The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Know Your Bible Lesson 74: Fishermen vs. Priests

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At the end of our last lesson, we left Peter and John standing before a panel of Jewish authorities preparing to give an explanation for all the fuss they caused in the Temple. But before we check out their defense, let’s take a moment to ponder what went so wrong with some of the Church’s early disciples.

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH JOHN?

Of the original twelve disciples that we read about in the Gospel books, John and Peter are the only two who go on to author epistles that ended up being preserved in our modern day New Testament. This isn’t to say that the other apostles weren’t prolific letter writers, but once the Church hand picks such a small number of documents to preserve, those documents end up being the only ones that most Christians ever look at. The James who wrote the epistle of James is not believed to be one of the twelve, but rather a brother of Jesus who had the same name. But from Peter we have 1 & 2 Peter, and from John we have 1, 2, & 3 John plus the book of Revelation. Like Paul, the apostle John’s arrogance is most remarkable, as is his ability to completely discount certain realities of life. In short, John turns Pharisaical on us. He insists that it is moral perfection, not inward soul attitude, which God judges us by, and that to be less than perfect is to land in Hell. It is John who so obnoxiously claims that anyone who sins must be a child of the devil, as are all who do not sincerely love their fellow humans and all who refuse to blindly believe everything John and his fellow apostles say (see Salvation According to 1 John & Spiritual Discernment According to John). And since John promotes himself as a true Christian, it follows that he believes himself to be sinless and perfect.

This is the same John who Jesus later snows with visions of John and those who John personally approves of being so exalted in Heaven. In Revelation, Heaven is depicted as a fortress, and each one of “the Lamb’s twelve apostles” gets glorified by having his name etched on one of twelve foundation stones for all to see. So John’s name is inscribed on one of the foundation stones of Heaven. In other words, God is saying that one of the walls of Heaven couldn’t even stand upright if perfect John wasn’t there to support it. My, isn’t John amazing.

Does John find it at all suspicious that a God as jealous for glory as Yahweh should be so eager to glorify mere mortals? Not at all. John relishes the vision, and concludes his book by jotting down a nasty little curse. He claims that anyone who tries to leave out any word that he has written will have his salvation revoked. In other words, mess with John, and God will throw you into Hell (see Change the Bible, Go to Hell: Debunking Christian Superstitions). It turns out that submission to our three glorious Creators isn’t good enough to get saved. Apparently we all have to revere John as well, and view him as God’s infallible liaison. Wow. And this is the guy who stood around listening while Jesus expounded on the importance of being humble. Where was John when Jesus was reviewing God’s very low opinion of human arrogance? How do you hang out with Jesus for three years and end up as some arrogant fathead who thinks he’s risen above the whole sin issue? What went so wrong with John?

Well, let’s think about this. John started out as a small time fisherman in the northern region of Israel. His main work hours were at night, his work was labor intensive, and there’s just nothing pleasant about a man smelling like fish 24/7. John was a nobody. But then confident, miracle working Jesus came along, and started making noise that He was the promised Messiah. John rushes to get on board what he thinks is going to be a sweet ride to power, glory, and prestige. Jesus was John’s shot at fame, and when John looked around and saw eleven other disciples, he got concerned about the competition so he tried to get Jesus to guarantee him and his brother James the highest ranking spots in Jesus’ kingdom. Back in Lesson 60, we found John and James sidling up to Jesus with this utterly obnoxious request:

They replied, “When You sit on Your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to You, one on Your right and the other on Your left.” (Mk. 10:37)

Wow, talk about trying to shove your way to the front of the line. Clearly John didn’t get much out of that parable about taking the most humble seat at the party and waiting for your host to decide that you were worthy of promotion (see Understanding Jesus: All who Exalt Themselves will be Humbled). Jesus taught His boys not to grab at the glory, and the Old Testament has many examples of Yahweh coming down brutally hard on humans who start thinking they’re all that. Yet does any of this deter John? Not at all. John and everyone else believed that Jesus was going to become some powerful world ruler who would grind all of the other nations under Israel’s boot. When the little people looked up in admiration at their great king, John wanted them to be getting an eyeful of John as well.

