Epaphras: An Example for Prayer

In closing his letter to the Colossians, Paul gave some greetings, including one from Epaphras: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col 4:12 ESV).

As simple as this verse is, it gives us some helpful points in how Epaphras prayed for others and how we can pray for others today.

The first two points involve being consistent and diligent in prayer.

We should always pray for others.

Epaphras obviously did not literally pray 24/7. Paul’s “always” means that Epaphras constantly prayed for the Colossians as he had the opportunity to do so. We should look for times to pray for others and consistently make the most of these times.

We should strive in praying for others.

To “strive” or “struggle” in prayer is to work hard at it. The Greek verb here is agōnizomai from which we get our English verb agonize. To agōnizomai can mean performing as an athlete (cf. 1 Cor 9:25) or even fighting in battle with weapons (cf. John 18:36), both strenuous activities. Prayer for others should receive our diligent efforts all the same.

The next three points involve the content of our prayer.

We should pray for others to persevere.

Epaphras prayed for the Colossians to “stand” in two ways, “mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” While the tense of this verb suggests to some that Epaphras is thinking of something future (“may God make you to stand”), it is more likely that he prays for the Colossians to presently stand as they ought (thus, “may you stand”). Paul often uses the word stand (histēmi) with reference to the Christian holding to or persevering according to some aspect of his Christianity (cf. Rom 11:20; 14:4; 1 Cor 7:37; 10;12; 15:1; 2 Cor 1:24; Eph 6:11, 13, 14).1

Technicalities aside, we should pray for our fellow believers to persevere, especially in maturing as Christians and knowing the will of God.

That being said…

We should pray for the spiritual growth of others.

To be “mature” has the idea of being morally perfect. The Greek word teleios is elsewhere incompatible with a love for riches (Matt 19:21) and the misuse of the tongue (James 3:2). The word can thus describe God Himself (cf. Matt 5:48). Whatever the area of maturity may be, we should pray for our fellow believers to grow as Christians.

We should pray that others would confidently know God’s will.

Last, to “stand… fully assured in all the will of God” has the idea of knowing and being convinced of what God’s will is, thus allowing one to stand firm in it. Paul more or less prayed for the Colossians accordingly earlier in his letter, that they would “be filled with the knowledge of his will” and thus “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:9–10 ESV). Paul and Epaphras occasionally prayed together, to be sure, and it comes as no surprise to see that Epaphras prayed like Paul for the Colossians. We should pray for other believers in this same way.

Just a short description, but a great verse to give us an example for prayer—may we all pray like Epaphras!

  1. The verb histēmi in Col 4:12 is an aorist passive subjunctive. For a futurist understanding that gives weight to the passive tense, see Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC 44; Dallas, TX: Word, 1982), 254. For an explanation as to why a present understanding of histēmi is best, see Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 344. []

The Sad Case of Simon the Magician: A Warning to Us All

Acts 8:1–25 records the great persecution of the church by Saul and the consequent spread of the gospel to Samaria through Philip. “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (Acts 8:5), and “there was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:8; cf. 8:6–7).1

Prior to Philip’s coming, “a man named Simon” had wowed Samaria with his magic (8:9–11). “But when they believed Philip” (Acts 8:12), so also “Simon himself believed,” was “baptized,” and even “continued with Philip” (Acts 8:13). Whereas Samaria was once “amazed…with his magic” (Acts 8:11), it was now Simon who was “amazed” at Philip’s “signs and great miracles” (Acts 8:13).

After Simon’s apparent conversion, however, he made a troubling request, indicating that he had never truly become a Christian. Peter and John had come to see the salvation of Samaritans, “laid their hands on them,” and “they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17; cf. 8:14–17). Simon then “offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:20). For the next four verses in Acts 8:20–23, Peter rebuked him in multiple ways:

Simon was condemned: “May your silver perish with you”—Simon himself would perish, and his silver stood as a part for the whole of why he would perish—his hope to use it to purchase the Spirit to benefit himself by being seen as great like the apostles (cf. Acts 8:9–11). It was previously (and obviously inaccurately) said of him as a magician, “This man is the power of God that is called Great” (Acts 8:10). His request, “Give me this power,” seems to betray his desire for a power that shows him as great in the eyes of others (Acts 8:19).

