Acts 5

Posted August 16, 2008 by Charles II
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Ananias [1] and Sapphira attempt to defraud the church by telling them they are handing over all the money from the sale of a piece of land while withholding some. Peter confronts them with their misdeed. They die, stricken down by the Lord[2].

The apostles and the believers gathered under Solomon’s Colonnade [3] and performed miracles of healing and exorcism. Non-believers, even those who respected the apostles, would not join them. But even having Peter’s shadow fall on the afflicted as he passed by was believed to help.

The high priest and his associates, Sadducees all, become jealous and jail the apostles. An angel releases the apostles at night and tells them to preach “the full message of this new life” in the temple courts. When the high priest and the Sanhedrin call for the apostles to be called forth, the jail is empty. The captain of the guard and his officers find and escort the apostles to the assembly of Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, but are careful not to use force, since they are afraid the people would stone them [4].

The high priest complains that not only are the apostles teaching of Jesus, they are blaming the high priest and the Sanhedrin for Jesus’s death. Peter says he is compelled by God to teach that God raised Jesus from the dead and placed Him at His right hand as Prince and Savior to help Israel find repentance and to forgive the sins of Israel. Israel’s leaders are furious and want to kill the apostles, but the Pharisee Gamaliel gives them very wise counsel: “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

So, the leaders of Israel order the apostles to be flogged. Everyone leaves happy, the apostles for having the opportunity to be abused for Jesus’s Name. And they don’t stop preaching.


1.  There are three Ananiases in Acts. The second is known as Ananias of Damascus. In Acts 9 (and 22), he lays hands on the blind Saul of Tarsus (later known as St. Paul) and Saul’s sight is restored.   The third is the high priest of Acts 23, who had his men ready to smite Paul. 
2.  It’s significant that the only supernatural death recorded in the epistles is inflicted on people who refuse to share. However, what made the sin mortal was the lie they conspired in, rather than the selfishness. Jesus warned that the one sin that God would not forgive was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29). The Holy Spirit is to be understood as the principle that leads people to truth, and is referred to as the Spirit of Truth in John 14-16. See Higgs.  
3.  As was mentioned earlier, Solomon’s Colonnade was a place of kingly judgment dating back to the First Temple. 
4.  Stoning was the punishment for only a handful of capital sins, notably blasphemy.

Acts 4

Posted June 7, 2008 by Charles II
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In the middle of the sermon that Peter and John were preaching, the Establishment (in the form of priests, Sadducees, and the captain of the Temple guard [1]) seized and jailed the two apostles for teaching independently of the priests. especially regarding the resurrection of the dead as evidenced in Jesus. But at least two thousand men were converted [2].

The next day, the rulers, elders and teachers of the Law, led by high priest Annas and comprising the Sanhedrin [3], conducted an investigation. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter answered them that the healing of the cripple was done by the name of Jesus. Quoting Psalm 118:22, Peter declares that Jesus is the capstone, the sole means of salvation. Dismissing Peter, John, and the former cripple from the Sanhedrin, the leaders of Israel decided that the best they can do is to threaten Peter and John to be silent to try to keep “this thing from spreading further.” Peter and John rejected the command to remain silent. The Sanhedrin, however, were unable to decide how to punish them, since people were praising God for such an extraordinary miracle– the cripple was over 40, after all.

Peter and John went back and reported to the followers of Jesus what had happened, and quoted Psalm 2:1-2 (“Why do the heathen rage… against the Lord and His Anointed One?”) They blamed Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel for conspiring against Jesus who, they said, God had anointed. They asked God to enable them to speak boldly and to perform healing and miraculous signs. There was an earthquake, and the followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The community was marked by solidarity and by strong testimony: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them.” People who owned land and houses, such as Barnabas (also known as Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus), sold those properties and provided the apostles with money [4], which was distributed to the needy.