Well, things didn’t work out like John was hoping. Jesus gets Himself killed, and suddenly John is the pathetic loser who put his hopes in a phony. But then Jesus comes back to life and suddenly John’s hopes for glory are revived. So now is Jesus going to establish that earthly kingdom and give John a shot at the chair right next to the big chair? Nope, Jesus is going to ascend into the sky. Well, rats. Our fisherman with the big dreams is getting nowhere until suddenly the Holy Spirit makes a royal ruckus on Pentecost. Now, suddenly, there are thousands of Jews gathering around with big eyes looking at those nobodies from Galilee. Only suddenly John’s not a nobody anymore, because this crowd hasn’t come to see the infamous Jesus at work. For the first time, John’s no longer just a sideshow. Suddenly he’s the man.

In Acts 2:41, Luke estimates that three thousand Jews became instant fans after Peter gave his emphatic speech. Well, guess who’s making sure to be standing right there next to Peter? Our glory loving John. In Acts 3, Peter does the talking, but Luke credits Peter and John for healing the lame man. Once Peter and John go into the Temple compound with the healed man clinging to both of them, they both start talking. Luke says the crowds ran towards these two fishermen from Galilee. Think about that. While Peter is pontificating to the crowd, John is looking around and seeing thousands of Jews pressing in to get a better look at the miracle men. These are John’s fans, not Jesus’ fans. By the time the Temple guards intervene, Luke estimates that the number of their followers had reached five thousand. That’s five thousand super dramatic Jews who are probably whooping, cheering, and shouting at the top of their lungs for these two new miracle working heroes. Suddenly John finds himself raking in the glory he’s dreamed of. Sure, Peter’s trying to give all the credit to Yahweh, but it’s not Yahweh who these Jews are staring at with those wide, awe-filled eyes. It’s Peter and John, and John is loving life.

Being worshiped wrecks people. There’s only one way to survive getting bathed in fame in this world, and that’s by having God properly prepare you for it. How does He do that? By grinding your pride into the dirt so long and hard that you honestly find it repulsive when other people gush over you. The praise of people must become utterly worthless to you before you’ll be able to weather getting pelted with it, and it takes a whole lot of pain and strain for God to get you to that point. Most people never even get invited to endure this kind of Divine pounding because the work God calls them to do doesn’t require that kind of prep. But among those who do get a ticket to the pride bashing boot camp, very few are willing to stay the course. Most decide to ditch partway through and rush on to center stage before they’re ready to handle it. How does God respond to our refusal to submit to His training? He often decides to heap the glory we crave so much right onto our heads and let it have its predictable effects. Pretty soon we’re actually believing all of that guff about how great we are, and as our egos grow, our willingness to heed God’s convictions withers until we become, well, like John.

John pens Revelation towards the end of his life, and when we see how out of control his arrogance is, it’s a very sobering thing. No, you really don’t want God telling you that you’re some foundation stone in Heaven as if you’re the one holding the place up. You don’t want God saying He depended on you to get His work done on earth, and you don’t want Him confirming all of your arrogant fantasies about how your ethnicity is superior to everyone else’s and your personal record of righteousness is spotless.

