For many people, one of the most enigmatic and mysterious parts of the life of Christ, comes after His resurrection when He spent forty days teaching the Apostles. What was the instruction that He gave them and is there some way to learn more? Do any sources give us a window into that teaching?
Hello. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. We’re so glad you could join us as we talk about a lesson called “Ye Shall Be Witnesses unto Me” which covers Acts chapters 1-5. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music that starts and ends this podcast. The transcripts for the podcasts can be found at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. And while you’re there sign up for a free subscription to Meridian Magazine that comes into your inbox each Monday through Friday. Please tell your friends about this podcast. Word of mouth is the only way they will find us.
Until this week we have been studying the four gospels, but now we launch ahead into Acts through Revelation—the second half of the New Testament. This covers a period of time from 34 to 64 AD, comparable to the 1820 to 1850 period in the Restoration. Latter-day Saint scholars D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew S. Skinner point out that the founding of the early Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints align in “an arresting way.”
“The Lord Jesus Christ established his Church in the meridian of time with an organization whose officers possessed his authority; the leading officers had been given the keys of the kingdom on the Mount of Transfiguration. The chosen leaders were involved in missionary work during his ministry. The Church grew in membership and in organization during the Lord’s forty-day ministry after his resurrection, and dramatic changes were promised for the future….The knowledge and testimony of the resurrection and atoning redemption of the Savior and the blessings of the gift of the Holy Ghost were the moving forces behind the profound new zeal that spread throughout the Mediterranean world.”
Ogden and Skinner say, “Though this book is called The Acts of the Apostles, it might be better to call it “The Acts of a Few of the Apostles. “ Acts can really be divided into two parts. “Part one includes chapters 1 through 12; the center is Jerusalem, and the main figure is Peter. Part two includes chapters 13 through 28; the center is Antioch and the main figure is Paul.”
Why did this record survive and become canonized and not the records of the other Apostles? These BYU scholars say, “The book of Acts is an inspired work of historical genius, mentioning no fewer than fifty-four cities and thirty-four countries, tracing the development of the Lord’s true Church from the small provincial capital of the Jews, Jerusalem, through the Mediterranean world to the great seat of the Roman Empire, the dazzling city of Rome itself. The Roman Catholic Church in particular would have wanted this record preserved. Perhaps that is one reason the version of the book of The Acts of the Apostles preserved in our King James Version not only survived but triumphed over the other books of the acts of specific apostles such as are found among the compilations of the New Testament Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.
A note here, if you are wondering what is New Testament Apocrypha and what is Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha means “hidden things” or “things put away.” The New Testament Apocrypha are writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus life and his teachings or the teachings and lives of the apostles. They are not found in the 27 books that are canonized as the New Testament, though some in the early church found them useful, but not necessarily divinely inspired. They are put away because they are not in the canon or authorized books that are found in the Bible.
Pseudepigrapha are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.
Acts is written by Luke and is addressed to Theophilus, which means “friend of God” or “beloved of God:. This may be a specific person, someone with an honorific title or a general audience, meaning all who are friends of God. What he wants to make clear immediately, as do other of the apostles, is that Jesus was resurrected. One scholar said, “Nothing in history is more certain than that the disciples believed that, after being crucified, dead, and buried, Christ rose again from the tomb on the third day.” (Metzger, New Testament, 126.)
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3). Latter-day Saint writer and historian Matthew B. Brown tells us that the Greek word translated as “infallible proofs” is a derivative of tekmerion which means “a sure sign,” “a mark,” or “a token.” (All Things Restored, p. xiii, footnote 11.) So, this could better be translated, “He shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible tokens…” This certainly speaks a great deal to us about His ministry after His resurrection.
This idea of a forty-day ministry after Christ’s resurrection has baffled some people, particularly because so little is revealed about it.
Now a word about the number 40. First, what a remarkable experience for the apostles to be taught by the risen Christ, who did not ascend for forty days after the resurrection. Forty, of course, might be a general number referring to a period of instruction and transformation. It is sometimes a time of testing. In Noah’s time the rain came upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights. The Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and, of course, Jesus Christ had fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness when He went there to be with His Father.
Despite the silence on the 40-day ministry, we do have hints about the content. In the first verse of Acts, remember, Luke says in summary about his gospel, that it was “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach until the day he was taken up.” This implies, of course, that He had more to teach. In verse two, we learn that after resurrection, “he…had given commandments unto the apostles.” In other translations this is often translated as instructions or in the New Living Translation “further translations.” If we knew this information, it would be a treasure beyond price.
