The Symbolic Cessation of Significant Signs

Acts 20:1-12

And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia. And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas. And we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days. And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.” And when he had gone back up, and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted. 

After the Artemis incedent, Paul heads back to Macedonia. All of this geography in a few paragraphs boggles the brain. Paul leaves Ephesus, which is on the Eastern shore of Asia minor, the land between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, almost to Europe. This is the land of the seven churches, to which John writes the letter of Revelation. Paul is going back to Europe to check on the churches there, before he meets certain affliction and chains in Jerusalem. We remember reading, and will read it again, Lord willing; ‘I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” Luke also recorded; “Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'” These are not only important to today’s text but also, they book-end Paul’s final time in Ephesus. We saw last time how Paul was talked out of going into the theater to counter those crying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Now, in the matter of mere moments, textually speaking, Paul has gone to Macedonia, Greece and is now back in Macedonia. Luke, while writing that they did go to Greece, doesn’t divulge any details. I think we can reasonably assume that it was more of the same for Paul and his companions; preached in the synagogues and churches until he was chased away. In fact, we do read; “when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia.” Why doesn’t Luke write more about what happened in Macedonia on their way to Greece or about Greece? For one, scrolls were only so long that everything couldn’t be recorded; placing emphasis on what was recorded. Also, many things happened that are not written about. Think about it, we haven’t seen John in a while; what’s he up to? But I think the real reason we see Luke write things like, we did this and went here, is because like Paul, the focus is about to shift from the missionary journeys to Paul going to his adoptive home, Jerusalem.

But even as intriguing as Paul’s desire was to go to Jerusalem, there is something in today’s text that almost pales in comparison. Don’t worry, Lord willing, we will be in Jerusalem soon enough. But for now we notice Luke almost nonchalantly and quickly, rushing through Greece to get to the incredible miracle in today’s text. Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter and now Paul are in a class all by themselves–dead raisers. Of course, we know that it was God who raised the dead, but he did it through not only himself, but through his prophets and apostles, namely Elijah, Elisha, Peter and Paul. I also would argue that Paul was raised from the dead, not only spiritually but physically after his stoning, by the Holy Spirit. After all, the context is clear, everyone thought he was dead. Nevertheless it is not something of which I am willing to be dogmatic about. Either way, dead or almost dead, it is still miraculous because Paul got right up and walked away. What I will be dogmatic about is that other than God, himself, only four people have raised the dead. I can’t help but notice the timing of Paul raising Eutychus from the dead. I also can’t help but notice the rushed sense in which Luke writes after the uproar in Ephesus to the raising of Eutychus. I’m sorry if you disagree, but I believe that there has to be something to that. But we also notice that chronologically speaking, miracles mentioned concerning healing have declined but hit their climax and penultimate instance, so to speak, in the book of Acts with Paul’s raising Eutychus from the dead. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

Call it a lull in the action or a break in the sequential stride, or call it the calm before the small storm, but in a historical narrative, or which Acts is, we certainly see some hurried history being recorded. Short, dry and full of names of not only men but places, Luke tells us how far Paul goes on this, his third missionary journey. “And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia. And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. But these had gone on head and were waiting for us at Troas. And we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.” While Luke doesn’t record any miracles, we do notice the short phrase that Paul gave them “much exhortation.” While the text may seem rushed, Paul in not rushing to get to Jerusalem, yet.

“And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” In Troas, Paul and his companions, having been reunited, they gather with some locals to “break bread,” and for Paul to preach a sermon. Troas was northwest of Ephesus and Paul had been here before. On his second missionary journey, Troas was the port from which they set sail to go to Europe. Now Paul has returned and desires to speak with them and break bread. Problem; at least for devout Jews and Seventh Day Adventists, 1 Corinthians has already been written and it is the first day of the week. Notice; “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Also notice; “And when he had gone back up, and had broken the bread and eaten;” breaking of bread is not a metaphor for eating in this context because of the conjunction “and.” Do you see it? I am not being overly dogmatic about this but rather trying to point out dubious dogma of the Seventh Day Adventists.

Unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. We keep the Scripture CAGED by our traditions and teachings, preconceived notions and presuppositions. Therefore, here we use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, 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, teachings and traditions, unlocking the CAGED Scripture. So we consider the context and see that they at minimum were having fellowship and hearing a message on the first day of the week,  noticing Luke’s aspiration by specifically writing that it was the first day of the week and that they broke bread and ate. Another “vitamin” in the CAGED method is, E, examples.

