Tag Archives: Acts

The Focus of the Kingdom of God

One day my friend Dan and I were helping a neighbor load a moving truck for the neighbor’s move to another state. Dan’s wife and two small children came along to visit Dan while he was helping load things onto the truck. At one point Dan’s 3-year-old son started crying, and his mom went to comfort him. She asked him what was wrong. He answered, “I don’t want daddy to move away.” Dan wasn’t moving – he was only helping a neighbor move. But Dan’s son had the wrong idea about the whole scene!

According to Acts 1:1-8, shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples had the wrong idea about what Jesus was doing with his kingdom. As a result, they had the wrong idea about what they should be doing as well. Jesus has just died for the sins of the world, so that people could participate in God’s kingdom and enjoy relationship with the King. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and began to appear to the disciples. Note that according to Acts 1:3, Jesus continued to teach about the kingdom of God to his disciples. Even after his resurrection Jesus proclaimed the same kingdom he had announced at the beginning of his ministry and had demonstrated through his miraculous works.

Jesus and the apostles, Trinity Church, New York City

Jesus and the apostles, Trinity Church, New York City

Still, the disciples are confused at this point. In verse 6 they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” There are two primary things they are confused about. First, they are confused about the timing of the kingdom. They think that it should come immediately. Jesus diverts their focus from timing to mission. They shouldn’t worry about the “times or seasons,” since that is God’s responsibility. Their response is to be empowered by the Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses, pointing other people to God’s kingdom and its King. Waiting for God’s kingdom should never lead to passivity. The hope of the coming kingdom should motivate followers of Christ for service and ministry.

The second point of confusion is about the scope of God’s kingdom. The disciples envisioned a kingdom that was restored to Israel. But God’s kingdom is for both Israel and the other nations. Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. God’s kingdom is open to anyone who has faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death for the forgiveness of our sins.

Even today the promise of Jesus’ kingdom coming sometimes creates idle speculation about dates and timing rather than motivation for action. We should avoid the pull towards passivity and instead be active witnesses and servants of God’s kingdom to people from all backgrounds and cultures.

(See also previous posts in this series on the kingdom of God).

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Filed under Acts, Biblical Theology, New Testament

Greece Pictures Added

I have added a page of pictures from Greece that features sites of biblical or historical interest. The cities included are Thessaloniki (home of the recipients of 1 and 2 Thessalonians), Philippi (Philippians), Berea (whose residents are mentioned in a positive light in Acts 17:10-15), Vergina (near where Philip II of Macedon is buried), Delphi (famous for its oracle at the Temple of Apollo), Athens (see Paul’s sermon there in Acts 17:16-34), and Corinth (recipients of 1 and 2 Corinthians).

I traveled to Greece and Rome this past January with a great group of students (and a faculty colleague) from Taylor University. Dave, Elizabeth, and David Sparks were our excellent guides and teachers.

Look for the “Pictures of Greece” page at the top of the home page, or follow this link.

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Patmos and Ephesus

Our group has returned home safely from our trip to Turkey (and Greece – see Patmos). It was a fun trip, and I really enjoyed getting to know the students, my colleagues, and our tour guide along the way.

Towards the end of the trip, we had two highlights: Patmos and Ephesus.

Patmos, a Greek island that was a 4 hour boat trip from the coast of Turkey near Ephesus, was much larger than I imagined it:

Patmos

The apostle John was exiled as a political prisoner on this Aegean island, most likely during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, in the mid-90’s A.D. From here John wrote Revelation to the seven churches of Asia and shared the contents of what God had revealed to him on this island. We saw a cave that is the traditional location for where John received this revelation. We could not take pictures inside the cave or the small church attached to it, but a mosaic above the door to the entrance of the church complex depicts the scene of John receiving the revelation and dictating it to his scribe (traditionally identified as Prochorus):

John receives Revelation

The next day we visited Ephesus. The memory of John is also very strong here, since the city is the supposed location for John’s burial. According to tradition John had returned to Ephesus after the new emperor Nerva released him from his exile. A church was built at the traditional location for the burial site of John in the city:

Basilica of St. John, Ephesus

Here is a 6th century baptismal pool found in that church, giving believers a striking picture of the forgiveness of sins that we enjoy through the death and resurrection of Christ:

baptistry in Ephesus

 

Most Christians associate Ephesus more with Paul than with John, but since Paul died elsewhere, there are fewer overt reminders of his presence. But this theater was the site where he and his friends were confronted by a hostile mob (Acts 19):

Theater, Ephesus

The angry crowds were upset that Paul’s gospel of Jesus Christ was negatively affecting the worship of Artemis and the economy that was centered around the Temple of Artemis and the sale of her shrines. Once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, today little remains of the Temple of Artemis:

Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

Worldly kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s kingdom endures forever. The gospel or good news of Jesus is that we who believe and are washed of our sins through the sacrificial work of the Savior-King will enjoy God’s kingdom forever.

