by Steven Chan
The Jews’ accusations against Paul before Governor Felix were as follows: “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law.” (Acts 24:-5-6).
Paul was described as a “plague”! The Bible commentator, Albert Barnes, said that the Greek word “loimon” is “commonly applied to a plague or pestilence, and then to a man who corrupts the morals of others, or who is turbulent, and an exciter of sedition.” He was accused to be a “creator of dissension” (i.e. a divisive person) and a “ringleader of the sect”. He was accused as a ‘sectarian’, one who teaches differently from what has been received.
Paul’s defense was this: “And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.” (Acts 24:12-13) He denied causing disturbance in the temple or inciting the crowd; the accusers were simply making bald claims; they had no evidence to support their claims/accusations. But the Jews were not concerned with the evidence. They just did not like what Paul taught and they wanted to silence him.
Paul, however, confessed this before Felix: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. 15 I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. 16 This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” (Acts 24:14-16)
Let’s learn a few things from this encounter of the apostle Paul with his accusers:-
- People who hold doctrines which differ from what the Bible says, will sometimes make accusations without credible evidence against those who hold to the “once for all delivered faith” (Jude 3). They will allege that we are being “divisive”; that we are disturbing the faith that they have long held to be the truth.
They may even allege that we are a “cult” because we teach accurately what the Bible says about the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God conjoined with baptism for salvation as stated by Jesus in Mark 16:16 and followed in all accounts of conversions in the book of Acts; including the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2:38-41; by Paul himself in Acts 22:16; by the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36-39; by the Philippian Jailor in Acts 16:31-33. In Acts 19:1-5, those who had been baptized under John’s baptism were commanded to be baptized in the name of Jesus (i.e. in accordance with the New Covenant of Jesus as stated in Mark 16:16 and Matt 28:18-20). Although Jesus Himself was baptized by John (Matt 3:13-17), after the coming into force of the New Covenant on the cross (Heb 9:15-17), the baptism of John was superseded by the baptism of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins as a term of salvation under the New Covenant.
We must not be discouraged by “wild” unsubstantiated allegations such as that we teach “baptismal regeneration” or that we teach “water” salvation without the blood of Jesus!! The Bible clearly teaches that without the shedding of the blood of Jesus there would be no remission of sins (Heb 9:22; Rom 3:24-25). The pertinent question is when or at what point in our life does the blood of Jesus (which was shed for us by God’s grace) wash away our sins? Though it was shed on the cross for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), one must still accept this free “gift” of God’s grace by confessing our faith in Jesus Christ and be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins so as to be raised to walk in newness of life as a new creature in Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom 6:3-5; 2 Cor 5:17). Salvation/Redemption/Forgiveness of sins is to be found “in Christ” (Eph 1:7; 2 Tim 2:10). The way to “get into Christ” is by means of baptism (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:26-27) – that being an exercise of our faith in the work of God (Col 2:12). Baptism is not an act of merit on man’s part; it is an act of obedience to the command of Jesus as stated in Mark 16:16. So, the blood of Jesus cleanses/washes away our sins when we obey from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to us as stated in Rom 6:3-7;17-18:”But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness”; in the words of Ananias to Paul: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16). If one has not yet obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine delivered by Jesus in Mark 16:16, then one cannot possibly claim the assurance that one’s sins have been washed away.
- Those who teach the truth must be careful not to “incite” the crowd or “cause disturbance” in the places of worship of those who are of a different faith. According to James 3:18: “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Paul wrote thus:“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18). This does not mean that there will necessarily be peace with those who differ from us (as was evident in the many accusations by the Jews against Paul); but that we should make every effort to be peace-makers without compromising or sacrificing the truth. Peace should not be achieved at the cost of watering down the truth.
- Paul confessed that he “worshipped God” according to “the Way” (which his accusers deemed a “sect” or a “cult”). It is important to note that Paul emphasized the Way he worshipped God differed from that of the Jews. In Acts 18:13, the Jews accused Paul thus: “This fellowpersuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” His worship of God was in accordance with “the Way” – that is the Way as taught by Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6); it was Jesus who taught in John 4:23-24: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God isSpirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” What is the Truth? Jesus answered in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” God’s word is truth. So we worship God according to “the Way”, the Truth as taught by Jesus (John 17:8) who Himself is the Truth and the Life. Jesus said that what we teach affects our worship of God: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt 15:9). We need to worship God in accordance with His revealed Will (Matt 7:21).
Under the New Covenant, no longer will the worship of God be characterised by the offering of animal sacrifices or the burning of incense as were required under the old covenant or the law of Moses, the worship according to “the Way” would be the offering of “the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15; 1 Cor 14:15; Col 3:16; Eph 5:19), the offering of prayers (1 Cor 14:15; 1 Tim 2:1;Heb 5:7), the free-will offering of funds for the work of the ministry (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 9:6-8), the teaching of God’s Word (Acts 20:7;1 Cor 14:31; 2 Tim 2:2; Eph 4:11-16) and the remembrance of His sacrifice for our sins while partaking the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; Matt 26:26-28; 1 Cor 11:23-26). The 3,000 souls who were baptized in Jerusalem under the terms of the New Covenant of Jesus “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42). That was how Paul worshipped God according to “the Way”.
- Paul confessed his belief in “all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). Yet, Paul’s teachings were different from those taught by the scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees who also professed their faith in the “Law and the Prophets” (Matt 23:2) and who sought to silence him. Specifically, Paul taught that salvation is to be found “in Christ” (Acts 18:5-6). In Corinth, after leaving the synagogue of the Jews, he went next door and the Bible recorded thus: “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8).
The difference between the teaching of Paul and that of the Jews was that Paul, like Jesus, taught that the “Law and the Prophets” prophesied until John (Matt 11:13) but “since that time, the kingdom of God is being preached” (Luke 16:16); Jesus taught that the prophecies of the law and the prophets were to be fulfilled by Him: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” (Luke 24:44). So, the law was a tutor to lead us to Christ: “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made.”(Gal 3:19) “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal 3:24-25). So, Paul believed the Law and the Prophets, and they pointed to the coming of Christ: “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— 23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22). The problem was that the Jews refused to believe that the prophecies of the Law and the Prophets were fulfilled in Christ.
Likewise, there’s much confusion among believers of the Bible with regards to whether one is still obligated to observe the requirements of the Old Testament or Old Covenant – even though the Bible has plainly stated that the Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of the Law and He has taken it away by nailing it on the cross (Col 2:14; Eph 2:14-16); the first covenant has been taken away, it has been replaced by the New or Second Covenant (Heb 8:6-13; 9:15-17; 10:4-10) made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ as stated by Him in Matt 26:28 when He instituted the Lord’s Supper for us to remember what He did for us: “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
The Bible says in 2 Tim 2:15 that one must “rightly divide the word of truth”: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) The failure to discern the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament has caused many to misunderstand the scriptures – just like the scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees.
- Finally, Paul confessed thus: “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of thejust and theunjust.” (Acts 24:15).
Brethren, there’s only one hope (Eph 4:4) and we are urged to look “for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)- “for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:16-18). The hope of the resurrection at the time when Christ comes again is the hope of the apostle Paul and should be ours too. For then “we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor 15:51-54).
We can look forward to the time when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4). Let’s not lose this hope. Having this precious hope (1 Pet 1:3-4), we are encouraged to: “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58)