Simon’s theology was corrupt: “you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money”—if ever the NT gives us an example of the prosperity gospel, it is here. Give silver to God, and He will give the Spirit’s power to me, Simon thought. But a gift cannot be purchased. The Spirit comes with faith. And in this unique transitional episode in Acts, faith came first, and the Spirit came with the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

Simon had no share in the Spirit: “You have neither part nor lot in this matter”—these words indicate that the “matter” of the Spirit was something altogether outside Simon’s experience. He was not one who possessed or would receive (or let alone give) the Holy Spirit.

Simon’s heart was in the wrong: “your heart is not right before God”—his intentions were sinful (see below).

Simon had not repented: “Repent”—his request was something to acknowledge as sin and indicated that he had never turned from sin to begin with.

Simon’s request was wicked: “this wickedness of yours”—this is a further description of his view of the Spirit’s work as something to buy as a means to enhance his greatness.

Simon’s desire was sinful: “pray…that…the intent of your heart may be forgiven you”—it was not just the request, but more than that, it was the sinful intention of his heart that needed forgiving.

Simon was idolatrous: “you are in the gall of bitterness”—this description echoes the OT and needs a bit of explanation. Deuteronomy 29:18 uses a metaphor to describe the person who turns from God to follow the stubbornness of his heart, even in the midst of God’s people—he is “a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.” Such a description had undertones of the coming judgment of God for the person who was this root (cf. Deut 29:20–21; Heb 12:15 speaks to this effect as well). For Simon, despite his presence among the new believers in Samaria, he was still following the unbelieving stubbornness of his heart. Remembering that gall is a bitter liquid (whether bile or something just as bitter; cf. Matt 27:34), Simon was himself the root bearing the gall of bitterness, so much so that he was “in” it. His idolatrous heart led to the rotten produce of treating the Spirit as something to purchase for him to use for his promoting his own personal greatness.

Simon was in bondage to sin: “you are…in the bond of iniquity”—this self-explained phrase parallels and helps to explain the one before it. Just as Simon was “in the bond of iniquity,” so also he could be said to be “in the gall of bitterness.”

With this litany of indictments, Peter’s rebuke makes one thing certain—Simon was not a true believer. But what is not certain for some is how to understand Simon’s response in Acts 8:24, “And Simon answered, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Did Simon finally become a Christian at this point?

Some conclude that Simon was so humble that he would not pray for himself but asked for Peter to do so now that his sin was exposed. Surely such humility indicated his now-penitent heart. On the other hand, others point out that Simon dodged the personal responsibility of praying himself, disobeying Peter who had commanded him to do so (Acts 8:22, “Repent… and pray to the Lord”). Rather than taking a third and unsatisfying view that the text is indecisive, that Simon sees no conversion in Acts 8 is best for multiple reasons found within the text.

First, despite Simon’s apparent conversion in Acts 8:13, we find out that he never truly believed the first time around. This fact nudges us to understand his otherwise elusive response in Acts 8:24 in the same way.

Second, Simon never did what Peter commanded him to do—pray and repent (Acts 8:22). We are left to assume that Simon was thus never forgiven.

Third, looking more closely at Simon’s request in Acts 8:24, it was for Peter to intercede for the sake of removing judgment. Given Simon’s background and request to purchase the Spirit’s power, it seems that, just as he saw the apostles as vendors who could sell the Spirit, so also he carries on seeing them as talismans to pray for his protection.

Fourth, in the flow of Acts, our last episode in dealing with something like this was Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). Just as they were false worshipers in the midst of God’s people, so also it seems Simon was as well.

In the end, from his own words, Simon neither repented nor prayed and merely wished to escape judgment. As best we know, he never believed and was judged accordingly. Such is the unfortunate and sad case of Simon the magician.

May Simon’s case be a warning to all of us—many profess Christ, are baptized, and continue to be among the true children of God. May God give them a Peter or John to point out their sins in this life, leading to true repentance, something more than a mere desire to escape judgment. Otherwise, the hidden sins of their heart will appear in their day of judgment, leading to an eternally unhappy end.

