Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 28

by | Jul. 22, 2003

Sunday School

Bruce R. McConkie on The Acts of the Apostles:

Acts shows forth the operation of the Holy Spirit in the true Church.

Among Biblical books it ranks first in telling how the Church and kingdom of God on earth operates when Jesus the King is not personally resident on planet earth.

During our Lord's personal ministry, the Holy Ghost bore record of the Father and the Son to selected saints on special occasions. But the gift of the Holy Ghost—the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead—was not poured out on church members generally until Pentecost.

Thereafter the faithful saints—not the apostles and leaders only, but all those who had overcome the world, who had cleansed and perfected their lives, who had gained the companionship of the Holy Ghost—all these began to see visions, entertain angels, prophesy with power, receive revelations, heal the sick, commune with God, and enjoy all of the signs which Jesus said would identify that very gospel which he himself taught.

Acts tells how the spiritual gifts multiplied until they were enjoyed by the apostles and by whole congregations of the faithful. Peter and Paul raise the dead. Angels minister to Jew and Gentile alike. Miracles of healing multiply. Thousands receive the gift of tongues. Revelation and prophecy is everywhere. Visions abound. Stephen sees the Father and the Son; the daughters of Philip prophesy, as do Agabus and nameless hosts of others. And the Lord himself comes again and again and again. But above all, the spirit of testimony and the power of sanctification are everywhere encountered.

Amid the spiritual display, Acts recounts the facts relative to church organization, missionary journeys, and the general spread of truth in a pagan world. It tells of the persecutions, stonings, trials, and impositions heaped upon those who center their hearts on Christ and strive to overcome the world.

And the doctrines of salvation—how many of these are spoken of in plainness and perfection: the Second Coming, the plan of salvation, the atonement of Christ, the restoration of the gospel in latter-days, revelation, prophecy, gifts of the Spirit, miracles, healings, the latter-day gathering of Israel, the resurrection, apostasy from the truth, and so forth.

(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 19.)

Robert L. Millet on the Role of the Early Apostles:

When the Twelve were sent on missions during the ministry of Jesus, they were instructed to go only to the people of Israel and were specifically told not to go among the Gentiles or to the Samaritans. (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24. See also 3 Ne. 15:21-24.) Jesus ministered briefly among the Samaritans, but he primarily taught the Jews. (John 4:3-43.) As a result of this restricted missionary activity, the church at the time of Jesus' death was almost exclusively Jewish. After his resurrection, however, Jesus commanded the Twelve to go and "teach all nations" (Matt. 28:19), but they were to wait in Jerusalem until they were "baptized with the Holy Ghost," which would occur "not many days hence" (Acts 1:5). After receiving the Holy Ghost, they were to become "witnesses unto [Jesus] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8.) This injunction is the key to the book of Acts and clearly forecasts an extension of the missionary effort and a change in policy regarding the Samaritans and the Gentiles. This change in program is not contradictory, but it indicates that the Lord has a timetable in offering the gospel to various people and races. Acts 1:8 sets the pattern for the entire book: the Jews were taught first, then the Samaritans, and finally the Gentiles.

When Matthias was appointed to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve created by the death of Judas Iscariot, Peter explained that the office of apostle is to be a special witness for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This responsibility is conspicuous in the subsequent preaching of the Brethren. (See Acts 1:21-22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:29-32.) Within a few months, thousands were brought into the church, notably on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41, 47) and in similar conversions through the preaching of the gospel by the Twelve (Acts 4:4; 6:7). Peter, who had been given the keys of the presidency, took the lead in all of these events. He indicated that most, if not all, of the Twelve had earlier been followers of John the Baptist. (Acts 1:21-22.) This discipleship is consistent with John's mission to prepare a people for Christ. It would be good economy for John to begin the preparation of those who would later become the Twelve by teaching them their first lessons in the gospel.

(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 26.)

Bruce R. McConkie on Christ's Ascent into Heaven: 

Acts 1:9-14. It is now the appointed time. Jesus is to return to his Father. But why not just vanish, as he did after breaking bread with the Emmaus Road disciples? (Luke 24:1-35.) Why not go away in secret? Why create this dramatic scene?

In his Ascension, as in all else, our Lord chose to dramatize and teach a gospel truth in such a way that it could not be misunderstood. Here he is teaching the literal nature of his Second Coming. He stands on the Mount of Olivet and ascends visibly; angels attend; they reveal that his going establishes the pattern for his return. Thus that Jesus whom the apostles knew intimately, whose immortal body they had felt and handled, that same resurrected personage who had eaten fish and an honeycomb before them now ascends personally, literally as they behold. And so shall he come again, on the Mount of Olivet, literally, personally, in the flesh, as a glorified Man, as a personage of tabernacle.

(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 28.)