1. The opponents of Peter and John were the priests, the captain of the Temple Guard, and the Sadducees. Matthew Henry thinks that the captain of the Temple Guard would have been a Roman, but this seems doubtful, since the Romans weren’t allowed in the Temple. The Sadducees were named after Sadoc, the high priest in the times of David and Solomon and were hellenizers, aligned with the ruling elite.
2. The math gets a little hard to follow. In Acts 1, there are 120 believers of both genders. In Acts 2, three thousand (gender unspecified) are converted. In Acts 4, the number of male believers increases to 5,000, but since we don’t know how many of the 3,100 are men, we can only be certain that at least 1,900 men were converted in Acts 4.
3. Matthew Henry points out that the Sanhedrin met the day after the arrest, unlike the trial of Jesus, in which he was tried the same night as His arrest.
4. The sale of lands and houses were very extreme steps, implying a breakup of communities and perhaps even families. Matthew Henry presents an argument that it was the time of the Jubilee, meaning that land could not be reclaimed for 50 years, but the argument is based on dubious numerology. Perhaps people may have been convinced that the End of Day was upon them. J.W. Carter draws attention to the point that Barnabas was a Levite, the one tribe that had not been allotted land in Old Testament days. (Carter uses that to argue that Barnabas was therefore not obligated to donate the land to the church, but the conclusion does not seem to follow). Perhaps the early church would have found that particularly satisfying, since the Levites were not supposed to own land, so a Levite sacrificing his land would seem to be a removal of a historical corruption.
Certainly the feature of sharing as a fundamental mark of Christians is noteworthy. Christians claim to be members of the same body, the body of Christ. If there is not a smooth sharing of necessities in that community, the claim of following Christ is probably not true.

Acts 3

Posted May 17, 2008 by Charles II
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Peter and John were going to temple at the ninth hour (3PM)[1] at the time of prayer. A man crippled from birth[2] was being carried to the Beautiful Gate [3] to beg. He asked Peter and John for money. Peter and John looked straight at the beggar and told him to look at them. Then Peter said that he had no gold or silver[4], but he would give what he had and he commanded the beggar to walk. He lifted the beggar by his right hand [5]. The beggar not only walked, but jumped and praised God.

People came running to Solomon’s Colonnade and were awed. Reciting the history of the crucifixion, Peter laid the blame on the ignorance of the Jews. He calls them to repent so that the times of refreshing may come. He says Jesus will remain in Heaven until the time for things to be restored. He quotes Deuteronomy 18: 15,18-19 to warn that those who do not listen to the prophet that God sends will be “cut off from among” (extirpated from) his people. He quotes Genesis 22: 18, 26:4 to say that Jesus has been sent to bless the Jews by leading them to repentance, and that they would bless the world.
1.  The ninth hour was the hour of day when Jesus died, according to John 23:44. 
2.  The phrase “crippled from birth” reminds us of the man in John 9, who was blind from birth, as well as the man healed by Paul in Acts 14, who was crippled in his feet and therefore lame from birth. Since the man was crippled, he was prevented from entering the Temple.
3.  Strelan argues that the “Beautiful Gate” is not the Nicanor Gate nor the Gate of Susa, but that it should be rendered as “The Ripe Gate”to indicate that it was the gate through which ripe produce came during festivals such as Tabernacles. This could explain that healing the man from lameness restored his connection with the Temple.
A photo of The Beautiful Gate, widened in the post-Christian era is here
4. Strelan remarks that if these events occurred during the Feast of the Tabernacles, a donation of two pieces of silver would have been expected from Peter. Occam’s Razor would suggest that Strelan’s hypothesis is incorrect, but his counterargument is worth a read.
A question is why Peter says that he has no silver or gold. Did he perhaps have copper coins with him? 
5. The miracle did not occur just by command, but by lifting. What was the role of eye contact in the miracle?  
6. A photo of Solomon’s Colonnade (or Porch) is available here
Jesus walked there (John 10:23) and this location became popular for the early church such that in Acts 5:12, it became a gathering point. In 1 Chron. 18, David supplies the plan for the Porch to Solomon. In 1 Kings 7, Solomon’s Porch is associated with kingly judgment and in 2 Chron. 8, it’s mentioned as being adjacent to the altar where Solomon offered sacrifices. While the Herodian Temple was different than the First Temple, presumably the historical connotations for specific
locations remained the same.
7. Peter’s version of the crucifixion asserts that Pilate had decided to let Jesus go, calls Jesus “the author of life,” and says that the ignorance of the Jews and their leaders was to blame.
8.  The Greek for “refresh” is anapsyxis, literally perhaps “mind rising.”  This occurs only once in the New Testament.
7.  The Greek for “cut off from” or “extirpated” is exolethreuo. This occurs only once in the New Testament.

