Bible Study With Jairus – ACTS 11
Acts 11 tells three stories. In the first, Peter takes six fellow believers to Cornelius’s home to bring salvation to Cornelius and all his household. He also baptized them with the Holy Spirit. The second story talks about the advancement of the Gospel by those who were suffering because of the persecution that arose over Stephen. Barnabas also went to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him to Antioch. In the third story, a prophet named Agabus foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over the entire Roman world.
Our focus today is that we should pay attention to the working of the Holy Spirit, especially the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We also need to pay attention to the ways that the Holy Spirit communicates with us, including visions, dreams, trances, and so on. Before we talk about this, I want to provide a personal point of reference for this discussion. Let me start by explaining how our Bible study group operates in hopes that it will be a help to others who lead Bible Studies.
Our Bible study is usually led by a man or woman who gives a brief summary of the Scripture in the beginning. Everyone takes a turn leading in order to achieve a better understanding of the Scripture as well as to give everyone a chance to practice speaking for God. Leading a Scripture reading session causes the leader to prepare for sharing in two ways. The first is summarizing the background and the basic information of the Scripture to share with the group. The leader may also add some thoughts that they learned from other Bible teachers. This step is very helpful for both the new believers who do not have much Bible knowledge and for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of the Bible. Those who wish to grow can learn to lead a Bible study and share what they have learned from this chapter. Their sharing will help those who are new to the Bible. This also helps those who are sharing to realize they need more understanding.
The second step in preparation, which is a more advanced aspect, is to pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit to give you new understanding and thoughts about the Scripture. The unfolding of God’s words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130) In other words, I try to help the group leaders to grow in their understanding of the Bible and receive Rhema words from the Holy Spirit. [“A rhema word is a specific word which the Holy Spirit quickens in our hearts and minds at a specific time and for a specific purpose. We receive a rhema word from God when the Holy Spirit specifically reminds us of a particular Bible verse or promise, and drops that “word” into our heart.”- Kenny Gatlin] I often show them an example of how to do this. We often get timely Rhema words from the Holy Spirit in our reading sessions.
Providing a Scripture summary in the first step gives newcomers a good introduction to the Bible. And in the second step, the illumination of the Holy Spirit is a fresh bread of life for mature Christians who may find that a basic introduction of the Bible is not enough for their spiritual growth. Most of them have heard the same Bible stories many times already. After the beginning part led by a man or a woman, we will start to discuss our weekly Bible reading with a Q & A session. Sometimes the leader provides a topic and we write down our thoughts based on the topic; otherwise, we write down questions and discuss them together. The following question is a question that was asked by a new believer. He asked, “Why were the disciples first called Christians in Antioch?”
It seems like a simple question- the answer is that the word “Christian” had a negative meaning in that time.
This question did not contain any inspiration from the Holy Spirit at that moment. It was just about historical knowledge. Since the new believers did not have that knowledge, we explained a bit. We have discussed many questions at this level to help the new believers gain more Bible knowledge.
The next question is why does it say Barnabas “was” a good man. (Acts 11:24) My answer is this. The Bible does not tell what happened to Barnabas after he had a disagreement with Paul. Luke, the author of Acts, was one of Paul’s disciples. Arguments between Christian leaders will often have a strong impact on their followers. It is true today and it was true in Bible times. It is my suspicion that Luke might have known more about Barnabas’s weaknesses than he wrote about here. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is kind; He does not want to mention man’s weaknesses unless they are helpful to later generations. (God recorded various sins as lessons to believers, such as Moses hitting the rock a second time and David’s sin with Bathsheba).
I mentioned in another Bible study that Barnabas’ calling was to help Paul and to bring him center stage. The Bible mentions that only Barnabas accepted Paul when he was converted (Acts 9). It was also Barnabas who went to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).
Kindness is also one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we look closely, we can see that many things were dealt with in the same way in the Bible. I don’t think Barnabas made a huge mistake when he had a disagreement with Paul. But it was his time to leave the stage and let Paul become the leading apostle. God used Barnabas as a transition and his duty had been fulfilled. Another example is John the Baptist ushering in the ministry of Jesus; when Jesus started his ministry, John’s mission was fulfilled.