  1. All biblical quotations are from the ESV. []

How to Transition God’s People from One Leader to the Next: Lessons from David and Solomon

Any church or Christian organization can feel somewhat lost when a pastor or leader steps down, especially if he does so suddenly or resigns because of sin. In the absence of his leadership, there is a time of limbo for God’s people while they search to fill the previous leader’s shoes, or, even if an immediate replacement is found, it takes time for someone new to learn the ropes and pilot the ship into sailing smoothly again.

I am only 36 years old, so I cannot really speak to these things from my own personal experience. However, I can do my best to speak from the Word of God, and we have an interesting example for transitioning leadership in the lives of David and Solomon. There are obviously bigger themes from their lives in Scripture (e.g., even the best kings are still not Jesus; Solomon was the first of many to sit on David’s throne as promised in the Davidic Covenant), but, if carefully done, we can learn other lessons from their lives as well (cf. Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:6, 11).

The first lesson is relatively simple:

Put your house in order before you finish your ministry.

David had a well-organized kingdom by the time of his death, including everything from a well-oiled military to who watched over the donkeys (1 Chronicles 23–27). Having the right resources and people in place, it is no wonder that the kingdom thrived under the wisdom of Solomon.

Even though one might try to put one’s house in order, there will likely be some things that are left undone. This being the case… 

You cannot solve every problem, but you can at least warn your successor of the “problem people” that he will inherit in order for him to handle them well.

David warned Solomon about two men in particular, Joab and Shimei (2 Kings 2:5–9). Joab vengefully murdered a handful of men during David’s kingship and then supported Adonijah’s attempted coup (1 Kings 1). Shimei supported this coup as well and had opposed David in the past when he was on the run from Absalom (2 Samuel 16:5–14). After his second installation as king, Solomon immediately killed Joab for his betrayal of David and then killed Shimei only after he had violated the terms that Solomon had set for him as a lesser punishment than death (2 Kings 2).

Practical matters can linger as well. If something is left undone, you can at least try to…

Pass off projects well.

God did not allow David to build the temple, but he did gather much of its materials for Solomon and gave him the plans as well (1 Chron 28:1–29:22). David knew the task that Solomon had before him and left him well-prepared.

As you near the end…

Don’t wait too long to pass the baton.

Adonijah thought he saw an opening to take his aging father’s throne. Though wrongfully done, he may have been expressing the desire of many to have a younger leader take over. Thankfully, with some frantic persuading by Nathan and Bathsheba, David was still able to hand over the kingdom to Solomon (1 Kings 1).

Off the heels of the last thought…

Give people a proper transition from one leader to the next.

Though Solomon was able to safely become king instead of Adonijah, David gave him a second installation, something more proper and public to help solidify the transfer of kingship from him to Solomon (1 Kings 1; 1 Chron 29:22b–25; cf. 23:1).

More could certainly be said, and the above is more easily said than done. Sometimes circumstances do not allow for a smooth transition, however hard one may try. But, as God is gracious, may He help us all as Christian leaders to do our best to properly transition His people from one leader to the next when He has for us to do so.

Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings: David, Part 11

This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings

In our final look at the life of David, we see that David successfully transitioned the kingdom to Solomon. By the end of his kingdom, David had well-organized nation, including those who served in the temple (1 Chron 23–26), treasury caretakers and those overseeing external duties (i.e., overseeing labor) (1 Chron 26:20–32), the military (1 Chron 27:1–15), the tribal leaders (1 Chron 27:16–24), and stewards of the king’s property and maintenance (1 Chron 27:25–34).

Perhaps waiting too long to transition the kingdom to Solomon, David experienced once last attempt to unlawfully dethrone him by his son Adonijah. His plan was foiled, and, thanks to Nathan and Bathsheba, David installed Solomon as king (1 Kings 1:1–53).

David counseled Solomon to be faithful to God and how to deal with some of the characters involved in his kingship—Joab and Shimei especially (1 Kgs 2:1–9).

David also gave his final charges to Israel and Solomon concerning the temple (1 Chron 28:1–8, 9–21). He appealed to Israel for temple materials, the people gladly responded, and David thanked God (1 Chron 29:1–22a).

Finally, David gave Solomon a second and more fitting installation as king (1 Chron 29:22b–25; cf. 23:1). David died after forty years of ruling in Hebron and Jerusalem, and Solomon’s kingdom was established (1 Kgs 2:10–12; 1 Chron 29:26–30).