Acts 2

Posted April 3, 2008 by Charles II
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The 120, including the Jesus’s disciples and “the women” were in “one place,” probably the Upper Room, and they were “of one accord” (Gr. homothumadon).  A violent wind sound came from heaven and filled the room and tongues of flame came and rested on each one. They began speaking of God’s mighty works… in languages other than their own.

The scene then shifts to a public place, where pilgrims hear the speakers. Some people hear the speakers in their own native language, even though the speakers had never spoken that language. Other people thought the speakers were drunk and therefore presumably were hearing something other than those who understood. 

Peter answers their perplexity by interpreting these events as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, that the Holy Spirit would be poured onto everyone and that they would dream dreams, see visions, and prophesy. God would show them wonders in heaven and on earth, with the sun darkened and the moon turned to blood. Most important, everyone who called on the Lord would be saved. Peter claims that this prophecy referred to the coming of Jesus, and quotes from Psalms 16 and 110 to identify Jesus with the child of David who God had promised David would rule forever. 

Finally, Peter shames the listeners by telling them they have crucified the Messiah and urges them to repent and be baptized. He says that the promise of redemption is not only for them and their children, but also for those who are “far off.” Three thousand people follow Peter’s call. They were notable because they shared everything according to need, and marked it by the fellowship of breaking bread and praying. This chapter underlines that they sincerely took joy in eating. And so the congregation grew.
1.  The opening image is of oneness. The people are together, unified in purpose, and the room becomes filled with sound. The unity is then intensified by the Holy Spirit, which enters each of them and erases the barrier of language that God created in Genesis 11. This then transforms in an unexplained manner to a duality, in which some people understand what is being said, and others imagine that the speakers are drunk.
2.It is unclear what differentiated those who mocked the speakers from those who saw it as miraculous. But those who heard, heard of God’s mighty deeds. One interpretation is that the speakers are not speaking any human tongue, but the language of Heaven, the universal language that existed before Babel divided humankind. The hearers either understand the language of Heaven, which sounds like their native tongue, or they do not, in which case it sounds like drunken babbling.
3. Peter says that “God made this Jesus…both Lord and Christ.” This seems to conflict in some degree with the general doctrine of the Trinity, which holds that the three persons of the Trinity are equal.
4. In John 20:22, the Holy Spirit comes only to the disciples, but in Acts to many.
5.  Pentecost means 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover
6.  In 1 Cor. 14:1-33, the tongues must be interpreted. Here, some people understand and some people don’t.
7.  The version of Joel’s prophecy in Acts does not match the Septuagint. “In the last days” replaces “afterwards,” “they shall prophesy” is added, and “above” has been added to “heavens,” “below” to “earth” and “signs” See Chris Haslam’s commentary.

Acts 1

Posted February 23, 2008 by Charles II
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In Acts 1, there is a brief synopsis of Jesus’s appearances after the resurrection, a description of the punishment meted out to Judas, and a description of the replacement of Judas with Matthias.

  • The post-resurrection events are described as occurring over 40 days
  • Jesus commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive a baptism of the Holy Spirit
  • The disciples wanted to know whether Jesus would restore the Jewish kingdom, but Jesus refused to answer directly
  • Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them power and that they would witness for Him
  • Jesus was then whisked from the Mt. of Olives into the sky. Two men clad in white promised that He would return similarly

The full list of disciples is presented: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James bar Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas bar James. These stayed in an upstairs room, along with “the women,” Jesus’s mother Mary, and Jesus’s brothers. The movement is still tiny, amounting to 120 men.

Judas’s betrayal is portrayed as wickedness and his punishment is said to be that he bought a field only to fall headlong, causing him to be disemboweled. The field was called the Field of Blood. Peter explained the death of Judas as having been foretold in the Book of Psalms and that Psalms also required a successor to be chosen.  Using lots, they chose Matthias and not Joseph son of Sabbas aka Justus to be the 12th apostle.


