Acts Devotionals

The Red Herring

We started and ended yesterday mentioning doctrine. Negatively and positively doctrine divides. The negative is that it divides causing anger, frustration and even fighting. The positive is that doctrine divides truth from error. As previously stated, although Luke records Paul’s knowledge of the Sadducees and Pharisees different beliefs about the resurrection from the dead, I believe God the Spirit put this in Paul’s mind for a specific purpose.

1) Paul’s belief about life after death.

Ac 23:6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

(1) The structure of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a Jewish Court of Law whilst the Temple existed in Jerusalem. It was known as Sanhedrin ha-Gadol in Hebrew. Sanhedrin means “council” and comprised of seventy men who were rabbis as well as the high priest. There was a system of smaller courts spread throughout Israel for many years after the Temple was destroyed. The composition of the Sanhedrin was local elites, members of the high priestly family, scribes which were religious experts and lay elders. Mostly these were divided into two groups known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. The tie break in the seventy strong membership was the high priest. He was known as the “nasee” which in modern Hebrew means president.

(i) Sadducees believed in total free will, were motivated by wealth and power, depended on written laws only for decision making and discipline. They did not believe in life after death or that there was a spirit world and angels. Basically they believed in annihilation. The soul they taught, ceased to exist when the body died.

(ii) Pharisees believed in free will but that God has foreknowledge of human destiny. They were more in-tune with the spiritual elements of Judaism and believed one’s action on earth effected one after death. This means they believed in an afterlife, so they believed in the resurrection of the dead. They believed in a realm of spirits and angels. They therefore believed in a judgment. By these two differing theological views which resulted in two opposing doctrines about eternity or no eternity created friction amongst them often.

(2) Paul was a Pharisee by persuasion as was his father. It’s not so much that he was born into a family that held to the doctrines of the Pharisees … he was one because of his doctrinal belief. It might be helpful to know that the Sadducean group were the majority with the Pharisaic group the minority … but a strong majority.

(4) Paul believed in life after death. His belief was different to the Pharisees because his “life after death” belief was dependent upon Jesus’ substitutional death and substitutional resurrection. One of the fundamental differences between Christianity and many other religions is that Christianity believes in life after death because the Bible teaches that there is an eternity after death … but there is more! Eternity is divided into two spheres. The one is where God resides. We commonly call it heaven. The other is commonly called hell. These are real places. The one is the home of righteousness whilst the other is a place of eternal torment. Today, even in some Christian circles there is a belief that rejects eternal damnation. The Sadducees were the liberals of their day and subscribed to such a belief. The strange thing is that like today, the Sadducees had the same Scriptures the Pharisees had, though they only accepted the first five Books (Genesis to Deuteronomy) as their Bible. Today the Liberal Church and the Reformed Church have the same Bible, though the former razor cut the Bible to tailor their predetermined beliefs. We need to understand that the Bible is emphatic when it addresses eternity. There is a real hell and there is a real heaven. The Bible teaches this. Churches or pastors might teach differently but the Bible says these places are real and exist! More than this, the raising of the resurrected life after death means one has no option but to believe in heaven and hell! The reason many people convert to religions who do not believe in the concept of sin, who reject the rigid demands of God being a holy God, who reject the reality of hell being a place of eternal suffering and torment … is because for them it is …

(i) To horrendous to contemplate the reality of such punishment and they don’t want it.

(ii) A loving God cannot have such an “unloving” place that serves as an eternal state for those who do not follow and believe what the Bible teaches.

Beloved, people have the right to believe whatever they want … but this does not mean their belief is right. Many block out the reality of a dual eternity because of the lifestyle, worldview or choice of sin they seek to follow. Yet, block out as much as they like, it does not remove the reality of heaven and hell. Paul understood the beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees and inspired by the Spirit after the high priest incident, throws this doctrinal disagreement into the fray. Was this on purpose? Definitely. May I stop briefly and ask what your views are about eternity are? Are they what the Bible teaches? You see, Paul being an apostle (evangelist and missionary), grasped this opportunity because unlike any other argument he raised, this one enjoyed the support of the Pharisees … but at the same time it was one of the central Christian doctrines and the main reason God became incarnate and died to pay the sin price of all who would believe and be saved … escaping the traumatic fires and subsequent pain of eternal hell! What are your beliefs about eternity?

2) A religious insurrection took place. I call it such because the violence between these two groups of religious leaders became like that of the violent mob seeking Paul’s death.

Ac 23:7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) 9 There was a great uproar

The word “dispute” … meaning insurrection coupled to “great uproar” shows how much this doctrine divided the leadership of Israel.

3) A dramatic voice of support. It is for this reason that I believe the Holy Spirit put the idea of “resurrection from the dead” into Paul’s mind … and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”  It’s not that they accepted Jesus … Paul’s did and it’s his doctrine that happens to be the same as theirs when it comes to what happens after death. As an aside, many priests and Pharisees came to faith in Jesus Christ because of this doctrine.

4) Paul rescued again.

Ac 23:10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

It might not say it, but I’m certain the commander understood that Paul was not guilty of any crime. He was quickly rescued by troops and returned to the barracks. However one understands that what happened in that meeting, was the fact that the Pharisees supported Paul’s doctrinal belief and that Paul’s belief is the Gospel belief … Jesus pardons sins and saves believing souls from eternal hell for eternal heaven.

Our God and Father, thank You for the guarantee that all saved souls will not only be raised to spiritual life but into eternal life to be with You forever. Amen.

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