In bringing David’s life to a close, we do well to remember a couple of the greater biblical themes tied into these stories:

First, David had a son on the throne, just as God promised to him through the covenant in 2 Samuel 7:8–16.

Second, David was a great king, but he was not a perfect king. Only Jesus can perfectly rule and bring justice to Israel and all nations.

When it comes to searching the above for something practical, I cannot help but notice many lessons about leadership as the above involves the kingdom going from one king to the next. While Christian leaders are obviously not kings, there are a number of helpful lessons to gather from the end of David’s life as he passed the kingdom to Solomon:

Put your house in order before you finish. David had a well-organized kingdom by the time of his death, including everything from a well-oiled military to who watched over the donkeys. Having the right resources and people in place, it is no wonder that the kingdom thrived under the wisdom of Solomon.

You cannot solve every problem, but at least warn your successor of problems that he will inherit. David had quite a bit of trouble with Joab during his kingship, and Joab supported Adonijah’s attempted coup. Shimei heaped coals of fire on David’s head by cursing him when he was already on the run from Absalom. After his second installation as king, Solomon killed Joab immediately and then Shimei only after he had violated the terms that Solomon had set for him.

Pass off projects well. God did not allow David to build the temple, but he did gather much of its materials for Solomon and gave him the plans as well. David knew the task that Solomon had before him and left him well-prepared.

Don’t wait too long to pass the baton. Adonijah thought he saw an opening to take his aging father’s throne. Thankfully, with some frantic persuading by Nathan and Bathsheba, David was still able to hand over the kingdom to Solomon.

Off the heels of the last thought, give people a proper transition from one leader to the next. Though Solomon was able to safely become king instead of Adonijah, David gave him a second installation, something more proper and public to help solidify the transfer of kingship from him to Solomon.

Sufferings, Glories, and Saving God’s People: Joseph, Moses, and Jesus in Acts 7

In Acts 6:11–14, Stephen is falsely accused of blaspheming God by speaking ill of the Mosaic Law and the temple. Acts 7 then records his speech, notable because it is the longest speech in Acts and one by a non-apostle.

Given a quick read of his speech, we might wonder why it took Stephen 50 verses (Acts 7:2–53) to answer these charges. A closer examination of his words, however, reveals a carefully-crafted response that not only answers the charges against him, but also builds a case to rebuke Israel, ending in a climactic fashion by doing just that.

In leading up to his climactic rebuke, Stephen speaks of how Israel historically sinfully treated the very ones that God had sent to deliver them, how God in turn exalted these prophets, and how God then used these men to deliver His people. Stephen obviously speaks of other people and issues along the way (Abraham in Acts 7:2–8; the temple in Acts 7:44–50), but we will focus on Joseph (Acts 7:9–16) and Moses (Acts 7:33–43) in order to show how Stephen would parallel Israel’s persecution of them with how they had treated Jesus and continued to treat His followers. As Stephen would put it, “As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).

First, we consider how Joseph was treated by his brothers, “the patriarchs” (Acts 7:9). They were “jealous of Joseph” and therefore “sold him into Egypt” (Acts 7:9), the beginnings of his sufferings, identified as “all his afflictions” (Acts 7:11). “God,” however, exalted Joseph in that He “was with him and rescued him…and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh…who made him ruler over Egypt” (Acts 7:9–10). Joseph then went on to deliver his family during “a famine” and “great affliction” (Acts 7:11; cf. 7:11–14).

Second, we consider that Moses was treated in a similar way. He was stirred to help his fellow Israelites and even killed an Egyptian in his zeal (Acts 7:23–24). “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). In fact, one Israelite represented the nation when he “thrust him [i.e., Moses] aside” and asked, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” (Acts 7:27). Even after the exodus, Israel again “thrust him aside” and followed idols instead (Acts 7:39). Despite these sufferings, Moses was “sent as both ruler and redeemer,” spoke to the God at the burning bush, led Israel out of Egypt, and was given the Law (Acts 7:35–38). Moses suffered before and after delivering Israel and was exalted in his role as deliverer.