1. The disciples question to Jesus was whether He would restore the kingdom Israel, so their minds are on earthly things.


Posted January 12, 2008 by Charles II
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After an easy walk through the refreshing pastures of Mark, the Book of Acts is the next destination.

Mark 16

Posted January 5, 2008 by Charles II
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Presumably on Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to anoint Jesus’s body with spices. Although Joseph of Arimathea had rolled the stone over the tomb, the women were uncertain how they would roll it away. But the tomb was open and a young man in a white robe was sitting inside the tomb, on the right side. The young man told them that Jesus, who he calls a Nazarene, had risen and gone ahead of the disciples into Galilee. However, the women are so frightened, they tell no one.

Then this chapter tells a second, completely contradictory version, in which Jesus Himself appears to Mary Magdalene, who told others. Jesus appeared to two people who were out walking, and they told others. But because no one would believe that Jesus had appeared, Jesus Himself came to rebuke the eleven apostles for their lack of faith. He told them to go out and preach the gospel and that only baptized believers will be saved. He told them that belief  could be ascertained by signs: believers would drive out demons, speak in new tongues, pick up snakes, survive drinking poison, and heal people by laying on hands. Jesus is then elevated into Heaven and God (not Jesus or the Holy Spirit) works with the disciples, confirming His word by signs.


1.  The tomb is usually depicted as a cave into the face of the rock, so that the stone would be rolled across the ground to cover the opening. If so, it’s not clear why Joseph of Arimathea could roll the stone over the tomb but the women would wonder who would remove it. There is a potential resolution of this problem, namely if the entrance of the tomb was in a depression in the ground. Then, relatively little strength would be required to roll the stone over the tomb versus the strength necessary to remove it.

2.  The term “Nazarene” (GR. nazarenos) is generally read to mean “of Nazareth.” According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “In the manuscripts of the New Testament, the name occurs in a great orthographical variety, such as Nazaret, Nazareth, Nazara, Nazarat, and the like.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia says the root meaning is “branch,” as the phrase “branch of Jesse.” Other sources are less definite about the etymology. One interesting question is whether there is a connection with the term “Nazirite.” John the Baptist may have been a Nazirite, but Jesus could not have been, since He drank wine.

3. Mark 16:9-20 is an exemplar of cases in which text has probably been added. It reads somewhat like a marginal note, recapitulating the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and then extending from there.What it says is inconsistent with the previous chapter and with general Christian belief, which does not rely on miraculous signs. The reference to handling snakes, the basis for some Pentecostal worship, is only confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament in Luke 10:19. According to the Zondervan NIV, this passage is absent from most early manuscripts.

It’s interesting to compare what the other gospels say. Matthew says that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb and an angel (presumably outside the tomb) rolled away the stone.  Guards were also present and removing the stone involved an earthquake. Matthew says Jesus appeared first to the Marys and the other disciples saw Him only in Galilee. Luke says that Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Joanna went to the tomb and were met by two angels, presumably outside the tomb. Jesus appeared first to Cleopas and another disciple and then to the Eleven. Galilee doesn’t enter into it, nor is there an earthquake. John says Mary Magdalene found an empty tomb, but no angels initially. Then two angels appeared after Peter and another disciple had come and gone, presumably outside the tomb. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the disciples, then in Galilee. No earthquake.

The different stories are no reason to doubt the resurrection, but they do illustrate that eyewitnesses often produce contradictory evidence. That was probably well-understood by the ancients, but in the modern age, idolatry whose object is the Bible demands that those under its sway abandon simple common sense to believe every word. Wiser it is to believe the underlying meaning of this chapter– that Jesus has overcome death and demonstrated convincingly that life is eternal–while accepting the differences of the eyewitness accounts as genuine differences of memory and opinion.  

Mark 15

Posted December 28, 2007 by Charles II
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Early in the morning, the trial ends. The accusers of Jesus before Pilate are the chief priests, the elders, the teachers of the law, and the whole Sanhedrin. They accuse Him of “many things,” but Jesus refuses to answer these accusations. Pilate’s first question to Jesus is whether He is the king of the Jews, to which Jesus agrees. To accord with custom at the Feast, Pilate offers to release either Jesus or Barrabas, who is said to have been “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising,” a sketchy charge. At the instigation of the chief priests (not the elders, the teachers of the law, or the Sanhedrin), the crowd asks for Barrabas to be released and Jesus to be crucified.