Some apocryphal sources give additional hints—some of which are reliable and some which aren’t. Latter-day Saint scholars Kent Brown and Wilfred Griggs noted, “Men throughout history have sought to create new and sensational information about Jesus… Because the New Testament Gospels are rather precise and detailed in their descriptions of Jesus’ miracles and teachings, most apocryphal writings do not attempt to add details to the period already covered by the Gospel narratives. Instead, many apocryphal works have concentrated on the youth of Jesus, the background of Mary and Joseph, and other related periods within the time frame of the New Testament.” Of course, the 40-day ministry is one of those periods that has been an open invitation for invention. So how do we know what is true and not true?
Luke states that during the 40-day ministry the Savior spoke “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” but there are only vague hints in other New Testament writings as to the nature and content of these teachings. The preaching of Jesus to the spirits in prison (see 1 Pet. 3:19 and 1 Pet. 4:6) and the doctrine of baptism for the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:29) are two examples of teachings that best fit the context of Acts 1:3. Although few, if any, works pertaining to the 40-day ministry of Acts 1:3 were known a century ago, modern discoveries have produced a virtual library of such writings,” according to Brown and Griggs.
In addition, they say, “The restored gospel provides Latter-day Saints with an opportunity to look for elements of truth in this literature with a better standard of comparison than is available to others. Although we cannot tell any more about the history or society of the people who wrote these texts than can the scholars, we can examine some of the traditions and beliefs in their writings and note how they correspond to our understanding of the gospel. This examination leads to greater insights into the nature of early Christianity than before possible and gives further evidences of the apostasy or rebellion within the Church.”
Although the apocryphal writings found in the past century derive from many different geographical and theologically diverse sects, there are a number of themes common to virtually all the writings, regardless of origin. The similarity of themes in these texts, despite the wide-ranging theological differences of the sects that used them, argues for their development out of an authentic historical and theological setting. It is all the more remarkable that these similarities occur, considering the lack of many of these themes in the New Testament and other early Christian literature.
So what do we find in these apocryphal writings about the 40-day ministry that rings true? Though the apocryphal writings stem from many geographical and theologically diverse sects, there are a number of themes common to the writings, regardless of their origin.
“References to ritual abound in this large body of material. In addition to baptisms and sacred meals, there are also numerous references to washings, anointings, and special garments. In the Acts of Thomas, those who are baptized also request the “seal” from the Apostle Thomas, which consists of an anointing with oil. They speak of “an account of a heavenly council, a war, and an expulsion of rebellious offspring of God.” In them Jesus explains that “after his death he went to the spirit prison and taught salvation to those who were there… Marriage as a requirement for those who would achieve the highest of the three heavens is a teaching found in the Gospel of Philip, and the sanctity of marriage is alluded to in other documents.” (S. Kent Brown, C. Wilfred Griggs, “The 40-Day Ministry” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1975/08/the-40-day-ministry?lang=eng
One of the most common threads is that the teachings must be kept secret. Hugh Nibley wrote: “All the 40-day teaching is described as very secret, delivered to a closed cult group. There is no desire to intrigue and mystify, however…but rather the clearly stated policy that knowledge should be given always but only to those who ask for it, with the corollary that the higher and holier a teaching the more carefully it should be guarded. As ‘the last and highest revelation,’ the teaching of the 40 days was top secret, and has not come down to us.” Hugh Nibley “The Forty-Day Mission of Christ, The Forgotten Heritage” https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1104&index=3.
Before Christ ascended into heaven, he told the Apostles that “they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the apromise of the Father” (Acts 1:4) which, in fact, would be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Then however, their field of action is the whole earth. As Jesus said, “But ye shall receive apower, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be bwitnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in cSamaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
They are called to missionary work. We often wonder what the Savior would say to us if He were here. Probably something similar.
10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into aheaven? this same Jesus, which is btaken up from you into heaven, shall so ccome in like dmanner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
What a poignant moment that must have been for them, particularly because Jesus had said, that they were not to know when he would be seen again.
Then they returned to an Upper Room in Jerusalem, possibly the same one where they had held the Last Supper. It is believed to be the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, known as the Mark who wrote the gospel.
Peter is definitely in charge, as the new president of the Church, and they chose a new apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot. This new apostle who is called must be a “witness with us of his cresurrection”, a requirement that holds to this day for the living apostles.
Day of Pentecost
Now 50 days after Passover was the day of Pentecost. The feast in Hebrew is called Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks, Feast of Harvest, Feast of First Fruits. It could not be more appropriate that this new beginning of the great harvest of souls—3,000 baptisms on this day alone—should begin on the Feast of Harvest.
