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John, Part 4 - The Foundation Of The Church

INTRODUCTION: This Bible study concludes the brief series of biographical sketches of the apostle John, with information drawn this time principally from the book of Acts. Peter and John are mentioned together in the early chapters of Acts as the church body grew in numbers in and around Jerusalem, but Peter by far has the prominence in the text. Perhaps the apostle John had adopted the heart attitude to willingly subordinate himself in whatever manner the Lord would lead him. Previously as the apostles followed Jesus before the cross, John and his brother James had sought for themselves the positions on the right hand and the left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. When the other ten apostles heard of this, they became very angry with James and John. At the last supper in the upper room, John was very close to the Lord, and had opportunity to ask of him the question that was on the minds of all the apostles: who would betray the Lord? After the resurrection John was walking closely enough to witness the thrice given command of the risen Christ Jesus to Peter to "feed my sheep." Based on the record of Acts, Peter became a very bold witness for Christ and an obvious pillar in the church. John wrote the gospel that provides some very detailed passages about the Lord Jesus, three letters for the church, and the book of prophecy that closes the scriptures.

NOTE: All Bible passages are taken from the World English Bible.

A - The beginnings of the history of the church

Acts 1:1-14 "The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God's Kingdom. Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, "Don't depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It isn't for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth." When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, "You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had come in, they went up into the upper room, where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."

COMMENTS: The gospel of John does not list the twelve apostles, but in each of the other three gospels the order of the list begins with Peter, James, and John. It is interesting that in the above passage from Acts, after the resurrection, the list of the eleven apostles begins with Peter and John, and James is third in the list. In the book of Acts, that order perhaps could be considered as representative of the amount of material available about each of these men. The other apostles are not mentioned by name in Acts after chapter one, although some of their names are shared by other individuals. From the time Jesus first appointed his apostles, he gave them special authority as documented in the gospels, and this continued after Jesus was resurrected. Mark 3:14-15 "He appointed twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach, and to have authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:"

We have a brief description of a dedicated, steadfast group of disciples who had accepted the truth of the resurrection of Christ and it had changed the direction of their lives. Women were a part of those who followed Jesus during his teaching ministry, and this passage assures that they were also part of the church. The mother of Jesus is specifically named in this group, as well as the brothers of the Lord, as verified by the last sentence of the passage. They were in harmony with one another as they prayed fervently and made humble and earnest petitions to the Lord. They now could apply the direct teaching they had heard from the Lord about daily living in the present world; and they could be confident about their resurrection to eternal life in the kingdom of God, because of their faith in the risen Christ.

B - The day of pentecost

Acts 2:1-4 "Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak."

Acts 2:7-18

"They were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, "Behold, aren't all these who speak Galileans? How do we hear, everyone in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians: we hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!" They were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, "What does this mean?" Others, mocking, said, "They are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, "You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words. For these aren't drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. Yes, and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days, I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy."

Acts 2:38-43

"Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself." With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation!" Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls. They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles."

COMMENTS: Though John is not mentioned by name in these three passages, it would not be unreasonable to expect that he would have been in some way a part of these events as one of the chosen apostles. In the first passage, the promised Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, and the result was very dramatic. Many languages were spoken by those filled with the Spirit, and that ability caused quite a stir among the large crowd who had come from a variety of districts to Jerusalem at that festival time. It must have been very startling to so many different listeners to hear their own native language being spoken by men of Galilee, rather than a language common to most of them. This would certainly be an attention grabber!

In the second passage, Peter addressed the crowd and offered the explanation of how this multi-lingual ability was a fulfillment of prophecy. He transitions from that point about the languages, to next give a clear picture of how Jesus had fulfilled prophecies for the Messiah, and that salvation was available to those who would believe in Christ Jesus. Through the work of the Spirit of God many accepted the truth by faith, and a large number were added to the church. Steadfast is again the term that characterizes the apostles' teaching and breaking of bread, and prayer. Many signs and wonders also continued to be performed by the apostles. Surely John had his share in these activities that are ascribed to the apostles as a group.