Pilate is said to have known that the chief priests asked for Barrabas to be released out of envy for Jesus. Pilate also asks the crowd to name Jesus’s crime, which they decline to do. But Pilate obligingly hands Jesus over to be flogged and crucified. The soldiers take Jesus to the Praetorium and, before the whole company of soldiers, dress Jesus in purple, crown Him with thorns, and call out “Hail, king of the Jews.” They strike him on the head with a staff and spit on Him. They kneel before Him. Then they remove the purple robe, dress Him in His own clothes, and lead Him to be crucified.

A random traveler to Jerusalem, Simon the Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, is forced to carry Jesus’s cross. Arriving at The Place of the Skull, Golgotha, the soldiers strip Jesus and draw lots for His clothes, offer Him wine mixed with myrrh as an anesthetic, which He declines, and then crucify Him in the Third Hour [9 AM]. The official charge against Him is written as “The King of the Jews,” and He is crucified between two robbers. Passersby accuse Him of claiming to plan to “destroy the temple and build it in three days,” and tell Him to come down off the cross. The chief priests and teachers of the law (but not the elders or the Sanhedrin) similarly mock His helplessness, saying that He cannot save Himself, though He claimed to save others. Watching from a distance are Jesus’s mother, Salome, and Mary Magdalene.

In the sixth hour [noon], darkness falls across the land. In the ninth hour [3PM], Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”, the Aramaic of Psalm 22 in which David asks God why He has forsaken him. For reasons that are completely unclear, people think that Jesus is calling Elijah. One offers Him wine vinegar. Just before Jesus dies, that man wonders whether Elijah will come to remove Him from the cross. At Jesus’s death cry, the curtain in the Temple splits and a watching centurion is sure that Jesus is the Son of God.

Since this was a Friday and the restrictions of the Sabbath would descend, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’s body. Joseph bought linen, wrapped the body with it, placed the body in a tomb cut from rock, and rolled a stone before the entrance. The chapter closes with, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”


1.  Matthew Henry notes that Jesus is bound as an animal sacrifice would be bound.

2.  Jesus’s precise answer to Pilate’s question as to whether He is king of the Jews is “su lego,” literally “Thou sayest.”   When it says Pilate is “amazed,” the Greek is “thaumazo,” and is often translated “marvelled at.” Presumably, Pilate expected prisoners to be frightened and attempting to talk their way out of punishment, and so Jesus’s refusal to challenge the accusations against Himself and His polite but indifferent answer to Pilate’s question was amazing.

3. The Praetorium is translated various as “palace” or “hall of judgment.” This is the place Paul is held in Acts 23, and it is the “palace” where Paul says his bond to Christ shines clearly in Philippians 1: 13.

4. In Mark, Jesus is dressed by the soldiers in a purple (porphura, probably Heb. tekhelet, a dye extracted from the purpura mollusc and hence not unclean) robe, then stripped and placed in his own clothes. In Matthew, they dressed Him in a scarlet (kokkinos; Heb. shaniy, cochineal or carmine, extracted from a beetle and therefore unclean) robe. Purple and scarlet are mentioned in Rev. 18:11 as the precious cargoes of Babylon. Scarlet is also the color of the thread of sacrifice (Lev. 14:4, Heb. 9:19). 

5. In other accounts, Joseph of Arimathea is assisted in preparing the body. 

6. Joseph of Arimathea, though a secret follower of Jesus, was also a member of the Sanhedrin. He might therefore might have been involved in the condemnation of Jesus or in avoiding the meeting in which Jesus was condemned. Yet he did not seem to be afraid to ask Pilate for the body.

7.  Notice that Joseph of Arimathea rolled the stone before the tomb. This conflicts with our mental image of the stone as too large for a man to have moved it.

8.  One Mary is specified to be the mother of Joses (i.e., Joseph) and, separately as the mother of James the younger and Joses. Salome is the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Joses only appears five times in the gospels and is distinct from Joses Barnabas, mentioned in Acts 4:36.