When this second question was asked, I tried to share some inspiration I received from the Holy Spirit instead of just presenting knowledge. However, it was the last question asked that is the main focus and inspiration we got from this Bible study.
The question was “Was [Peter’s] trance a soul out of body experience or a spirit out of body experience in verse 5?” We were reading the Chinese version of the Bible during our Bible study. The version we used renders the word “trance” as a “soul out of body experience” and it is how “trance” was commonly translated into Chinese. However, this brother saw some comments online in Chinese that this should be translated as a “spirit out of body experience.”
Let me give you another example to illustrate this question better. I heard Pat Robertson answer a question on his program the 700 Club. One listener asked if our soul will go to heaven as well. Pat answered that our soul will not be in heaven as we are a spiritual man. Pat is a respected man of God. However, I don’t agree with his view on this. Our soul is valuable and will enter into heaven. Our soul is so precious that Jesus gave up his soul life to save our souls’ lives. If our soul will not go to heaven, why bother paying such a high price to save our souls? Yes, we are a spirit and we have eternal life in our spirit. But our soul will be transformed just as our body will one day be transfigured. We will become a new tripartite being once we are in Heaven.
I understand this is a controversial topic in American Christianity. But as an example, let me present the value of our souls in dreams and visions. I think we have to use both our spirits and souls to receive revelations through trances, dreams, and visions. Why do I say this?
Let’s talk about the difference between dreams and visions. The book of Daniel says dreams are night visions (Daniel 7:2). Visions include internal visions, or the images from inside your head, and external visions that can be seen by your eyes. I have never experienced external visions, but I experienced internal vision once during the day. In 2013, my wife had new job opportunities open up in different cities. We were seeking God’s guidance on whether we should leave Maryland. One day, we were driving to New York to visit a traditional Chinese medical center. My wife was not able to conceive during that time. On the way to New York, I suddenly saw a flow of water come out from between us and rise in a spiral up to the sky. It was like a tornado. I felt it was God telling us to stay. He later told me that there would be a revival in Maryland and that this revival would spread out from us in the future.
I have also had more prophetic dreams, or night visions. I will give two examples. In one of the prophetic dreams, I took my wife to look for her father in a strange place. We went to a place that looked like a Chinese style temple. The people there were very welcoming. My wife walked inside to look for her father and left me outside talking to an elderly lady at the entrance. I asked the lady where I was: was this place a pagan temple where people worshipped idols or a church type of building? She showed me she was studying a large print Chinese Bible. My father-in-law died from a cerebral hemorrhage suddenly when my wife was in college. I never met him. My wife had some arguments with him before he died. She was not a believer at that time. His sudden passing was very traumatic for her and she worried her father would be in hell. This prophetic dream brought much healing to her heart.
I remembered all the details in the dream after I woke up so I wrote them down. Interestingly, my wife dreamed of her father on the same night. She was so happy to see him in the dream, even though she did not remember other details.
I had another prophetic dream in which a couple from my Bible Study group and I were taken by the Holy Spirit to Heaven. The wife had a big house there. The house was surrounded by grape trees and every tree was fruitful. A grape vine grew on the wall and became one with the wall. We picked some fruit while the wife was showing me around her home. There was a music box on the wall besides the main door that could play beautiful music. I later told this woman of how I was taken to Heaven in this prophetic dream to see her house there. She told me she saw the Lord in one of her dreams around the same time, but she did not see the details I described to her.
As I was telling her what I saw in my dream, I told her that this was possibly a dream about Heaven. The house was her house in Heaven, but not in the world. She was very encouraged. She loves music and listens to music every day. Like my wife, she does not remember any other details from her own dreams, but was encouraged by the details in mine.
Unlike the experiences of my wife and this woman, my prophetic dreams (night visions) always come with many details. Apart from praying that God would speak to me through dreams before I sleep every night, I also train myself to wake up and record the dreams immediately once I have them. I sometimes get up a few times to record my dreams because people normally forget dreams in five minutes. The fact that my wife and this woman did not remember much of their dreams does not mean their dreams weren’t prophetic. As I saw in my dreams, they were taken to those places with me. God may allow me to remember these details but sealed the specifics for them. Job 33:14-18 says, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” It is possible that many have dreams but don’t remember and understand them. This happened to both Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar.