C - Healing of a lame man at the temple

Acts 3:1-11 "Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. A certain man who was lame from his mother's womb was being carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask gifts for the needy of those who entered into the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive gifts for the needy. Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, "Look at us." He listened to them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!" He took him by the right hand, and raised him up. Immediately his feet and his ankle bones received strength. Leaping up, he stood, and began to walk. He entered with them into the temple, walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. They recognized him, that it was he who used to sit begging for gifts for the needy at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon's, greatly wondering."

Acts 3:22-26

"For Moses indeed said to the fathers, ‘The Lord God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him in all things whatever he says to you. It will be, that every soul that will not listen to that prophet will be utterly destroyed from among the people.' Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days. You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.' God, having raised up his servant, Jesus, sent him to you first, to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from your wickedness.""

COMMENTS: This healing of the lame man is the first specified miraculous healing after the resurrection, and Peter and John are together for this event. As a crowd quickly gathers, Peter takes the opportunity to explain why this power is being manifested. He uses the scriptures to demonstrate how Jesus has fulfilled prophecy. Peter closes this passage by presenting the need for the people to recognize and accept Jesus as their Christ.

D - Apprehended for proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead

Acts 4:1-4 "As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. They laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was now evening. But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand."

Acts 4:5-17

"It happened in the morning, that their rulers, elders, and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and as many as were relatives of the high priest. When they had stood them in the middle of them, they inquired, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "You rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in him does this man stand here before you whole. He is ‘the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner.' There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved!" Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled. They recognized that they had been with Jesus. Seeing the man who was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, "What shall we do to these men? Because indeed a notable miracle has been done through them, as can be plainly seen by all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we can't deny it. But so that this spreads no further among the people, let's threaten them, that from now on they don't speak to anyone in this name.""

Acts 4:18-22

"They called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, for we can't help telling the things which we saw and heard." When they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for everyone glorified God for that which was done. For the man on whom this miracle of healing was performed was more than forty years old."

COMMENTS: In the first passage under this section, even though Peter and John are apprehended, there were many who accepted the dual witness of the unmistakable healing of the crippled man, and of the words of Peter about the Christ, and they believed. In the next passage, Peter and John are brought before the council after spending the night in custody. When asked by what authority or in whose name they had done these things, Peter replied, "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in him does this man stand here before you whole." After Peter finished his other remarks, this group of well educated leaders were surprised by the boldness of Peter and John because they judged them to be unlearned. They therefore took note that these men had been with Jesus. Since they could not deny the obvious healing of the crippled man, they warned Peter and John not to speak or teach any more in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, for we can't help telling the things which we saw and heard." Peter and John seem to be convinced in their hearts that they must obey the commission they received from Christ Jesus despite any intimidation or threats.

E - The apostles apprehended a second time

Acts 5:12-18 "By the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. They were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. None of the rest dared to join them, however the people honoured them. More believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them. Multitudes also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed. But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public custody."

Acts 5:19-33

"But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out, and said, "Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But the officers who came didn't find them in the prison. They returned and reported, "We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!" Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. One came and told them, "Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people." Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them. When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "Didn't we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and determined to kill them."

Acts 5:34-42

"But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honoured by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while. He said to them, "You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrolment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!" They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for Jesus' name. Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ."

COMMENTS: The first passage in this section reveals that the apostles continued to perform signs and wonders, and they met in unity in Solomon's porch at the temple. Others were afraid to join the apostles, but still gave them honor, and multitudes of men and women were added to the Lord. The high priest and the sect of the Sadducees were jealous and placed the apostles in custody. This may have been all of the apostles or just a representative group, since the text does not provide specificity in the number or names. The next passage indicates that those apostles were released from prison by an angel of the Lord, and they followed his instructions to preach at the temple. Even though the guards and the officials were puzzled at how the apostles got out of the prison, they were not deterred from bringing them back for questioning. When reminded that they had been warned not to speak in the name of Jesus, Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men." The other things said by the apostles before the council stirred up determination within them to kill the apostles. The logical argument presented by Gamaliel convinced the council to be satisfied with administering a beating and another strict warning. However the last verse indicates that the apostles actually rejoiced at their suffering for Christ. They continued daily with their teaching that Jesus is the Christ, in homes and at the temple. This second apprehending of the apostles and the physical punishment as well as the warning, indicated a progression in the open hostility of the ruling Jews toward those who followed Christ Jesus.