9. The chapter says that a multitude of women who had come up with Jesus to Jerusalem watched His crucifixion. This is notable because women were generally regarded as property and were not permitted to travel without an escort from the family. So, the women traveling with Jesus probably included many who had been cast off. Mary of Magdala (the Magdalene) is elsewhere described as having been demon-possessed. She is often associated with Mary of Bethany and with the two nameless women who anointed Jesus’s head and, separately, feet. More can be learned about the traditions surrounding Mary Magdalene here.

Mark 14

Posted December 1, 2007 by Charles II
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The chief priests and the teachers of the law conspire to arrest Jesus, but are afraid that if He is arrested during the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the people will riot. While Jesus was in Bethany, reclining (presumably eating) at the home of Simon the Leper, a woman carrying an alabaster jar of nard, valued at a year’s wages, broke the jar and poured the perfume over Jesus’s head. People saw this as a waste of something that could have been sold to feed the poor, but Jesus said that she was anointing Him for burial and that we would always have the poor to assist.

Judas was apparently among those who was incensed at the waste of pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, because he went to the chief priests to offer to betray Jesus. They agreed to pay Judas for the betrayal.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus sent two disciples ahead to make the preparations for the eating of the Passover dinner with the Twelve. There was apparently some secrecy, because first a man with a jar of water led them to the house with an upper room, and then they would ask the owner of the house to show them the guest room.

At the Passover meal, Jesus says that one of the Twelve will betray Him. Each of them, including Judas–who has already offered to betray Jesus– ask, “Surely not I?” Jesus warns that for His betrayer, it will be better if he had not been born. Then He offers up the bread as His body and the wine as the blood of the covenant. Jesus predicts they will all abandon Him. Against Peter’s protestations, Jesus predicts that he will deny Jesus three times. Jesus also prophesies that he will rise and lead them back to Galillee. Then they sing a hymn and go to the Mount of Olives, where Peter, James and John repeatedly fall asleep as Jesus prays to be spared His ordeal.

Judas arrives, leading an armed crowd sent by the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders. He kisses Jesus as the signal of whom the crowd is to arrest, at which point someone strikes off the ear of the servant of the chief priest. All of Jesus’s followers flee, including a young man who abandons his clothing to escape arrest. Peter doubled back and followed Jesus’s jailers, even warming himself at the fire with the guards.

The chief priests, elders and teachers of the law, indeed the whole Sanhedrin served as Jesus’s tribunal. Jesus is silent until they ask Him if He is the Christ, the son of the Blessed One. Jesus asserts that He is, and that they will see the Son of Man seated by the Blessed One. This statement is condemned as blasphemy. Jesus is then spit upon, blindfolded, beaten, and ordered to prophesy.

Meanwhile Peter is meeting his own fate. A servant girl twice says that he was with Jesus. At first, he simply denies it, saying he doesn’t know what they are talking about. But then a stranger says that Peter must have been with Jesus, since Peter is a Galillean. At this point, Peter calls down curses upon himself and swears he doesn’t know Jesus. The cock crows, and Jesus’s prophecy about Peter is fulfilled.

1. Passover falls on the 14th day of Nisan, beginning the evening before the sunrise, and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins on Nisan 15 and runs for seven days. Passover, of course, celebrates the night when the Israelites marked the lintels of their doors with the blood of a freshly slain lamb so that the Angel of Death with pass over them and take only the firstborn children of the Egyptians. The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents the time of flight from the Egyptians, using bread baked without time for it to rise.
2.  Why would the Feast be a time when people might riot? It may be that this would have violated the prohibition against work.
3.  Why were the chief priests and the teachers of the law the primary conspirators against Jesus? Is this because this is a religious trial rather than a political event? 
4.  Alabaster is probably calcite. It can be deposited from stalagmites or from springs of calcium-rich water. Flawless calcite costs about $10/carat, with a carat equal to 2 grams. So the jar would presumably have cost at least a thousand dollars, and probably much more in modern terms.
5. Why did the woman break the jar, rather than simply opening it? The Greek for “break” is suntribo, and can mean “trample” or “crush.”
6.  Nard, or spikenard is derived from a plant of the valerian family found in Tibet, India, and China. It can be used as a sedative, particularly for insomnia or in childbirth.
7. Why will we always have the poor to assist? This seems to be a statement that the world will not covert to Christianity, because it would not take a very large number of people behaving as Jesus would have them behave to eliminate poverty.
8.  The Greek for Blessed One is eulogetos, which might be translated “the one well spoken of” or “the praised one.” It is only used eight times in the New Testament (Mark 14, Luke 1:68, Romans 1:25, Romans 9:5, 2 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 11:31, Eph. 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3). There is another word used for blessed, makarios, which is about three times more common. Makarios, which might be translated “happy” or “fortunate” is used repeatedly in the Beatitudes, which word literally means “happiness” (Matthew 5, Luke 6)
9.  Note that the tribunal judging Jesus does not condemn Him to death. They only condemn Him as worthy of death. The Romans are the ones who have the actual power to order an execution. 

