27 When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with the Ascension of the Christ and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
Chapters 16 to 28 of Acts are an account of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, his arrest, and his transfer to Rome – and the stories are not always consistent with Paul’s letters.
The Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles saw the Holy Spirit as the driving force for all that happens. The events surrounding today’s reading exemplify this.
Today’s reading was set in the early days of the Jesus Follower Movement in Jerusalem. The Jesus Follower Movement remained a sect within Judaism even after the Destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
In the verses leading up to today’s reading, the apostles were preaching in the Temple (vv.12 and 25). There, they were arrested by the Temple Authorities for heresy (v.18) and brought before the religious ruling body, the council, also called the Sanhedrin (v.27).
In today’s reading, Peter and the apostles responded to their accusers by delivering a concise summary of the theology expressed in Acts of the Apostles – that Jesus is the “Leader” and Savior who brought repentance and forgiveness (v.31). The use of the term “Leader” is an unusual title to give to Jesus the Christ. In Greek, the word used was “Archēgon” and is translated as “Prince” in some other translations. The same Greek word is used in Acts 3:15 and is translated in the NRSV as “Author” of life. In another recent translation, the phrase in 3:15 is translated as “the leader in the Way of Life.”
The reference to the death of Jesus in verse 30 (“whom you had killed”) was directed at the Sanhedrin (not all Jews). The Sanhedrin (or at least the leaders of the Sanhedrin) likely worked with the Romans in initiating the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The Book of Revelation is unique in the Christian Scriptures, and also known as the “Apocalypse” (from a Greek word meaning an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of a new age or of heaven, or both). Apocalyptic writing generally described a dire situation ruled by evil powers that could be overcome only by the “in-breaking” of a force (such as God) to bring about a new age.
Apocalyptic literature was often presented as a revelation from God of heavenly secrets and prophesy (a disclosure of divine intentions) conveyed by an angel or other heavenly body. This book purported to be a revelation by God through Jesus Christ that was conveyed by an angel to “John” (1:1). Most scholars conclude that the author of Revelation was not John the Apostle because of the reference to the 12 apostles in 21:14. Because of the internal references in the Book, most scholars date the book to the late First Century.
Like the apocalyptic writings in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Revelation used extreme images and metaphors to describe the conflict between good and evil. Apocalyptic writings used symbolic language to convey God’s hidden plan.
The author of Revelation had extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. The references to “glory and dominion” (v. 6) and “coming on the clouds” (v.7) were taken from Dan. 7:13-14 (another apocalyptic book). The reference to “being pierced” (v.7) was from Zech. 12:10. By using these references, the author of Revelation sought to present Jesus the Christ in images that were familiar to his audience.
Verse 8 is one of the two times when God is identified as the speaker in Revelation. The other is 21:5-8.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is another account that is not found in the Synoptic Gospels. It begins in a room that is locked “for fear of the Jews” (v.19), which should be understood as fear of the Judean Temple Authorities. The evening is on the first day of the week, the same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb before dawn.
Reflecting the ambivalence about the “physicality” of the Resurrected Christ, Jesus seemed to walk through walls and locked doors and stood among them (v.19 and v.26), but his wounds (only John’s Gospel speaks of a wound in Jesus’ side – 19:34) remain (v.20 and 27). The disciples did not recognize him, however, until he showed them his wounds (v.20). Although invited to do so, it does not appear from the text that Thomas touched the wounds. Even in a resurrected state, Jesus (and we) will continue to have wounds.
The Commissioning of the disciples (v.21) is analogous to the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19, and the imparting of the Holy Spirit (vv.22-23) is sometimes called “Little Pentecost” – as compared to the longer Pentecost account in Acts 2:1-4. Breathing upon the disciples is also reminiscent of YHWH’s imparting the breath of life to the human made of the soil (adamah) in Genesis 2:7.
Some ancient manuscripts included a verse 31 that is translated as “you may continue to believe.” This text would have indicated that the intended audience of the Gospel was persons who were already believers. The words “you may come to believe” in verse 31 in the NRSV would indicate that the Gospel’s intended audience was non-believers.
Many scholars believe that the Fourth Gospel ended with verses 30 and 31, and that Chapter 21 (which describes an appearance of the Resurrected Christ in Tiberius by the Sea of Galilee) was added in the Second Century.