It has only been this handful of days since Jesus was crucified, but now we certainly see a new Peter with a new boldness, power and confidence. Is it because he has seen the resurrected Christ, because of the teachings of the 40-day ministry or because of additional power from the Spirit. Undoubtedly all three, but he will never again act out of any tendency to hang back.
It is the third hour of the day, 9:00 a.m., and Jews of every nation are thronging the temple.
1 And when the day of aPentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty awind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them acloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
This rushing forth of power from the heavens sounds very much like the descriptions of what happened on the day the Kirtland Temple was dedicated on Sunday, March 27, 1836.
“In the evening meeting, Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, ‘when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld,’ Joseph recorded, ‘the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place.’ 47 Eliza R. Snow wrote, “The ceremonies of that dedication may be rehearsed, but no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations of that memorable day. Angels appeared to some, while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present.’” (Scot Facer Proctor, Maurine Jensen Proctor, Witness of the Light.)
Ogden and Skinner said, “’Cloven tongues like as of fire’ is both a literal description and symbolic language. First, the apostles were ‘on fire’ with language ability, able to speak in tongues—that is, in other languages—but not in meaningless gibberish. Second, the Holy Spirit is compared in scripture to fire. Idiomatically, the apostles were ‘on fire.’ Compare the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, ‘did not our heart burn within us’ (Luke 24:32) and ‘your bosom shall burn within you’ (D&C 9:8)…Finally, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “God dwells in everlasting burnings” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 361)
This gift of tongues meant that people from all the nations who had come to Jerusalem heard the message that Peter gave as if it was in their own tongue.
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
We see that earlier in Christ’s ministry Jesus had “breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye, the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22), but now they had the gift of the Holy Ghost and a constant companionship with this member of the Godhead.
President Brigham Young said of the Holy Ghost, “I had only travelled a short time to testify to the people, before I learned this one fact, that you might prove doctrine from the Bible till doomsday, and it would merely convince a people, but would not convert them. You might read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and prove every iota that you advance, and that alone would have no converting influence upon the people. Nothing short of a testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost would bring light and knowledge to them—bring them in their hearts to repentance. Nothing short of that would ever do. (Journal of Discourses, 5:327.
On that Pentecost Day as the apostles spoke in tongues, some were in doubt, some were mocking, saying, “These men are full of new wine,” but nothing daunted them and “Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice.” He will never again not lift up his voice to testify of Christ with such power from the Holy Ghost that many will be overcome with testimony.
Standing beside all the apostles he said,
This is a bold declaration. Peter demonstrates through prophecies of the Old Testament that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jews have long awaited, and more than that, He is the very Son of God. This is all affirmed to them by a powerful spirit.
“Pricked in their heart” in Greek means “pierced through, pained sharply, agitated vehemently.” To their question, “What shall we do?” Peter sums up the first principles of the gospel in one phrase, “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 (Acts 2:38). As we said, 3,000 souls were baptized that day. We can only imagine the commotion among the Jewish leaders who had sought so hard to destroy the work of Christ as to crucify Him.
Healing the Lame Man
At another time Peter and John are at the temple at the ninth hour, 3:00 p.m., when they saw a man “lame from his mother’s womb whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful” to beg. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. Peter answered, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have agive I thee: In the bname of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7 And he took him by the right hand, and alifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
Peter has healed this man in the only way one can be healed, “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This name is sacred and cannot be used casually as we sometimes do.
Now this man who was lame had been sitting by this well-traveled gate every day for a long time, and everyone had seen him. Thus, when he was suddenly healed, people ran together to Solomon’s porch, which is also on the temple lot “wondering.”
You have to picture this scene: Peter and John are standing before all the people—and the well-known invalid beggar is standing tall and erect by their sides. Peter said,
Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our aown power or holiness we had made this man to walk?
13 The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath aglorified his Son Jesus; whom ye bdelivered up, and cdenied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.
14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a amurderer to be granted unto you;
We are hearing here both a witness and a rebuke here. You are the ones who were quiet and let the Holy One of Israel be crucified.
16 And his aname through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the bfaith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. (Acts 3: 13-16).
It is through the merits and mercy of Christ that we are healed and in no other way.
Peter tells them that they are the children of the Abrahamic covenant. Because of this, God sent Jesus to you first to bless you, and you turned instead to your iniquities.
Now it was evening and the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them and laid hands on them. They were grieved because Peter and John were preaching the resurrection of Christ, and this day 5,000 responded. Crucifying Jesus had not solved their problem because His power continued.