Mark 13

Posted October 13, 2007 by Charles II
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This chapter deals with the apocalypse. Jesus tells His disciples that the the glorious Temple, with its massive stones and magnificent buildings, will be utterly destroyed. Considerable time went by as the group walked to the Mt. of Olives, at which point four disciples (Peter, James, John and Andrew) asked Him when this would happen and how they would know the apocalypse. Jesus begins by telling the four what the false signs are:

  • people claiming to be Jesus
  • wars
  • earthquakes and famines

Then he warns the four about what will happen to them. They will be arrested, punished, and required to testify to governors and kings about Jesus, and will need to rely on the Holy Spirit to speak through them. In the middle of this list, He says, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” Perhaps this should be rendered, “Before the apocalypse, the gospel must be preached to all nations.” As it is rendered, it sounds like an incorrect prediction that they will preach to all nations before being forced to testify. Then He says that there will be betrayal of brother by brother, child by father, and father by child.

At last, He comes to the unmistakable sign of the apocalypse: the presence of “the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong” (*). He says that this will herald great distress in Judea, so great that people should abandon their possessions and flee to the mountains. There will be no future generation, so nursing and pregnant mothers will face the despair of watching their children die. Only God’s chosen ones will be spared. At that time, false messiahs will be plentiful, but Christ will not be present.

Quoting Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon in 13:10 and against Edom (but editors title the chapter to be directed against “the nations”) in 34:4, He says the sun and moon will be dark, stars will fall from the sky and heavenly bodies will be perturbed. Only then, He says, will the Son of Man return and the Elect be gathered by angels from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. But, He adds, even He does not know when this will be, only that it will be and that the signs will be as evident as the ripening of the fig tree in spring, and that–here the text is ambiguous– either this generation or this race will see the apocalypse. Therefore, He says, “Watch!”

(*). The reference of “the abomination that causes desolation” is to Daniel 11:31, in which it is prophesied that the King of the North will desecrate the Temple, abolish the daily sacrifice, and install the abomination, presumably in the Temple. The prophecy is generally understood to refer to 1 Maccabees 1:54 of the Apocrypha, in which the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanus desecrated the Temple with the flesh of swine and by installation of a statue of his god, Zeus. In this understanding, the passage in Daniel was written contemporaneously with the invasion of Antiochus, not as a prediction of the future but as a prophetic statement of the present. However Jesus has re-interpreted the prophecy to refer to some future event.
Is this a description of the final apocalypse, or only of the destruction of Jerusalem? The quotations from Isaiah refer very specifically to the destruction of Babylon and Edom, representing the descendants of Esau. The first prophecy probably has been fulfilled, since in 539 BC, the Persians under Cyrus captured it, with the city gradually being abandoned by 141 BC. The latter prophecy cannot already have been fulfilled, since it describes the land being turned into burning sulfur and pitch. Does Jesus cite these passages simply as examples of the signs of great destruction?
Is there a contradiction in Jesus calling the appearance of false messiahs a false sign and his description of the apocalypse?
Is there a significance to the selection of disciples with whom Jesus shared His vision of the apocalypse?
The specification of the gathering of the Elect is puzzling.
Are they gathered from both earth and heaven, or are they gathered from earth and placed in heaven?