We have already seen what Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning the broken bread, but what does Paul say about days of the week and stuff? “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” Much more is written and even stated by Jesus about the Sabbath. Things like, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. With all that has been written by Paul, God’s chosen instrument, most of our denominations should fall by the wayside and yet, they increase. Why? No one considers the context. Then add in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the LDS, and other false christian churches and we should see their errors clearly, then examine our errors. Point; Paul worshipped on the first day of the week in Troas–Sunday into Monday morning.

We live in a under-a-half-hour culture. We can’t sing for more than thirty minutes and we certainly don’t want to listen to sermons for more than thirty minutes. Certainly, we believe, that church services shouldn’t last more than an hour and a half. And this is more than reasonable, after all, we have much to do; preach the gospel, feed the poor, clothe the naked, teach the children, visit the prisoners, plead for the orphans and defend the widows. On top of all of this, we need rest. Unlike our ancestors and ancient Israel, we work 1/3 of the day for 5/7ths of the week. Not only this, our cars are difficult to drive, washing machines are complicated, microwaves don’t cook evenly and drive thru windows have too many people in line. Hint: when considering the context, include the culture context not contemporary christian culture. We are so far removed from the early church in time and space, that we are almost forced to come up with dubious dogmas. Rather than give thanks and be gracious to others, we have a collective guilt resulting in dispensationalist dogma, mega-church philosophies of God granting health and wealth, speaking in tongues to prove we are “in the Spirit,” Catholicism with a sacramental system and religious rituals, and modern day false prophets.

For example; when one reads the Olivet Discourse, are they not also reading the headlines of the day? Do they not look out the window and interpret Revelation by what they perceive is happening all around them. Rather, we should strap on our sandals and tie our tunics and listen to Jesus as his disciples did, overlooking the temple which Jesus said would be toppled within their generation. While reading Revelation, should we not imagine ourselves in the midst of Roman rule and Jewish persecution, in one of the seven, specific churches in Asia, rather than looking at our smartphones and wondering if we are holding the Mark of The Beast? It’s utterly ironic how the dogmatic dispensationalists argue that we should take Revelation literally but they postulate that the Mark of The Beast was foreign and future to the seven churches. They argue that the cashless society is coming and that is the Mark of The Beast. Yet literally John writes, to the literal seven churches; “that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” Notice, they would be able to figure out the number and that the number was a number of a man. Notice also that one could by with his name. That’s actually cold, hard, currency. Notice; “‘Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, ‘Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.'”

In America, our bill’s read, “In God we trust,” but in the days of the seven churches, Caesar was on their currency. For another fun exercise, grab your smartphone if you are not reading this on your smartphone. Read again up to this point and raise your smartphone over your head, still being able to read. Which hand is your smartphone in? The vast majority of you will be holding it in your left hand. Now check this out; “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead.” Be careful to consider the context.

We worship Jesus on the first day of the week because he was risen from the dead on the first day of the week. But we can also worship any time, day or night, even at midnight. “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.” It sounds like they knew Paul well because they had many lamps in the upper room. I can picture it now;

“Paul’s here and he wants to break bread and speak a message.”

“What time is it?”

“Noon.”

“Alright, I will go get the lamps.”

Notice that Luke writes that Paul’s full intention was to break bread and speak on Sunday and leave on Monday. It is no wonder then that Paul took the time to tell them things and exhort them. Especially when we consider the continuing context that he is on his way to Jerusalem and doesn’t expect to ever return to the region. We must also note, that even with a self-set deadline, Paul preached well into the night and further. Luke writes that Paul, himself, prolonged his message. And while it was important to Paul, the call of nature to sleep and possibly the evil carbon monoxide from the lamps, overwhelmed the young Eutychus.

“And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead.” Lesson number one; don’t sit in a third floor window if Paul is speaking. Have you ever fallen asleep in a church service? I have. But it was only for about 4 or 5 seconds. However it was not at midnight amongst many lamps. None of us find fault with Eutychus, or Paul, that is, I don’t think that the context indicates that Paul was boring or that Eutychus was lazy. However, I have an example of the opposite and most of you probably do as well. In a certain church service some several Sundays ago, a man, not the pastor, was giving a solemn, stoic, slumbering speech. As my mind drifted into anywhere but there, I heard a slight noise like a curious dog wondering who might be at the door. Then I heard a few faint giggles coming from the same area as the low growl. Then the growl became louder and louder until it sounded like a chain saw idling, snoring so loud that  it drowned out the speaked. At that point the few giggles turned into a gaggle of laughs. The speaker had completely lost his audience. But this is not what happened in Troas. Paul didn’t bore Eutychus to sleep, although he did speak for a very long time compared to our current,  cultural, christian climate. Eutychus was in the window, tired, with exhaust from the lamps and in exhaustion due to the hour, he fell asleep, fell out the window and died. It would be a sad story if it ended there.