When God starts saying everything your ego wants to hear, that’s a very, very bad sign. It means He’s done telling you the truth because He can see that you just aren’t willing to listen. Revelation is filled with glaring indicators that something is not quite right. From God talking as if having your head chopped off makes you more holy than anyone else (see Millennial Madness), to Him playing along with the New Testament Jewish tradition of treating the tribe of Dan like an unwanted yuck (see The 144,000), Revelation is packed with evidence that God is just playing John—telling him everything that his arrogant little self wants to hear. That’s right—no sinners will be allowed into Heaven (see A Disturbing Paradise). But of course John is sinless, so that’s why he’s getting in. That’s right—God thinks the genetics of our earthsuits are more important than the attitudes of our souls, and that’s why the Heaven we find in Revelation is a virtual shrine to a single ethnicity. That’s right—God is a “one sin and you’re a goner” kind of Guy, and that’s why He couldn’t possibly forgive any Christian who bows down to a Roman idol. Once we realize what God is really doing in Revelation, we get a whole new set of insights into just how scary it is to have God intentionally withhold the truth from us (see Applying Revelation: Its Warning for Modern Day Believers). But of course this is nothing new. In the Old Testament and in the Gospels, Jesus and Yahweh describe Themselves reacting to rebellion by preventing people from understanding truth—even when that truth is put right in front of them (see Jesus: The Bewildering Teacher).

So then, what went wrong with John? It seems that he got puffed up on pride from being worshiped by other humans, and that worship machinery is kicking into gear here in Acts. For the first time in his life, John is the main attraction. He’s the guy the people are hot to see, and there are thousands of Jews hanging on his every word. There’s no way a man is not going to be wrecked by so much misplaced admiration unless he has prepped ahead of time with God. But John hasn’t prepped, because John has been too busy thinking about what position he’ll hold in Jesus’ earthly kingdom to pay attention to the critical points Jesus was making about how to please God.

PETER & JOHN MAKE THEIR DEFENSE

So now that we’ve got an appreciation for what a huge ego boost this situation is for our two fishermen, let’s get back to Acts 4. In a religious society like New Testament Israel, the highest authorities in the land are religious authorities. The panel of critics that Peter and John are facing right now include former high priest Annas (who was the first one to question Jesus after He was arrested in Lesson 68), the current high priest Caiaphas (who is Annas’ son-in-law), and relatives of Caiaphas. In Acts you’ll see Annas being called the high priest, but this is more of an honorary title. It’s rather like an older, more experienced ex-American president getting together with the younger, less experienced, current American president. The younger president then calls the older man “Mr. President” as a sign of respect, and lets the older man run the meeting even though he technically shouldn’t have any clout. This is what’s happening with Annas and Caiaphas. Annas is being viewed as the head honcho because he’s older and was high priest in the past.

Well, now it’s time to start the proceedings. The panel asks:

“By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” (Acts 4:7)

The big “crime” that’s been committed is the healing of the man who was a known cripple. Remember that the Jewish leaders don’t give a flip about pleasing Yahweh—they’re just using religion as an excuse to grab power. Any real miracle worker is a major threat to their turf, and having just gotten rid of that troublemaker Jesus, the last thing these leaders want is for a new Elijah type to go grabbing up the scene. These leaders want the Jewish commoners worshiping them, not getting enamored with grubby nobodies from Galilee.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the Man you crucified but whom Yahweh raised from the dead. For Jesus is the One referred to in the Scriptures, where it says:

‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ [Ps. 118:22]

There is salvation in no one else! Yahweh has given no other Name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)

To Peter’s credit, he’s grasping that belief in Jesus as Yahweh’s special Guy is a critical issue for salvation. Of course he’s misapplying Psalm 118, but that’s par for the course with Peter.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Now before we deal with Psalm 118, we need to understand that not all cultures view names the same. For the superstitious Jews—who were huge fans of spell casting and very eager to embrace new magical talismans—using the name of some important person was a good way to amplify the power of the verbal spell you were casting. Be it a blessing or a curse, if you attached Yahweh’s Name to it, or if you swore by one of the Jewish greats such as Moses, Abraham, or Elijah, well, then things got extra potent. Names were considered to have power, and how much power a name carried had to do with what kinds of feats the owner of that name had pulled off.