Third, we see that Joseph and Moses bring us to Jesus. In the climactic conclusion to Stephen’s speech and the description that followed, we see the suffering and exaltation of Jesus. “As your fathers did,” Stephen stated (i.e., as they persecuted Joseph and Moses, not to mention the prophets – cf. Acts 7:52), “so do you” (Acts 7:51). Specifically, these Israelites had “betrayed and murdered” Jesus, “the Righteous One” who was prophesied by Moses to come (cf. Acts 7:37; cf. Deut 18:15). Despite His sufferings at the hand of Israel, however, God exalted Jesus. As these Israelites rushed to end Stephen’s life, Stephen testified that Jesus was “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55–56). And though Joseph and Moses were used to deliver Israel from famine and Egypt, Jesus could bring these Israelites no deliverance at this time—they murdered Him, would murder Stephen, and would continue to persecute Christians thereafter (cf. Acts 8:1–3).

Perhaps we could add Stephen as a fourth in this text as one who experienced suffering and glory. He was obviously not meant to eclipse Jesus in the text, but he does seem to function as an example for Christians in general—like him, they also would be persecuted (cf. Acts 8:1–3). Though he sought to deliver his fellow man by giving them the gospel, his listeners made him suffer instead of receiving this salvation. His exaltation was seen as Jesus gave him a standing ovation, so to speak, to welcome him to glory for faithfully giving the gospel, even to the point of death.

May we all as Christians be like Stephen in that we are willing to suffer as messengers of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And whether the Lord lets us die a martyr’s death or rescues us at His return, our glorification is waiting, which is to “be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).1

  1. All biblical quotations are from the ESV. []

Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings: David, Part 10

This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings

One of the themes in David’s life was that David had a heart to build the temple.The background of the temple is interesting for a couple of reasons.

David plans the temple.

First, what precipitated God’s promise of a house to David (i.e., a dynasty) was David’s intense desire to build a house for the Lord (i.e., a permanent, physical structure; 2 Sam 7:1–17; cf. 7:3; 1 Kgs 8:17–18; 1 Chron 22:7; 28:2; Psalm 132:1–5; Acts 7:46).

Second, the location of the temple came about from the sinful census of David. David was tempted by Satan to command a census, perhaps to find confidence in its size instead of God (cf. 2 Sam 24:3), bringing about God’s wrath through pestilence at the hand of his destroying angel. David built an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite where he saw the angel of the Lord (2 Sam 24:1–25; cf. 1 Chron 21:1–30), and David proclaimed the house of the Lord would be built there (1 Chron 22:1).

1 Chronicles rushes through Israel’s history, primarily in genealogies in 1 Chron 1–10 and recounts David’s kingship in 1 Chron 11–20. The book then slows down to focus on David’s interest in the temple in 1 Chron 21–29. David instructed Solomon and Israel to build the temple and how to build it. Then David made Solomon king (1 Chron 22:2–23:1). David organized the Levites (1 Chron 23:2–32), priests (1 Chron 24:1–31), musicians (1 Chron 25:1–30), and gatekeepers (1 Chron 26:1–19).

From the above, we can see a couple of practical lessons.

First, David once said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 ESV). As he knew from his involvement with the temple, however—planning it but not building it—sometimes the means whereby God has for us to live out the desires of our hearts is not always as we planned.

But, second, given David’s sin with the census and God’s having Solomon build the temple due to David’s bloodshed, God is nonetheless gracious to grant and fulfill our hearts’ desires in His own way in spite of our sins and circumstances.

Hezekiah: An Example in Character for the New Year

In one of the Bible’s “new years,” 2 Chronicles 29:3 records of Hezekiah, “In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them” (ESV). 

At first glance, this may seem like simple maintenance, but further study shows that opening and repairing these doors was a significant statement in light of who preceded him as king—his father Ahaz, one of Judah’s most wicked kings.

Ahaz forsook the ways of David, worshipped the Baals, and even sacrificed some of his sons (2 Chronicles 28:1–4). In response, God punished Judah through the hands of multiple nations (2 Chronicles 28:5–21). Instead of turning to God, Ahaz sacrificed to the gods of the Syrians, destroyed the temple vessels, and shut the temple doors (2 Chronicles 28:22–27).

Hezekiah was not like his father. “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5 ESV). Not only did he repair the temple and restore its worship, but he also reinstated the Passover, restored the temple’s storerooms, and saw God answer his prayer to deliver Judah from the mighty Assyrians (2 Chronicles 29–32).

