From my daily genre Bible reading, including recent readings in Ezekiel and Numbers, the following observation. Ezekiel 34 is a well-known text on the subject of the shepherd and the sheep, and the wicked shepherds who did not take care of the sheep; Jesus in John 10 expands on and identifies with this figure as well. But in also reading through the Pentateuch, comes an interesting “first mention” of the idea of sheep without a shepherd. Sheep and shepherds are of course introduced generally in Genesis, with Jacob meeting Rachel – and the subsequent chapters of Jacob’s contribution to Genesis. But Numbers 27:16-17 contains the first mention of the idea of a people needing a shepherd to lead them so that they be not “as sheep that have no shepherd.”
The scene is near the end of Moses’ life, and Moses’ request for someone to succeed him in leading the people that now are a nation – and the request is granted, in Moses’ assistant Joshua. Here I am also reminded of the kingdom concept as brought out in Alva McClain’s “Greatness of the Kingdom,” including his point that the mediatorial kingdom began in history under Moses. We often think of the Old Testament kingdom as specifically that established under the monarchy (King Saul, then David and Solomon), but the concept began in history with the Exodus from Egypt, the covenant nation established before God, with God as their king and Moses their leader. Numbers 27 brings this out, in this first reference to this concept, in the matter of leadership succession within this mediatorial kingdom.
The idea of “sheep without a shepherd” does not appear in the scriptures again until several hundred years later, during the divided kingdom and the early prophets: first in the account of Micaiah’s prophecy of Ahab’s destruction (1 Kings 22:17 and 2 Chronicles 18:16): I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.” Judgment is in view here, that the king (Ahab) is destroyed, and the people are without a leader. The next time the concept is mentioned is the later prophets associated with the Babylonian exile, the end of the mediatorial kingdom in Old Testament history: Jeremiah 23:1 and 50:6, followed by this as the topic of Ezekiel 34. How fitting it is, and brought together in the daily genre reading of different sections of the Bible, to see this unity and overall theme seen throughout the Bible including Old Testament history and prophecy: the concept of sheep without a shepherd introduced near the beginning of that mediatorial kingdom, then at two points of judgment, earlier in the decline (the time of Ahab) and again at the end of that era of Israel’s mediatorial kingdom, just before the “times of the Gentiles” began.
Verses 8 and 9 describe two sets of healing. In the first case, Paul laid his hands on Publius’ father and healed him – an apostolic sign, miraculous healing. The next sentence describes how “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.” Dr. Johnson here notes that the Greek words used for healing differ: the first word simply means “to heal” with no particular connotations, thus something supernatural. But the word in verse 9 is different: therapeuo, from which comes our English words therapy and therapeutic: healing through the use of medicine. We also consider who was there: Paul the apostle, and also Luke the physician.
As S. Lewis Johnson notes, we cannot be absolutely certain, but this text gives at least a “strong possibility” of an instance where the “gift of healing” was used alongside ordinary means of medical help. Even during the apostolic age, and with the apostle Paul present (though later in his ministry), God still used the natural means of healing as He continues to use the ordinary means of accomplishing His purposes.
There are people who have, unfortunately, thought that the Scriptures taught that they must depend only on supernatural means for healing. But there seems to be evidence here, not only that the apostles did perform supernatural acts of healing, but that it was perfectly harmonious for medical attention to be given, when available, and when it might be useful. In fact Paul wrote to Timothy, you know, and said, “Take a little wine for your often infirmity’s sake.”
Faith includes three components: knowledge, assent to that knowledge, and personal trust. Notitia asensus, fiducia are the three latin terms used by theologians to describe this.
Paul’s conversion can be considered as similar to the question of when other biblical people were saved: was Abraham saved when he was called out to follow the Lord to another land, or was he saved later, when the Lord took him out and showed him the stars – that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”
The chances are the salvation of Abraham and the salvation of Paul has some similarity, and also possibly are similar to our own experience. That is sometimes salvation takes place outwardly in stages, in the sense that the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit leads us on to a climatic relationship at which salvation occurs. It’s not easy to answer this question.
As to Paul’s specific conversion experience:
I am inclined to think that when the apostle was on the Damascus Road that a certain significant transformation took place in him. He came to understand there that Jesus of Nazareth was a heavenly being, who could speak to him still as a divine being; and he (Paul) called Him Lord; and no doubt that produced this tremendous revolution within Paul’s thinking, and he had to go back over all that he had been taught from the beginning, and all the things that he had wrongly understood, and now try to put them all together. Later on he spent some time in Arabia, and possibly that was further straightening out of the vast knowledge that he had of Jewish and Rabbinic things and squaring them with his Christian experience.
Within the three aspects of saving faith, the following is possible concerning Paul’s conversion:
1) Knowledge – acquired on the Damascus Road, that Jesus is the Lord.
2) As he later arrived in Damascus and at the house on Straight Street: further assent to the knowledge he had.
3) Finally, when Ananias speaks to him and explains to him that he too has been the object of the sovereign working of God bringing him to Paul, and that he was the Lord’s messenger to tell Paul certain things about him, and his ministry: it all came together at this point, and Paul came to personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ – though he had been the object of efficacious grace, which had brought him to this point.
A recent conversation briefly addressed the question of how, from the post-trib premillennial perspective, the millennial kingdom will be populated with living saints. The answer includes what the scriptures say related to the Second Advent; many people (having experienced the Great Tribulation and seeing His return at the end), during the time interval between Christ’s return and the establishment of the kingdom, will repent and turn to the Lord. We see this mentioned in the scriptures in reference to the people of Israel, as for instance Zechariah 12:7-10, that they will see Him and “mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child” plus other indications regarding the Gentiles alive at the Second Coming.