Today, Americans don’t view names as being nearly as significant as the ancient Jews did. We treat our names casually—often tossing aside our given names in favor of silly nicknames. We answer to many different names, and we’re just not in the habit of swearing by each other’s names. We prefer to swear by things instead. “I swear on my mother’s grave” or “I swear on a stack of Bibles.” Sometimes we say, “I swear to God,” but we don’t go around saying, “I curse you in the name of my cousin Joe!” Well, if Cousin Joe had performed Elijah-type miracles, then New Testament Jews would have been glad to start flinging his name around, and they would have considered his name to be as potent as Joe himself. The point is this: using names was like a form of spell casting to these people. It wasn’t just a meaningless exclamation. When Americans today cry out, “Oh my God!” or “God help me!”, they’re just using an expression—they aren’t really thinking of God. But when an Old Testament Jew says, “May Yahweh never forgive you!”, he’s really trying to get God to side against you. He’s essentially treating the name like handles on a faucet. When you turn on a faucet, water comes out. When you say God’s Name, God’s power is supposed to flow out and fulfill your human command. It’s ego-driven, superstitious nonsense, and yet today in the Church we’re perpetuating this behavior. We should have let it go a long time ago and realized how culturally specific Jesus was being when He told name obsessed Jews to say things in His Name. But of course we don’t.

So how important is it that we invoke the Name of one of our Creators when we’re casting out demons, or making some really important request, or trying to get Satan to take a hike? It’s not important at all. To understand why Jesus encouraged His boys to use His Name, you have to realize that these guys were already entrenched in a spell casting culture. If they weren’t using Jesus’ Name, they’d be using someone else’s, so Jesus wants His Name added to their list of potent words and then He wants His Name bumped up to the very top of the list so that everyone gets the message that He is more powerful than anyone else.

So why play along with delusions instead of just pointing out how wrong they are? It’s about easing us into truth at a pace we can handle. The gods that everyone was praying to in the Old Testament weren’t real, but the folks who worshiped them weren’t ready to face such a disturbing revelation. So instead of saying to all of the Egyptians, “You jokers are worshiping gods that don’t even exist,” Yahweh rolled out ten plagues in which He claimed to be defeating the Egyptian gods. In Exodus 12:12, Yahweh says:

“I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, both man and beast. I am Yahweh; I will execute judgments against all the gods of Egypt.”

But wait–how is Yahweh going to pass judgment on gods that don’t exist? He’s not. He is being intentionally deceptive with His language in order to meet these people where they were at. The Egyptians sincerely believed their gods were real—so did the Jews living in Egypt. Instead of calling them all delusional, Yahweh talks as if their gods are real, then He performs miracles that demonstrate His supremacy over those gods.

There has never been power in a name. Human vocal cords are incapable of generating, releasing, or controlling supernatural power, yet in the Gospels, Jesus plays along with the absurd Jewish assumption that there is power in the spoken word. Instead of saying to His guys, “You are all totally delusional to think that just saying a name is going to do anything,” He tells them to start flinging His Name around like some kind of potent spell, because they’re not ready for a more mature teaching yet.

You can’t just overhaul someone’s entire belief system at once. Humans are fragile on every level, including mentally and spiritually, and we get overwhelmed very easily. So all throughout the Bible, we find Yahweh and Jesus playing along with all kinds of ridiculous beliefs, and acting like absurd theories are actually true for the sake of communicating with folks who are stuck in a certain frame of reference. The positive insight we gain from observing this is how sweet our Creators are to be so patient with us. They could just whack us across the face and shout, “Wake up, stupid!” But instead, They say things like, “Hey, tell you what. I see you’re big on using the power of names. Well, try using My Name for a change and see how much more potent it is than all the names you’re used to using.” Name contests, god wars, miracle contests—these are all different ways to teach us the same bottom line: there are certain Gods who are totally supreme over all other beings, and those are the Gods we need to be devoting ourselves to. If we’re so caught up in spell casting silliness that we need to fling names around for a while to grasp this point, then fine. As long as we end up in a place of sincere soul submission, our Gods aren’t particular about how They get us there.