James E. Talmage on Matthias' Ordination to the Apostleship:

The first official act undertaken by the apostles was the filling of the vacancy in the council of the Twelve, occasioned by the apostasy and suicide of Judas Iscariot. Sometime between the ascension of Christ and the feast of Pentecost, when the Eleven and other disciples, in all about a hundred and twenty, were together "with one accord in prayer and supplication," Peter laid the matter before the assembled Church, pointing out that the fall of Judas had been foreseen, and citing the psalmist's invocation: "Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take." Peter affirmed the necessity of completing the apostolic quorum; and he thus set forth the qualifications essential in the one who should be ordained to the Holy Apostleship; "Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection." Two faithful disciples were nominated by the Eleven, Joseph Barsabas and Matthias. In earnest supplication the assembly besought the Lord to indicate whether either of these men, and if so which, was to be chosen for the exalted office; then, "they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles."

The proceeding throughout is deeply significant and instructive. The Eleven fully realized that on them lay the responsibility, and in them was vested the authority, to organize and develop the Church of Christ; that the council or quorum of the apostles was limited to a membership of twelve; and that the new apostle, like themselves, must be competent to testify in special and personal witness concerning the earthly ministry, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The selection of Matthias was accomplished in a general assembly of the Primitive Church; and while the nominations were made by the apostles, all present appear by implication to have had a voice in the matter of installation. The principle of authoritative administration through common consent of the membership, so impressively exemplified in the choosing of Matthias, was followed, a few weeks later, by the selection of "seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," who having been sustained by the vote of the Church, were set apart to a special ministry by the laying-on of the apostles' hands.

(James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 650.)

Robert J. Matthews on the Holy Ghost Coming on the Day of Pentecost:

Jesus was crucified at the time of the annual Passover feast. Three days later he was resurrected. He tarried with the Apostles after his resurrection for forty days, thus making his ascension forty-three days after the Passover. In seven more days the annual feast of Pentecost would take place, having been established by revelation to Moses to be fifty days after Passover (see Lev. 23:15-16). Gathered in Jerusalem for this particular Pentecost were thousands of Jews from at least fifteen nations throughout the Near East and Middle East (see Acts 2:9-11). They were native to these outlying areas, and spoke the language of their place of birth (Acts 2:5-12). On this occasion the Holy Ghost came upon the Twelve and they spoke in tongues to these visitors from many lands, and miraculously the people understood them. The Apostles taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ. How many thousands were present we do not know, but the record says that from these visitors the Twelve converted and baptized three thousand in that one day (Acts 2:41). After their baptism, these new converts would return to their homelands and thus the Church would have members in widely scattered areas. Missionaries would subsequently be sent to those locations to nourish these new members and build up branches.

It is of particular importance that the record states that those who came from these fifteen nations were both Jews and prose-lyres-which means that they were not all Jewish by lineage, but some were Gentile converts to Judaism (Acts 2:10). The term proselytes as used in the New Testament always means Gentile converts to Judaism. Most of the visitors, of course, would be Jews by lineage, but it is clear that some were of Gentile lineage who had embraced Judaism.

Among the three thousand converts to the Church on that day of Pentecost some would certainly be from among the "proselytes." These would be the first persons of Gentile lineage to join the Church in that dispensation. Jesus had instructed the Twelve two years earlier, when starting on their first missions, not to go among the Gentiles or the Samaritans at that time (Matt. 10:5). Hence Church membership up till this time was exclusively Jewish. But we note this important fact: Even though there were those of Gentile lineage who now came into the Church, they had all previously converted to Judaism, which means they were circumcised, ate kosher food, offered sacrifice, and honored the Sabbath day in proper Jewish style. Although Greek, Galatian, or Roman in lineage, they were religiously Jews. Kosher is a Hebrew term meaning ceremonially and ritually clean or correct. Kosher food is that which is in keeping with the dietary laws given in Lev. 11.

It is significant that the Holy Ghost should come on the day of Pentecost, which was a "feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours" (Ex. 23:16). Just as the paschal lamb of the Passover symbolized the death of the Lord, and thus Jesus was crucified at Passover time, even so receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost symbolized that the Holy Spirit is the firstfruit of our faith in Jesus Christ.

(Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 292.)

B. H. Roberts on the Holy Ghost Given:

The first time the gospel was preached publicly, after the ascension of the Messiah, was on the day of Pentecost, most probably seven days after the ascension. The church had assembled and suddenly the promised baptism of the Holy Ghost—promised both by John the Baptist and the Messiah—took place, for the Spirit came like the rushing of a mighty wind and filled the house where the saints were assembled; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. It rested upon them visibly like cloven tongues of fire; and they began speaking in other tongues, that is, in languages before unknown to them, as the spirit gave them utterance.

The occurrence was soon noised about the city and the multitude came together, to witness this strange event. In that great concourse of people thus hastily assembled were devout men out of every nation under heaven (see note 2, end of section), and they were confounded with astonishment since every man heard the gospel in his own language. "Are not all these which speak Galileans," said they, "and how hear we every man in his own tongue, wherein we were born?" All were amazed, and some inquired one of another, "What meaneth this?" Others mockingly said, "These men are full of new wine."