One person considering this answer, responded “how can such people have faith?” when they can see Christ in His glory and vengeance – surely that would be similar to the people at the Great White Throne judgment seeing Christ in His judgment and their own condemnation.
But consider the following in the details: one obvious difference is that the people at the Great White Throne have already died, their eternal condition made permanent, and then resurrected — while the people who see Christ at His Return (before the millennial period) are still living. We can also consider other scriptures, though, regarding the question of people who came to belief after seeing the risen Christ, and here we see several such examples.
“Doubting” Thomas did not believe until he saw the resurrected Christ. The same was true of all the apostles; the others had seen the Lord the week before, but even they were rebuked by Christ for their hardness in unbelief and refusing to believe what other witnesses had told them. The account of Christ with Thomas includes a special blessing for the rest of us: “you believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” Jesus’ human brothers (later children of Joseph and Mary) likewise did not believe until after they saw the resurrected Christ.
The Apostle Paul is an even clearer case: one who was actively working against the Lord and persecuting His saints, who yet believed on the Lord Jesus when he saw Him on the Damascus Road.
The point here is that saving faith is not restricted to only those people who believe without having seen (though that is how most people, including every believer since the generation that experience the First Coming, has experienced it). The early Old Testament believers (those who saw the ‘Angel of the Lord’ the pre-incarnate Christ) in Old Testament times, as well as those who saw the Risen, Glorified Christ before they believed, did come to believe at a point in their lives, with the added experience of actually seeing Him. We have an extra blessing given to us, as those who have not seen and yet believe. But God has also brought into the one people of God some who did see and believe – and He will again do so at His Second Coming.
In discussions of futurist eschatology, sometimes questions come up regarding the apostle Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, as to what is meant by the term ‘apostasy’:
For that day will not come unless the apostasy (translated ‘rebellion’ in ESV) comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. (HCSB, note on ESV difference)
At least a few pre-trib teachers have put forth the idea that “the apostasy” (also sometimes translated “the departure”) really means the rapture itself. More credible, scholarly sources dismiss that idea as eisegesis, something being read into the text.
Among historic (classic) premillennialists, the common view was simply that this is describing general and increasing apostasy: apostasy both of Israel and the visible church (as also brought out in the reference to religious Babylon in Revelation 17), including with reference to the Roman Catholic church. Certainly general apostasy of the church is taught in other New Testament passages, as for instance 2 Peter 2 and 1 Timothy 4. But something else may be intended in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The weakness of the ‘general apostasy’ idea is that Paul is telling of specific events that must precede the Coming of the Lord. If all that is meant is general apostasy, the Christian church has been experiencing this since the first century, and thus “the apostasy” has no specific prophetic meaning, since every generation of Christendom has observed increasing apostasy and the continuing breakdown of the visible church. John MacArthur (as in this sermon) correctly recognizes that Paul must be referring to something specific here in this text, something beyond just general increasing apostasy including even the apostasy of the Catholic church. After considering the problems with the general apostasy view, MacArthur equates the first phrase “the apostasy or rebellion” with the very next clause “and the man of lawlessness is revealed,” so that “the apostasy” is the event connected to the man of lawlessness, the act of his sitting in the temple, when he is revealed.
This interpretation at least recognizes that Paul is talking about something specific here – and yet this view makes the first clause redundant, saying the same thing as the second part; thus, both “the apostasy” and “the man of lawlessness is revealed” refer to the exact same event, spelled out more clearly in the second clause.
Another idea, which makes better sense of a specific apostasy and yet more than what the second part says, was brought out in Marv Rosenthal’s publication several years back (I don’t know if the original source is available online), a synopsis and excerpts of which are included in this blog article. The “apostasy” or “rebellion” is the “covenant with death” that Israel makes with the antichrist at the beginning of the 70th week.
The word apostasy is used only twice in the entire New Testament; therefore, how it is used becomes exceedingly important. Dr. Luke used the word apostasy in describing an important occasion in the Book of Acts when the apostle Paul met with the Jewish elders at Jerusalem.
Many Jews had accepted Christ, but they continued to adhere to the Mosaic Law (Acts 21:20). They wanted to believe in Jesus but within the confines of Old Testament Judaism. They did not understand the implications of the new covenant instituted by Jesus (Matthew 26:26-29).
Speaking of those recent Jewish believers, the elders in Jerusalem said to Paul, “And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake ["forsake" is the translation of apostasia meaning to "fall away" or "utterly abandon"] Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs” (Acts 21:21). Here, then, is one of the only two times the apostasy is used in the Bible. And it is used in the context of the apostle Paul being repudiated for supposedly asking Jews to totally abandon their Jewish culture, custom, and faith. Of course, nothing could have been farther from the truth.
Rosenthal also looks at an extra-biblical source, I Maccabees, regarding the typical figure Antiochus Epiphanes and the term translated apostasy:
1 Maccabees 2:15 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice.
Rosenthal observes here:
This covenant, which many of the Jews entered into with Antiochus Epiphanes, prefigures the covenant which many from among Israel will enter into with the Antichrist in a soon-coming day. The prophet Daniel spoke of that covenant in this way: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease” (Daniel 9:27).
The circumstances surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes, his defilement of the Temple, and the apostasy of many of the Jewish people are among of the most conspicuous events in Jewish history. It would, therefore, be appropriate and natural to use the same term (apostasy) concerning the same people (the Jews) regarding an event to occur at the same place (the Temple at Jerusalem) in describing a future day when many of the Jews will totally abandon the God of their fathers and the messianic hope in the same way they did in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, only to embrace a heathen religion and a false messiah.
The full article includes much more detail concerning this whole issue, good reading for anyone interested in reading more about it.