So then, Peter thinks the actual utterance of Jesus’ Name is a critical key to getting miracles to happen and to acquiring salvation. Peter thinks this because Peter is a superstitious Jew who has been taught to believe that there is great power in names. And since Peter is talking to more superstitious Jews who also believe in the potency of names, his argument makes sense.

PSALM 118 IN CONTEXT

Now in order to convince his religious leaders that Jesus really was the promised Messiah, Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 and says it’s really a prophecy about Christ.

The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.

But as we’ve said in previous lessons, the psalms are not prophetic. They are emotive poetry. They are exaggeratory, and they express a wide range of sentiments, many of which are not at all pleasing to God. To try and say some individual psalm writer had Christ in mind when he was venting his feelings in ink is utterly absurd, but this is what we do all the time today because we’re following the bad example of New Testament Jews.

So if Psalm 118 is not about Christ, what is it about? Well, this is a longer psalm whose author is not named. The Jewish man who wrote it is reflecting on a personal experience he has recently had with Yahweh. He was recently in some kind of trouble, which he now credits Yahweh for saving him from.

In my distress I prayed to Yahweh, and Yahweh answered me and set me free. (Ps. 118:6)

From this experience, he’s learned some important lessons, such as Yahweh is more trustworthy than people are.

It is better to take refuge in Yahweh than to trust in people. (Ps. 118:8)

He then goes on to boast about the great odds he defeated in the Name of Yahweh, which is his way of saying that he defeated them by the power of Yahweh.

Though hostile nations surrounded me, I destroyed them all in the Name of Yahweh. Yes, they surrounded and attacked me, but I destroyed them all in the Name of Yahweh. (Ps. 118:10-11)

The ancient Jews were big fans of using repetition as a form of emphasis, which is why you find lines like this in which the same point is being made twice in a row with just a little variation in wording. Our psalmist repeats himself some more, then praises Yahweh for being so powerful, and then he comes to an interesting confession.

Yahweh has punished me severely, but He did not let me die. (Ps. 118:18)

Clearly our psalmist feels that some of the trouble he’s recently been through was a form of Divine punishment. But Yahweh has decided to be merciful and let our bad boy live, so now our psalmist is all eager to express his thanks in proper Old Covenant fashion, which means heading on down to the Temple to give Yahweh a sacrifice.

Open for me the gates where the righteous enter, and I will go in and thank Yahweh. These gates lead to the Presence of Yahweh, and the godly enter there. I thank You for answering my prayer and giving me victory! (Ps. 118:19-21)

Now after describing the epic odds that were against him, and how he feels that he had a narrow escape from death, it becomes clear that our psalmist is thinking of himself as the cornerstone when he says:

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is Yahweh’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. (Ps. 118:22-23)

In the world of biblical architecture, the cornerstone was critical. It was the first stone you laid down, and you then you used it as a reference point in setting all of your other stones. If you set the cornerstone down crooked, then lined up all of the stones to it, the whole building would come out crooked. You don’t want some chipped, cracked, or uneven stone to serve as your key measurement block. You want a perfectly straight, good looking specimen.

Well, here in Psalm 118, our writer is being metaphorical. Yahweh was just recently grinding on him with some brutal Divine discipline. That’s a very humiliating position to be in. Who feels victorious when they’re going through some spiritual valley or when they’re dealing with the embarrassing fallout of some sin they committed? But then, in the middle of that mess, Yahweh suddenly called an end to the disciplinary period and gave our psalmist an epic military victory. This psalm could easily be written by a Jewish king who went from feeling mocked by other nations, to feeling utterly triumphant. The point is that he’s gone from looking like a pathetic loser to looking like the great victor. Because of their great importance in architecture, cornerstones were used as metaphors of importance in other areas of life, and here our author is saying, “Wow, I’ve gone from feeling like some rejected stone that no one wanted to deal with to being the main man. What a great turnaround—God has lifted me out of the pit and given me great social status. I’m so grateful to Him!”

And what do we do when we’re grateful Jews living under the Old Covenant? We hold a grand celebration and roast lots of animal sacrifices.

