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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 23



Verse 8


‘The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit.’

Acts 23:8

The scene is changed. St. Paul, released by Lysias, pleads his cause before the Sanhedrin, and his declaration that he is a Pharisee and that it was ‘of the hope and resurrection of the dead’ that he was called in question, caused a violent dispute, for ‘the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit.’ It is to a question associated with their position that I desire to draw your attention.

The ministry of angels! The subject is a difficult one, for angels are in the background of our faith, and when we bring the background of a picture forward, we may interfere with the proper centre and subject of the whole. As to us the centre, the beginning, and the end of our faith is the Lord Christ. I limit myself now to the ministry of angels for men.

I. Angel-guardians of children.—How many of us are interested in little children! Yet they have other friends—friends who watch in heaven as we watch on earth. To our interest is joined their kindred care. If ever in our occupations we forget the children, forget to pray for them, forget to commit them to God, those above are not so unmindful. In heaven the angel of the child always beholds the face of the Father of Jesus. The Son of Man wills it so—He declares it to be so; and this angel is a part of Christ’s ministry to seek and to save. Peaceful, then, may be the days of a really Christian household, and sweet their rest, when Jesus and His angels are keeping watch above and around.

II. Angels encouraging youth.—Jacob had received the last embrace and the last blessing. As night spread itself around, he looked for a place among the rocks, and there he lay to pass his first night from home. And as he slept, there came to him, not a dream, but a true and purposed vision. There was a ladder set up upon the earth, and the top of it reaching to heaven. There was a friendless man lying below, and there was the true promising God standing above; and there was spoken the Word which has lasted true for three thousand years; and there too were the angels, surely not less true, going up and down. How many of the young have to go out into life, more or less alone, and to make their way as best they can, their journey weary, their resting-places rough, and the prospect dark around them! But still, if they only knew it, they are not alone. Their solitude is peopled. The ladder is fixed. Above stands the Saviour of Israel, and angels are passing between. How safe in this multitudinous loneliness to feel, ‘My Saviour reads my heart; my angel sees my doings!’ And, oh, what a good work for all who have won influence with youth, to throw that spark of better purpose into the conscience of the young, which will rescue duty from the langours of routine, and quicken them to their true life for themselves and Christ!

III. The ministry of angels in the circumstances and emergencies of life.—Here in the incessant whirl, a good man too often gets caught in the machinery of business. He finds himself mixed up with doubtful companions, and doubtful transactions. His soul is vexed, but his feet are entangled. Then is the Lord’s time, and He sends His servant to help; and, led by the hand of angels, Lot escapes from the city. Or a good man is sometimes depressed in religious despondency. ‘It is enough; now, Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ Then comes the angel of comfort, and with loving touches wakes the Christian from inaction, brings him again to the ministrations of grace: ‘Arise, and eat, Elijah, because the journey is too great for thee.’ And in the strength of that meat indeed the tired soul finds new strength, and presses on towards the mount of God.

In short, through all the long parable of our life, the holy angels do their service to Christ in ministering to the heirs of salvation.

We do not intrude ourselves into things we have not seen. We follow the sure warrant of the Bible truth. We are unbeguiled by any majesty less august than that of Christ, but still we believe ‘we are come unto an innumerable company of angels.’

Rev. Canon F. T. Crosse.


‘Every man, says a Turkish allegory, has two angels—one on his right shoulder and another on his left. When he does anything good, the angel on his right shoulder writes it down in his book and seals it, because what is done is done for ever. When he has done evil, the angel on his left shoulder writes it down; he waits till midnight; if before that the man bows down his head and exclaims, “Gracious Allah, I have sinned, forgive me,” the angel rubs it out with a sponge; if not, at midnight he seals it, and the angel on the man’s right shoulder weeps.’

Verse 11


‘The Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.’

Acts 23:11

This was in the Antonian citadel, in the night. The immediate sequel of the text is the conspiracy for St. Paul’s assassination, when at dawn of day the ‘more than forty’ arranged how and where they might fall upon their victim.

In such a frame is set this radiant picture. Serene and infinitely at liberty, He Who always knows the way to the solitudes and sorrows of His people stood by His Apostle’s side. He called His servant by his name. He placed Himself in sympathetic contact with his fears. And He lifted him out of them with the sublime reassurance that the servant was in the path of the Master’s will, and therefore altogether safe in the escort of the Master’s love and power. The path was developing and ascending. Jerusalem was about to be exchanged for Rome. And Jesus Christ guarantees St. Paul’s safety here and his safety there, assuring him of a deep inward continuity through all the changes, as well as of a rest and refuge amidst all the storms.

There is in the message to St. Paul an intimate relation to ourselves, to the pastors of to-day. How shall we read that message out?

I. It is a message of the power of Christ to transcend and transfigure difficulty.

II. It is a message that Christ is able to transfigure life’s deep changes, till they are as it were harmonised into one song by the reconciling magic of His will. From Jerusalem to Rome, from a place which, with all its alarms, was yet redolent to him of memory and old ways, to the world-city, dangerously new and different; that was a great change for St. Paul.

III. What better can I do than move you to pray for your clergy, chosen servants and messengers of Christ?

(a) Pray that in all their care and labour the Lord may evermore stand by them, morning, noon, and night, saying to them, at the heart of all circumstances, ‘Fear not; I am with thee.’

(b) Pray that the sevenfold Spirit may fill their spirit with counsel, and with the might of truth and love and with the great gift of power for God with men.

(c) Pray that the heavenly Scriptures may be evermore lighted up to them by that same Spirit, and that the sure Word, in its fullness and its sublime proportion, which is of God, may be their lamp, and oracle, and song.

(d) Pray that they may have grace faithfully to fulfil their call to be, above all men, preachers of that Word, and that they may evermore rejoice to set forth from it before all men our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as our all in all, for this life and the life to come, for pardon, holiness, and heaven, in His finished work, in His everlasting working.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.


‘The responsibility of the congregation was a thought which Bishop Westcott touched on many times; never, perhaps, with more force than in this passage from one of his Ordination addresses. “Priest and people act and react one upon the other. They suffer together, they advance together. If it is true, as we all must admit, that the priest must use for his people every grace of the Spirit with which he is endowed, it is no less true that the people on their part must use for their priest that sevenfold gift which they too received by the apostolic laying on of hands. To them also is entrusted a stewardship of sacred treasures by which those that have rule over them must be supported. This truth, this vital truth, has, I think, been commonly overlooked; and there has followed, naturally, on the one side an assumption of lordship, and on the other side a suppression of spiritual force.”


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 23:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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