately desire for prophecy to be about us. We also only know what we have been taught, therefore we seek a rescue from this wicked world. Nevertheless, Jesus is the King of kings and he, rules this world, not Satan. But one thing, I believe, is a major stumbling block to us, that causes us not to believe that the majority of Revelation has taken place. For time’s sake, we will only look at this reason today.
We simply don’t understand apocalyptic literature. We see the seals broken, the trumpets blown and the bowls of wrath poured out on the land and think that these things could not have possibly happened because they are so severe that we would have known from history that they happened. But the first rule of apocalyptic literature is that it is not to be taken to literal extremes. For instance, does God literally pour wrath out of a bowl? It is symbolism–to fit all that wrath in a bowl would mean that the bowl would be more like a glacial lake. And yet, it was very severe, hence the severe symbolism and literary language. The dogmatic dispensationalists biggest and best argument in their eyes is that we have never seen anything like the literary language and severe symbolism coming to pass in the Bible, leaving Revelation as yet a future fulfillment. Problem: we simply don’t see the sublime string or take our vitamin E, Expository Exegesis of Examples. We are short sighted and don’t take a long view of Scripture.
I will give David the last words today. Remember how David escaped the hand of Saul, or any of his enemies? Did it read anything like this? “For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said, “I Love You, O LORD, my strength.” The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me, And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, And fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire. And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them. Then the channels of water appeared, And the foundations of the world were laid bare At Your rebuke, O LORD, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils. He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.”