 

 

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Floods, hailstorms, and archeological ruins in Turkey

It has been a crazy few days of seeing the sites in Turkey. We had a sunny day in Nicea, followed by rains and floods near Troas, and a hailstorm on the top of ancient Pergamum. Through the ups and downs, we saw ancient cities of historical and biblical interest. Here are a few snapshots from those days:

025 Nicean council location A

This all that is left of the site of the early church’s first ecumenical council meeting place in Nicea. This pier led to Constantine’s palace on an island, but the island and palace have now sunk into Iznik Lake. On the island several hundered early church bishops (including St. Nicholas, perhaps) clarified the early church’s belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in A.D. 325.

Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul was prevented by the Spirit from entering regions of Turkey and stopped in Troas instead, on his way to Macedonia during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10). Our team was prevented from reaching Troas because heavy flooding made the streets impassable:

035 impassable road near Troas A

On Paul’s third missionary journey he walked from Troas to Assos, along the Aegean coast. Scholars are not sure why he walked while all of his companions traveled by sea (Acts 20:13). He may have needed time alone to prayerfully contemplate the prophecies Christians were sharing with him about future troubles in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24; 21:10-13). Here is the modern harbor at Assos:

008 Assos harbor A

At ancient Pergamum (recipients of a letter from the Apostle John in Revelation 2:12-17), we reached the top of the acropolis just in time to witness a hailstorm (thankfully, we had shelter). Within half an hour though, everything had cleared up, and we had wonderful views. This is the temple of Dionysus in Pergamum:

Temple of Dionysus, Pergamum

Pergamum was the first city in ancient Western Turkey to have an imperial cult temple (built in 29 B.C.). The temple, which is no longer standing, was dedicated to Augustus (this bust of Augustus was excavated from Pergamum, but I saw it in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum):

097 Augustus, Pergamum A

The imperial cult, with its expectations of ultimate allegiance given to Rome and its leaders, created pressures upon early believers. Because of this clash of competing loyalties, one believer from Pergamum, Antipas, had been martyred in Pergamum before John wrote to the believers in that city (Rev 2:12-13). This fits well with one emphasis from this class and trip: the kingdom of God will finally prevail over all rival kingdoms, but in the meantime believers may suffer for their devotion to Christ and his kingdom.

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Filed under Church History, New Testament, Turkey

My Favorite New Testament Book

At a wedding recently someone asked me what my favorite New Testament book was.

That question always stumps me.

The great thing about teaching the whole NT several times every semester is that I get exposed to every book on a regular basis. I learn to appreciate the contribution each book makes to the whole. Teaching the whole NT also keeps me accountable to the whole NT. I can’t ignore parts of the NT that don’t conveniently fit into a simplistic paradigm of God and his work.

The Gospel narratives remind me that Christianity is more than a philosophy or a set of abstract principles. It is based on historical events in which the Son of God was born among us, ministered in our midst, was rejected, was crucified, was buried, and rose again. The comforting, unsettling, inspiring acts and teachings of Jesus lead me to both deeper worship of the Lord and greater eagerness to read about and understand him more.

Acts tells the exciting history of how the church blossomed by the power of the Spirit and under the leadership, ministry, and teaching of the apostles. There were significant bumps along the way though – pretenders struck down for lying to God, accusations of insensitivity to the needs of some members of the church, sharp theological disputes that required the convening of a church council, and the breaking apart of a ministry team because of a disagreement over personnel. But God’s word and his church still advance.

Paul’s letters are a diverse bunch themselves. Paul unpacks the implications of Jesus’ work – for the present life, for the life to come, for Jewish believers, for Gentile believers. He presents the ideal of unified churches guided and empowered by the Spirit and yet churches that need leadership and organization too.

The general epistles include uncompromising stands against false teaching (Jude), descriptions of worldwide judgment on the unbelieving world (2 Peter), and the challenge of living counter-culturally and not just inwardly spiritually (James).

And then there is Revelation, where the vivid portrayals of God’s vindication of his people, triumph over evil, and creation of the new heavens and new earth remind us not to reduce God to a tame, grandfatherly figure.

The NT books are all part of our heritage as Christians. They all contribute to a complete Christian world view, and God uses them all to speak to us and shape us into worshipful disciples. Treasures await in each book for those who are diligent seekers.

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