F - The first martyr and the dispersion of disciples

Acts 7:59-8:1 "They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, don't hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he fell asleep. Saul was consenting to his death. A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day. They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles."

Acts 8:14-17

"Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."

Acts 8:25

"They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Good News to many villages of the Samaritans."

COMMENTS: Though the apostles were in the forefront of teaching at the temple with other believers afraid to be too visible among them, Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the believers for general ministry to the body of believers, and approved by the apostles. His outspoken faith led to his stoning after he was taken before the high priest and the council. This intensified pressure against Christians by Jewish leaders caused many of them to leave Jerusalem, but not to leave their faith in Christ Jesus.

It is interesting to notice that this dispersion of believers was not contrary to the words of Jesus in Acts 1, but may have been part of the Lord's larger design to defeat the efforts of the opponents of Christ, and to bring about the spread of the gospel. Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth." This is what Paul said about his many difficulties after his conversion. 2 Corinthians 12:9 "He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me." The apostles remained in Jerusalem during this severe persecution. When word came back to Jerusalem about the acceptance of the word in Samaria, Peter and John traveled through Samaria to make the Word more secure among the new believers. The words of Jesus of the spread of his witness have continued to be fulfilled by Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, over many centuries.

G - James killed, Peter rescued, John remains a leader

Acts 12:1-11 "Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This was during the days of unleavened bread. When he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. Peter therefore was kept in the prison, but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him. The same night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains. Guards in front of the door kept the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side, and woke him up, saying, "Stand up quickly!" His chains fell off from his hands. The angel said to him, "Get dressed and put on your sandals." He did so. He said to him, "Put on your cloak, and follow me." And he went out and followed him. He didn't know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went out, and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. When Peter had come to himself, he said, "Now I truly know that the Lord has sent out his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from everything the Jewish people were expecting.""

Galatians 2:9

"and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision."

Ephesians 2:18-22

"For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit."

COMMENTS: James, the brother of John, is the first of the apostles to die for his faith, and Peter would have been next had he not been freed from the prison by an angel. John is no longer mentioned in the book of Acts after the record of his brother's death, but the passage from Galatians indicates that John was a key leader along with Peter (e.g. Cephas) and James, the brother of the Lord at the time of Paul's ministry. The passage from Ephesians demonstrates how the Lord provided for the church to grow and to be sustained from generation to generation. Gentiles share access with the Jews to eternal life through the sacrifice of Christ. This has continued to be passed along over the centuries by believers who have built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone. What an incredible blessing to be part of the holy temple with saints of all time, together for a habitation of God in the Spirit!

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, this part of my study on the apostle John has given me more insight about your choice for the original twelve apostles to be from the common people. There boldness about declaring the truth of fulfilled scripture before the religious leaders, then caused those leaders to take note that they had been with Jesus. I believe that all prophets and apostles throughout scripture, regardless of their station in the world's eyes, were empowered by your Spirit for their actions and their writings. Help me Lord to always remember that there is no basis to boast in ourselves for that which you accomplish in and through us. I am thankful for the boldness and for the humility that are together characteristic in the record of the Apostle John's life to be an example for me. I praise you that because you set your redemptive love upon me, I am now part of that spiritual building built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with you my Lord and Savior as the chief cornerstone. Give me discernment Lord to know when to obey God rather than men, and grant me the strength to continue to witness for Christ regardless of the consequences. Amen and hallelujah!

Published 11 October 2011