The Conflict of the Ages
Acts 12; Luke 12:49, 50
In our first message we were mainly occupied with the cup and its consequence in the scattering of the fire, with a view to taking fresh account of the relationship between those two things: that there is no scattering of the fire, and all that that means of the progress of the Gospel and the growth of the Church, except in so far am the meaning of the cup is established as the foundation of everything, right at the very heart of the life of the people of God.
We are now going to look at the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, for this chapter is a microcosm of the history of the cup and the fire. That, of course, is true of the whole of this book: it is the cup, undoubtedly - the Church in suffering relationship with the Lord. But it is also the book of the scattered fire. This chapter, as I have said, is a miniature of that whole great truth; indeed, it is a miniature of the struggle of the ages between the powers of evil and the invincible spiritual forces which eventually triumph. The tremendous amount of history and truth packed into this chapter never fails to move and stir us when we read it. I wonder whether there is a chapter in the Bible so pregnant with phrases and clauses, piled one upon another, every one of which could, without exaggeration, occupy our whole chapter.
Take some of these clauses, only a few of the many: "Now about that time ..." What a key that is, and what a lot that key opens up you stay with it! We shall probably make use of it presently. "Herod the king ..." There is far more in that than you recognize. "To vex certain of the church ..." The vexation of the Church or the attempted vexation of the Church. "Killed James ..."We pointed out previously that it was this James and John who came to the Lord requesting places on the right hand and on the left hand in glory, to whom the Lord immediately uttered the challenge: 'Are you able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?' And they said: 'We are able.' 'You shall ...' "And he killed James with the sword ..." "When he saw that it pleased the Jews ..." 'It pleased the Jews!' There is a lot in that. "He proceeded further ..." And so we might go on. The whole chapter is full of phrases and clauses like that which are just packed with meaning.
Let us look at the message of this chapter. "Now about that time ..." About what time? It is full of significance to put your finger on that and note the time. The answer is a very large one, but it has two main features. There is the answer lying within Herod himself, and there is the answer which lies behind Herod, much more deeply - the answer of satan. Let us consider the answer in Herod.
"Herod the king" (verse 1). There are six Herods in the Bible. All of them were Idumaean in origin: they are gathered under that symbolic name of "Edom." That is, they were descendants of Esau, not of Israel. All that is very significant. This man before us was the first and the last of them properly to hold this title of 'king.' None of them up to him had officially held that title, and after he died the title "king" was taken away.
We are witnessing here the heading up of a long history. The prophecies of Obadiah should be read in order really to get the substance of this - this historic antagonism between the flesh and the Spirit, between heaven and hell, between Esau and Israel. There is a long history here, headed right up to this man who now takes the title of "king." What irony that the Jews should come to be ruled by a descendant of Esau and not of Israel, and that that ruler should be appointed by pagan Rome! It is something to think about. We are in the presence of a tremendous drama here, profoundly fascinating - but oh, how deeply instructive!
(continued with # 7)