I went to the Wednesday Bible Study at the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. This post will convey some points that I heard.
A. One of our texts was Acts 8:26-40, in which the deacon Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch. The pastor set up some context by discussing the ordination of the deacons in Acts 6. He said that the name Philip is Greek, but Philip may still be Jewish, since Jewish men could have Greek names. If Philip was Gentile, then that was an example of the Gospel going beyond its Jewish roots unto the Gentiles, as Jesus forecast in Acts 1:8. The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is a definite example of that, as Ethiopia was deemed to be at the ends of the earth (according to Strabo). This discussion stood out to me, because I have read about the debates over the identity of the Hellenists in Acts 6. Many maintain that the Hellenists were Hellenistic Jews and that the Gospel officially started going to the Gentiles in Acts 10, not before. Kirsopp Lake, by contrast, argued that the Hellenists were Greeks, and that one cannot neatly assert that Acts 10 marks the church’s outreach to Gentiles. After all, the church was reaching out to Gentiles before then, with the Ethiopian eunuch. The pastor seemed to prefer Lake’s view.
B. The pastor gave us background about Ethiopian eunuchs. In Meroe, a kingdom in Ethiopia, kings were considered to be too holy to be administrators, so the Queen-Mother, called the Candace, administered the realm. Eunuchs served the Queen-Mother and guarded the harem, and they were made eunuchs so that they would not sleep with the women. The eunuchs were probably mocked by their subordinates, and, under Deuteronomy 23:1, they were excluded from the assembly of the LORD; the pastor said that they were limited to the Court of the Gentiles, but may even have been excluded from there, on account of their condition. The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is reading Isaiah 53, which asks who will declare the Suffering Servant’s generation after his life was taken from the earth. The pastor speculated that the eunuch may have identified with the Suffering Servant, who was rejected and without offspring.
C. Another text that we read was I John 4:1-11. The pastor talked about the docetists and the Gnostics: people who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, died for people’s sins, and rose bodily and physically. Because of their contempt for the material, they were very licentious in their lifestyles. They were people who deliberately rejected Christ and were part of the “world” that John criticizes. Persecution of the church was taking place, and John was seeking to reassure the believers that Christ was greater than the world. John also talks about how confessing Christ—-and knowing and being known by Christ in intimate relationship—-leads to love for God and neighbor. When the church helps people, it is testifying to the world about who Christ is.
D. I asked a question. In I John 4:3, the author tells the community that it knows the Antichrist would come. The author states, though, that the Antichrist is in the world already, as manifest in those denying that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. I wondered if the future Antichrist, likewise, would deny that Jesus came in the flesh, or if the spirit of Antichrist can manifest itself in different ways. The pastor responded that amillennialists (which LCMS Lutherans generally are) think we have been in the end-times since Christ’s ascension, but that the similarity between the Antichrist spirit of I John 4 and the Beast of Revelation 13 is that both deny who Christ is. The Antichrist will claim to be Christ himself, putting himself above Christ and saying that Jesus is insufficient to be Savior.
E. We also read John 15, in which Jesus affirms that he is the vine and the disciples are the branches. Jesus prunes what is spiritually unproductive in us through his word, his teaching. There is also the significant factor of intimacy, as Jesus is intimate with the Father and believers. The fruit of all this is prayer, love for God and one another, and obedience to Christ, all of which glorify the Father.