To this latter remark the apostle Peter replied that the brethren were not drunken as had been supposed, and reminded the accusers that it was but the third hour of the day. Men were not likely to be drunk so early. The apostle further informed them that his power which they witnessed was the same as that of which Joel spoke when he said that in the last days the Spirit of God should be poured out upon all flesh, and make the sons and daughters of men to prophesy, young men to see visions and old men to dream dreams, etc.

Having corrected the slander uttered by those inclined to mock at the power of God, Peter continued his discourse, and proved from the scriptures and from the marvelous works of the Lord Jesus while among them, that he was both Lord and Christ. Then a great multitude was converted, and cried as with one voice, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" To which Peter answered, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." He informed them that this promise of the Holy Ghost—and, of course, of salvation—was both to them and to their children, in fact to all whom God should call. There were added to the church that day, three thousand souls.

(B. H. Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1927], 76.)

Robert L. Millet on Peter's Healing of a Man Lame from Birth:

As Peter and John walked through the Gate Beautiful on the way to the temple (Acts 3), they passed a lame man who begged alms daily. President Harold B. Lee described the touching scene: "Here was one who had never walked, impotent from his birth, begging alms of all who approached the gate. And as Peter and John approached, he held out his hand expectantly, asking for alms. Peter, speaking for this pair of missionaries—church authorities—said, 'Look on us.' And, of course, that heightened his expectation. 'Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.'"

President Lee continued: "Will you see that picture now of that noble soul, that chiefest of the apostles, perhaps with his arms around the shoulders of this man, and saying, 'Now, my good man, have courage, I will take a few steps with you. Let's walk together, and I assure you that you can walk, because you have received a blessing by the power and authority that God has given us as men, his servants.' Then the man leaped with joy." Through the cultivation of the gift of the Holy Ghost, Peter was born again, converted, turned wholly to Christ and to His righteousness. Peter could now strengthen his brothers and sisters. "You cannot lift another soul," President Lee added, "until you are standing on higher ground than he is. You must be sure, if you would rescue the man, that you yourself are setting the example of what you would have him be. You cannot light a fire in another soul unless it is burning in your own soul" (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 178).

Truly, a person is converted "when he sees with his eyes what he ought to see; when he hears with his ears what he ought to hear; and when he understands with his heart what he ought to understand. And what he ought to see, hear, and understand is truth—eternal truth—and then practice it. That is conversion. . . .

(Robert L. Millet, Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 98.)

James E. Talmage on the Growth of Discipleship:

The Church grew with surprising rapidity; "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." So abundantly was the gift of healing manifest through the ministrations of the apostles that as formerly to Christ, now to them, the people flocked, bringing their sick folk and those possessed of evil spirits; and all were healed. So great was the faith of the believers that they laid their afflicted ones on couches in the streets, "that at the least shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them."

The high priest and his haughty Sadducean associates caused the apostles to be again arrested and thrown into the common prison. But that night the angel of the Lord opened the dungeon doors and brought the prisoners forth, telling them to go into the temple and further proclaim their testimony of the Christ. This the apostles did, and were so engaged when the Sanhedrin assembled to put them on trial. The officers who were sent to bring the prisoners to the judgment hall returned, saying: "The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors; but when we had opened, we found no man within." As the judges sat in impotent consternation, an informer appeared with the word that the men they wanted were at that moment preaching in the courts. The captain and his guard arrested the apostles a third time, and brought them in, but without violence, for they feared the people. The high priest accused the prisoners by question and affirmation: "Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Yet, how recently had those same rulers led the rabble in the awful imprecation, "His blood be on us, and on our children."

Peter and the other apostles, undaunted by the august presence, and undeterred by threatening words or actions, answered with the direct counter- charge that they who sat there to judge were the slayers of the Son of God. Ponder well the solemn affirmation: "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him."

Closing, locking, bolting their hearts against the testimony of the Lord's own, the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people counseled together as to how they could put these men to death. There was at least one honorable exception among the murderously inclined councilors. Gamaliel, who was a Pharisee and a noted doctor of the law, the teacher of Saul of Tarsus afterward known through conversion, works, and divine commission, as Paul the apostle, fn rose in the council, and having directed that the apostles be removed from the hall, warned his colleagues against the injustice they had in mind. He cited the cases of men falsely claiming to have been sent of God, everyone of whom had come to grief with utter and most ignominious failure of his seditious plans; so would these men come to nought if the work they professed proved to be of men; "But," added the dispassionate and learned doctor, "if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God." fn Gamaliel's advice prevailed for the time being, to the extent of causing the apostles' lives to be spared; but the council, in contravention of justice and propriety, had the prisoners beaten. Then the brethren were discharged with the renewed injunction that they speak not in the name of Jesus. They went out rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer stripes and humiliation in defense of the Lord's name; and daily, both in the temple, and by house to house visitation, they valiantly taught and preached Jesus the Christ. Converts to the Church were not confined to the laity; a great company of the priests swelled the number of the disciples, who multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.

(James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ: A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 656.)


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