Hezekiah destroys the idols

Looking back to his first month and first year, we see Hezekiah as an example in multiple ways for how we might live out the coming year:

First, he obeyed the word of the Lord. 2 Chronicles 29:2 states, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done” (ESV).  

Second, he took initiative. He started his reforms “in the first year of his reign, in the first month” (2 Chronicles 29:3 ESV).

Third, he overcame obstacles. Though his father Ahaz once shut them, Hezekiah “opened the doors” (2 Chronicles 29:3 ESV).

Fourth, he acknowledged the problems of the past. 2 Chronicles 29:4–9 records his admission that those before him had sinned.

Fifth, he recommitted himself to the Lord. 2 Chronicles 29:10–11 records that it was in his heart to make a covenant with the Lord. This covenant is probably just a renewal of commitment to obey the law of Moses.

Sixth, he influenced others for good (29:12–30). He led the Levites to cleanse the house of the Lord and the priests to cleanse the Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 29:12–19). The temple was then used for worship (2 Chronicles 26:20–30).

Seventh, Hezekiah attributed his success to God. Among the many sacrifices given, thank offerings were part of Judah’s worship in 2 Chronicles 29:31–36. Hezekiah thanked God for what He had done.

It was said of Hezekiah, “there was none like him,” and his first month and year were like no other. If you follow Hezekiah’s example, what might this coming year hold for you?

Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings: David, Part 9

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series Virtue and Vice: Lessons from the Kings

While David was a great king in many ways, we have seen that David was not perfect and that his sins affected his kingdom for the worse. One of the punishments for his sin with Bathsheba was that David would have evil against him in his house. In carrying out this theme further from last week, we will look at Joab and Adonijah, two men in David’s house who were evil from time to time.

First, we see that David’s nephew (cf. 1 Chron 2:13–16) Joab vengefully murdered multiple people. Joab murdered Abner to avenge the death of his brother Asahel (2 Sam 3:26–30). Then, Joab killed Absalom against David’s orders (2 Sam 18:1–8). Finally, Joab killed Amasa, his own cousin (cf. 1 Chron 2:17). Absalom had set Amasa over his army (2 Sam 17:25), Amasa was kept as general by David (2 Sam 19:13), and Joab murdered him in order to take back his position over David’s army (2 Sam 19:41–20:23).

Solomon becomes king

Second, we see that David’s fourth son Adonijah attempted to usurp the throne. Seeing that David was old and near death, Adonijah conspired with others to usurp the throne (1 Kgs 1:1–10). Nathan and Bathsheba approached David about Adonijah and asked for Solomon to be declared king (1 Kgs 1:11–26). David confirmed Solomon to be king, sent out a procession to do so, and Adonijah was granted mercy by Solomon (1 Kgs 1:27–53).

The deaths of these men go together. After David’s death, Adonijah requested to marry David’s concubine Abishag. Along with being Solomon’s older brother and his alliance with Abiathar and Joab, this was an attempt to take the throne again. For this, Solomon put Adonijah to death (1 Kings 2:13–25). Linked to Adonijah’s conspiracy, Joab pled for mercy but was likewise put to death (1 Kings 2:28–35). As with other areas in life, violence can come back to haunt the aggressor. “The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just” (Proverbs 21:7 ESV).

Like an Angel: The Shining Face of Stephen

What did it mean that Stephen’s “face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), and why did it look this way?

We first meet Stephen as a deacon, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He was appointed to coordinate meals for widows (cf. Acts 6:1–7), but he was also an evangelist. He was “full of grace and power…doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). This grace and power go together and describe the boldness of Stephen and God’s confirmation of his witness through wonders and signs (cf. Acts 4:33). The mention of grace likely implies that God extended His saving grace to others through the witness of Stephen (cf. Acts 11:23).

When opposed by others in his endeavors, Stephen refuted his aggressors, and “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10; cf. Luke 21:15). So, they lied, stirred up the people, arrested him, falsely tried him, and eventually stoned him, making him the first martyr of the church (Acts 6:8–7:60). His story has echoes of the final days of Jesus.

At the outset of his trial, as Stephen prepared to speak once again full of wisdom and the Spirit, the Bible records what everyone saw when looking at Stephen: “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). What did this angel-like face mean?