Take the festival sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar. You are my God, and I will praise You! You are my God, and I will exalt You! Give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever. (Ps. 118:27-29)

This is the end of the psalm, and what does one relieved Jew’s exuberant praise to Yahweh have to do with Christ being crucified? Nothing.

THE LEADERS REACT

Well, the Jewish leaders aren’t bothered by misapplications of Scripture—in fact, they’re the ones who teach the commoners to shamelessly rip verses out of context. In Acts 4, what’s wowing our panel of religious critics is how bold Peter and John are acting. The commoners were taught to feel inferior to the learned Sadducees and Pharisees. Yet here Peter is boldly accusing the priests of discounting prophecies in Scripture and of crucifying Yahweh’s Messiah.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ Name again.” So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the Name of Jesus. (Acts 4:13-18)

If Jesus’ Name remains in use and is associated with more miracles, then Jesus the Man will start being revered by the Jews and this is the last thing the religious leaders want. They just got rid of that headache from Nazareth—why can’t He just stay gone? Surely these two fishermen will be easily intimidated now that their Leader is gone. But having thousands of new fans can be a powerful confidence booster.

But Peter and John replied, “Do you think Yahweh wants us to obey you rather than Him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising Yahweh for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years. (Acts 4:19-22)

Riots trigger the wrath of Rome, so riots are the last thing any city under Roman rule wants. If the Jews start freaking out, Roman soldiers are going to charge onto the scene with swords swinging. So for now, the council lets Peter and John go for the sake of avoiding a scene. Remember, Jerusalem is super crowded right now because of Pentecost, and Peter and John have scored thousands of new fans.

THE HEROES RETURN

Once they are freed, Peter and John hurry back to their massive fan club and share what happened with the priests. The news just makes the Jews admire Peter and John even more because, wow, they stood up to the priests. It’s time for a group praise session. Luke doesn’t tell us who leads the group prayer, but given the misapplication of yet another psalm, it’s probably Peter.

When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to Yahweh: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—You spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, Your servant, saying,

‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against Yahweh and against His Messiah.’ [Ps. 2:1-2]

In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, Your holy servant, whom You anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to Your will. And now, O Yahweh, hear their threats, and give us, Your servants, great boldness in preaching Your word. Stretch out Your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the Name of Your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:24-30)

PSALM 2 IN CONTEXT

Psalm 2 doesn’t actually use the term “Messiah.” It’s being intentionally misquoted here in Acts to make it sound like a Messianic prophecy. Psalm 2 is describing a Jewish king who is boasting of how secure he is because he has Yahweh as an Ally. All Jewish kings were ceremonially anointed, as were some prophets and other members of Jewish society. Being anointed meant having one of Yahweh’s representatives (usually a prophet) drizzle olive oil on your head which had been mixed with a very specific blend of fragrant spices. Yahweh provided the recipe for anointing oil in the Torah, and that recipe wasn’t to be used for anything other than God stuff. Anyone who had been anointed in this fashion could be referred to as one of God’s “anointed ones,” and we find such language being used in the Old Testament. Being the reverent man that he was, David was especially fearful of assaulting any of God’s “anointed ones,” because anointing was associated with Divine favor. So even when King Saul turned into a psychotic jerk who was hunting David down and trying to kill him, David wouldn’t harm Saul because Saul had been anointed when he was made king over Israel.