“But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he said, ‘Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.’ And when he had gone back up, and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.” Wait a minute, Paul preached until midnight, to the point where someone fell asleep and fell out the window and they hadn’t even eaten yet? Besides not considering the context, we also tend to gloss over the text when reading. In the greater, continuing context we have seen the last miracle made through Paul to another person in the book of Acts. In fact, we see the last miracle made from any human hands. But this is far from ironic because the apostolic age is coming to an end and much more important is that Paul is going to Israel, even to Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Jerusalem, the great city! Paul is on his way to Jerusalem after his greatest and last miracle recorded. But what was the context of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem? The six or seven woes to the Pharisees. We also remember reading that they wanted a sign from Jesus but he promised them no sign except the sign of Jonah, in an obvious allusion to his death and resurrection. Now watch this; “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. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” Continuing in the chronological, consecutive context; “And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He answered and 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.'”

Paul is the Alamo; Paul is to Jerusalem as Little Bighorn was to Custer. Paul is going to plead with Jerusalem one last time. The former Pharisee and persecutor and now the apostle to the gentiles, who from city to city preached in the synagogues only to be chased out and beaten and stoned, is going to make a last stand for Jerusalem, no longer performing any signs or wonders but preaching the resurrection of Jesus, just as Jesus had promised them. It is absolutely noteworthy that before he came, but on his way to Jerusalem, Paul raised a young man from the dead. Jerusalem, the great city!

“And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”

Do you know why I call the select few in the dispensationalist camp, which are immovable and stubborn in their dubious doctrines, dogmatic dispensationalist, other than the obvious alliteration? Because they truly do rip verses out of context. For example; to the dogmatic dispensationalists, Jerusalem is still the great city; the Holy City, even though it is called Sodom and Egypt. They argue that the coming of Jesus always means the second coming. However, they argue about, albeit politely, amongst themselves who the harlot is in Revelation? Some argue that the harlot in Revelation is Rome. But this is impossible because the harlot sits on Rome. Others argue that it is a reborn Babylon, taking the extremely literal approach. This is why they are dogmatic, because they love and cherish Jerusalem, the great city. But the great city is the city in which the Lord was crucified. Context is king!

Bonus texts to discredit the dogmatic dispensationalists and to show Jesus told the truth about Paul and the other apostles. But also that he told the truth about the high priest, Pharisees and Sadducees being under condemnation in their generation. Jerusalem, the temple, the Old Covenant have become idols to the dogmatic dispensationalists.

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world…When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”

“And the woman (Jerusalem) was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, ‘BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.’ And I saw the woman (Jerusalem) drunk with the blood of the saints, (James, Stephen et al.) and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered greatly. And the angel said to me, ‘Why do you wonder? (Good question) I shall tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains (Rome is the city of seven hills) on which the woman sits, (“we have no king but Caesar!”) and they are seven kings; five have fallen, (Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, or Caligula, and Claudius) one is, (Nero) the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while (Galba). And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These have one purpose and they give their power and authority to the beast. These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.’ And he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to make a final plea with her people to repent and see the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. Otherwise, to captivity and destruction they will go, just as Jesus promised. Once again, the dogmatic dispensationalists argue that Jerusalem will return to her former splendor, ripping the following out of context; “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that the fig tree is always representative of Israel, so that when Israel returned as a nation again in 1948, it means that Jesus’ return is right at the door. Problem, dogmatically speaking; if Israel is always the fig tree, what do the dogmatic dispensationalists do with this? “Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, ‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered.”

Even in today’s text we tend to forget that Paul altered his route to Jerusalem due to persecution from the Jews. But what we must not forget is that Paul was Jewish, like Jesus and most of the early church. We will also, Lord willing, consider Romans as Paul travels to Rome. I may be called anti-semitic by the dogmatic dispensationalists who want to round up the Jewish people in Jerusalem to await a slaughter of 2/3rds of them. But I will argue, Lord willing, that Paul’s trip to Rome is significant in the fact that Jesus is open to all nations, including Israel. I will let Jesus, therefore have the last words. Notice the last word in particular, “them;” those present at that time, not those in the future. Context is king!

“‘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?’ 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.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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