In answering this question, we recall that angels can be brilliant, shining creatures. Remember the angel at Jesus’ empty tomb—“His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). If Daniel 10:6 describes an angel (some say the preincarnate Son of God), “his face” is “like the appearance of lightning.” If Revelation 10:1 describes an angel (and again, some say the now-incarnate Son of God), “his face was like the sun.” The angelic creatures who guided the heavenly chariot in Ezekiel’s vision had four faces each, and as to their faces and even their whole beings, “their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning” (Ezekiel 1:13). The point of similarity between the face of Stephen and the face of an angel was most likely this—it was a shining face.

A shining face is seen on other humans in the Bible as well. In descending from Sinai with the tablets in hand, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God…behold, the skin of his face shone” (Exodus 34:29).This shining apparently was somewhat frequent at this time. “Whenever” Moses spoke with God while on the mountain, “the skin of Moses’ face was shining” (Exodus 34:34–35).  

Consider also the face of Jesus. At the Transfiguration, while Jesus “was praying, the appearance of his face was altered” (Luke 9:29), meaning “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). When John saw Jesus in his vision many years later, “his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).

Putting this all together, we can easily conclude that the alteration of Stephen’s face was an act of God to make it shine. The purpose for doing so seems to be along the lines of what took place with Moses—just as the shining of Moses’ face indicated to Israel that Moses spoke on behalf of God because he spoke directly to Him, so also the shining of Stephen’s face indicated to Israel that Stephen spoke on behalf of God as well.

Digging further into the context of Exodus 34 and Acts 6–7, perhaps we could also suggest that, just as Moses gave the law and was confirmed as God’s spokesman with a shining face, so also Stephen’s face indicated that was speaking on behalf of Christ who came to fulfill and thus “change the customs that Moses delivered” (Acts 6:14). A new era had come, and God was giving evidence to this through His messenger’s words and even His messenger’s face.

What a sobering thing it is to see hearts this hard—the Jews rejected the gospel proclaimed from a mouth in the midst of a shining face. While we are not prophets who will speak with shining faces today, may we learn from the example of Stephen to boldly give and defend the gospel by the wisdom and Spirit of God.

A Dream Come True: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph

Matthew 1:18–25 tells how “the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way,” and Joseph’s dream is a significant part of this passage.He had just discovered that Mary was pregnant and made a natural but incorrect conclusion that Mary had become pregnant through another man (Matthew 1:18–19).

Joseph was probably heartbroken. Mary seemed to have been unfaithful, shattering their future plans together. As Joseph slept, however, an angel delivered a message from God that completely changed his outlook for the days ahead.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21 ESV)

Let’s break this angelic message into its parts to see just why it made such an impact on Joseph.

First, Joseph wasreminded that he was a royal descendant, a “son of David.”

Second, the angel commanded him to “not fear” and to “take Mary asyour wife.” This was a direct change of course from what he had planned to do.

Third, the angel reoriented Joseph’sthinking as to how Mary became pregnant—“that which is conceived in her fromthe Holy Spirit.” The explanation for her pregnancy was an amazing act of God,not an adulterous act of Mary.

Fourth,Joseph was told the gender of the child—“She will bear a son.” Knowing thegender ahead of time of a child was only for a few people up to this time andalways by the promise of God and somehow related to redemptive history (e.g.,the promise of Isaac, John the Baptist).

Fifth,the angel commanded Joseph to “call his name Jesus,” which means “Yahwehsaves,” which ties into the angel’s reason for the name—“for he will save hispeople from their sins.” Jesus saves us from sin when we repent and believe inHim. The penalty of death that He paid on the cross was not for His own sinsbut for all those place their trust in Him. And, the righteousness that Hemerited in living a perfect life is attributed to us at faith as well. WhenJesus comes again, we will be resurrected, sinless, and glorified! Jesuscertainly saves His people from their sins.

Joseph overcame his fears, married Mary, and even abstained from relations during her pregnancy. As promised, she had a son, and Joseph named this son Jesus, showing us that he believed that this Child would save His people, Joseph included, from their sins (Matthew 1:24–25). May we be like Joseph who overcame all doubts to believe in Jesus and be faithful to Him!