In Psalm 2, David is talking about himself and mocking nations who are plotting against Israel when he says:

Why do the nations rebel and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against Yahweh and His anointed one. They say, “Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.” (Ps. 2:1-2)

Whenever she had the chance, Israel delighted in lording her power over other nations and making them pay her tribute. Paying tribute is like having the neighborhood bully say “You’d better pay me $100 every week if you don’t want me to come over to your house and beat you up.” Being forced to pay tribute by a nation who was militarily stronger than you was humiliating, and no one enjoyed doing it. In Psalm 2, Israel is currently in the position of top dog, and there are several nations grumbling against her. The common way to break out of a tribute paying situation was to form alliances with other nations who would help you go beat up the bully nation who was oppressing you. In Psalm 2, David’s talking about getting wind of such plans being made against Israel, but he responds by scoffing. David essentially says, “Give it up, you pathetic losers and accept the humiliating position you’re in! Yahweh is the God of Israel, and you’ll never find a way to triumph over Him! Ha, ha, ha!” This is certainly an arrogant attitude, but David felt it was righteous to boast like this because he was putting his confidence in Yahweh. Here’s how the psalm ends:

So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth. Serve Yahweh with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling. Pay homage to His son or He will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for His anger may ignite at any moment. All those who take refuge in Him are happy. (Ps. 2:10-12)

Jewish men called themselves the sons of Yahweh. So when David tells his enemies to “pay homage to Yahweh’s son,” he’s referring to himself. He’s saying “You all will just have to keep doing what I say or else my God will trash you! Ha, ha, ha!” It’s a very boastful psalm written by a very confident king who is feeling secure in his power position. Under David’s reign, Israel’s territory was greatly expanded and she experienced some very fine times. None of this has anything to do with Christ, and yet thanks to the foolish comments in Acts, you’re now taught to think that the “son” in Psalm 2 is an obvious reference to Jesus.

BACK TO ACTS

So at the end of Acts 4, we’ve got thousands of super excited Jews feeling very encouraged by the fact that Peter and John just triumphed over a panel of powerful priests. Remember that the current high priest Caiaphas and the former high priest Annas were on that panel of judges. For such men to release Peter and John without doling out a harsh punishment feels like a major victory for the little people. But still, it is nerve-wracking to know that the priests are now ticked, and it’s very likely they’ll be looking for revenge. The Jews were very big on revenge, and what Peter and John just did was embarrassing to the priests. So these believers are nervous and it’s likely Peter is praying for Yahweh to boost his own courage, while he reminds himself and everyone else that Yahweh is in control.

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of Yahweh with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

Here’s the Holy Spirit being a sweetheart by causing a little earthquake to happen so that Peter will feel confirmed that Yahweh is backing him up. What nice Gods we have. And notice how the good news is referred to as “the word of Yahweh.” The whole Messiah thing was Yahweh’s idea, it’s Yahweh’s Covenant that is changing, and these Jews are still viewing Yahweh as the only true God. So you’ll find that in the New Testament epistles, it’s not just “the Good News” that’s being preached, but “Yahweh’s Good News.” And that Good News is that Yahweh has finally sent His long awaited Messiah who has atoned for everyone’s sins. Plus, Peter and John believe that these are the last days and that soon Yahweh will show up in some blaze of glory to judge the whole earth and hand out mega rewards to His faithful followers. So they’ve got a message of hope that is very attractive to oppressed Jews, thus we find their fans multiplying in great numbers as everyone shares their stuff with everyone else. Folks who have a lot of money start making generous donations to the group and pretty soon things start to get carnal. We see the same pattern today: some guy drops a big check in the offering plate and somehow the word gets out and suddenly people are giving Mr. Generous an extra measure of respect. Other people are envious of the extra attention, so they start looking for ways that they can flaunt their own offerings.

Here in Acts, if you want to have your gift get the most recognition, then the smart move is to go directly to head honcho Peter and make a big scene out of handing your stuff over. Laying your satchel of money on the ground at Peter’s feet would look nice and showy—er, humble. So this is what a certain man named Ananias does. He and his wife Sapphira sell a piece of property, then Ananias struts on over to Peter and lays his sack of money down at the apostle’s feet. He announces in front of an audience that he’s handing over every cent of the profits he got from selling his land. But it turns out that this is a lie, because Ananias has actually held back some of the money for himself. But who will know? Ananias figures this is a sure way to gain some status. Will his plan work? We’ll find out in our next lesson.

UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 75: The Wrath of Priests

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