Peter and John are now brought before the same players who just a few weeks earlier had interrogated Jesus—Annas and Caiaphas. As former high priest and current high priest, these are the power brokers in Jerusalem, and they have a lot riding on the next question:
Peter is filled with the Holy Ghost and herein lies the boldness with which he responds.
10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the aname of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole…
The Jewish leaders said:
16 What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable amiracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. (Acts 4:16)
These snakes who had murdered Jesus were really stuck because everyone at the temple had seen the evidence of the miracle. A man who had been lame 40 years from his birth now walked.
23 ¶ And being let go, [Peter and the apostles] went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.
These days that follow are a time of great missionary work. The apostles are doing just as they had been instructed–to preach the gospel. Miracles are wrought.
14 And believers were the more aadded to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
15 Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the ashadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
I like that description that it is multitudes that are flocking.
This idea of a shadow of Peter having such power might at first seem strange to us, but we remember that when the woman with an issue of blood just touched the hem of Jesus’s robe, she was healed in Luke 8:44. Paul sent his handkerchief in Acts 19:22 to the sick and the illness departed from them. Wilford Woodruff told this story about Joseph Smith:
“When we left Brother Noble, the Prophet Joseph went, with those who accompanied him from the other side, to the banks of the river, to return home.
“While waiting for the ferryboat, a man of the world, knowing of the miracles which had been performed, came to him and asked him if he would not go and heal two twin children of his, about five months old, who were both lying sick nigh unto death.
“They were some two miles from Montrose.
“The Prophet said he could not go; but, after pausing some time, he said he would send someone to heal them; and he turned to me [Wilford Woodruff] and said: ‘You go with the man and heal his children.’
“He took a red silk handkerchief out of his pocket and gave it to me, and told me to wipe their faces with the handkerchief when I administered to them, and they should be healed. He also said unto me: ‘As long as you will keep that handkerchief, it shall remain a league between you and me.’
“I went with the man, and did as the Prophet commanded me, and the children were healed.
“I have possession of the handkerchief unto this day.” (Leaves from My Journal, p. 65)
Of course, certain Jewish leaders are not going to let this alone, seeing Church leaders like Peter spread the gospel like a fire. They said that Peter and the apostles “intend to bring this man’s [Jesus’] blood upon us”. Filled with indignation, they laid their hands again upon Peter, and this time thrust him into a prison. But an angel of the Lord came by night and opened the doors and said,
20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the awords of this life. (Acts 5:20)
Meanwhile, the High Priest called “the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel,” then sent officers to prison for Peter to be examined by them. This is clearly the 71-member Sanhedrin and the eldership of the people, the core of the group who had tried Jesus. Caiaphas means business.
But the officers came back reporting that doors of the prison were shut safely, the guards were standing, yet the prison was empty! Another came with the astonishing news that Peter was in the temple preaching.
For all of us, it is vital to know that there is no prison so dark, so strong, so deep, but that God can visit us there and free us. Our prisons may not be bars and walls, but we sometimes feel that bondage. He can free us.
So, the officers went to the temple, and led Peter and the other apostles back without violence, fearing the people, which says a lot for the power of the people. When Peter and the apostles were brought before this powerful and august body, the leaders of the Jews, he again arose like a lion. They asked:
29 ¶ Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to aobey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and ahanged on a tree.
This cut the Jewish leaders to the heart. Then a voice of reason stood up. It is a famous member of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. He was the teacher of Paul and son of another famous rabbi, known as a reknowned teacher, named Hillel.
He told the group to let the apostles alone and reminded them previously of a man named Theudas, who boasted himself to be somebody, gathered four hundred followers, and when he was slain, his followers scattered and his influence came to nothing. Judas of Galilee was another man who had gathered followers, who also dispersed after his death.
Gamaliel advised with prophetic words,
Again we are reminded of what the Lord told Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, in Doctrine and Covenants 121:33.
33 How long can rolling waters remain impure? What apower shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to bhinder the cAlmighty from pouring down dknowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
God cannot be stopped.
What we see in these chapters, too, is how majestic Peter has become. He was always quick to defend the Savior, acting in strength, standing tall, yet before this same body, just a few weeks before Peter had denied that He knew the Lord. Now, such timidity and fear has been set aside—and he has become the mighty Peter.
It gives me hope that the Lord, working through the Holy Ghost can take us on a similar journey.
We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this has been Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. You can find the transcript at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast—and read the magazine every day at latterdaysaintmag.com
Next week we will be studying Acts 6-9 “What Wilt Thou Have Me Do?” Have a wonderful week of studies—we’ll see you next time.