Many times people just forget their dreams because they did not write them down immediately. They could also just sleep too deeply to remember what God has been telling them in their dreams. Personally, I have been practicing to keep alert while sleeping and trying to record all the dreams.
Many of our prophetic dreams can be spiritual encounters that are happening in spiritual realms. If our soul is not participating in our dreams, we will not be able to remember anything. The Bible tells us that we were chosen before we were born. This means that our spirit already existed before our soul and body were even created. The Bible also tells us that we have been raised to Heaven with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). But why do most of us not feel that we are seated with Christ Jesus in the heavenly places? Most Christians do not have experiences of seeing themselves seated together with Jesus in the heavens, though some have prophesied that it is so. It is because God has not activated our prophetic gift to see this in our spirit. But also our soul is not allowed to remember these experiences even if we experienced them in the spirit. My point is that we must involve both our spirit and our soul to experience what happens in our spiritual encounters.
Joel chapter 2 says the Lord will pour out the Holy Spirit on all flesh, old men shall dream dreams, and young men shall see visions.
Our sleep can be seen as another form of “death.” God took out Adam’s rib to create Eve while he was in a deep sleep. God also spoke to Abraham while he was in a deep sleep. God told him that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years in Egypt. Our dreams can be happening in a junction of soul and spirit, as well as in the spiritual and physical worlds.
We need both our spirit and souls to remember the dream. We may have experiences in the spiritual realm, but we need dreams to remember them. Why does God speak to us through dreams? One of the reasons is that we are over occupied during day time and there is interference from the world so that we are not able to hear God clearly. The other reason is that we have worldly responsibilities such as our work. For instance, if God speaks to you or shows you a vision while you are driving, it may cause trouble.
Some Christians in the Charismatic church often practice waiting on the Lord. They wait to hear from God through worshiping, praising, and praying in tongues to exclude external interference so that they are able to see visions. I heard a testimony from an American prophetic teacher when I was taking a prophetic course. He said he often saw visions while waiting on the Lord and became half awake.
One assignment that our teachers gave us during the prophetic course was praying in a quiet place and using our imaginations to see a treasure box that was full of God’s gifts. We were to describe what gifts were in there. I was saved in the Local Church Movement where the focus was more on growing as a Christian and study of the Scriptures. What I learned at this prophetic course was too new for me to understand at first. I was not able to see the box from God at all the first few times I tried. It was during a holiday, but since I was under the pressure of the due date, I decided to kneel down and pray again. After a while, I saw a bed sheet come from Heaven and someone passed me a sword. I recorded this initial vision for my assignment. My teacher was a prophet who advised that the bed sheet represented rest and peace and the sword represented war. She believed that God’s Word for me was to rest in Him; He would give me the weapons I needed to win the spiritual battle.
The reason I am sharing this experience with you is to prove that we are able to connect with the spiritual world, and to show that we can get to know more about the spiritual world through certain prophetic practices. With the prophetic class I took and the help of the Holy Spirit, I gradually opened up more to the spiritual world. Since taking the prophetic classes, I have seen angels and evil spirits, had encounters with Jesus in heaven, and so on. I personally think some of them are real experiences that happened in spiritual realms. They are not only dreams.
What does this have to do with the book of Acts?
Many people have a tendency to focus on the chronicles of Paul or other stories related to evangelism when they read the book of Acts. However, this book also contains miracles, visions, angels, prophecies, and healing which are not discussed at many traditional churches. However, they play important roles in this book too.
A woman said she could not fully understand most of the context of Acts. For instance, Jesus’s disciples seem weak in the Gospels but they accomplish such great things in the book of Acts.
The focal point in the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can really change a person. As we all know, God formed man of dust from the ground. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of God, and the man became a living soul. The word “breath” can also be translated as “spirit.” Therefore, we can also call our soul the mixture of the spirit of God (or the breath of God) and our flesh. Our first breath was given by God in creation of us, and our second breath will be given by the Holy Spirit when we receive him in our regeneration. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and changes our inner self when we become Christians. And the third breath is the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is not talked about much at some churches. Most of the disciples in the book of Acts have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This experience does give us another level of the breath of God.
Our soul is a form that connects our spirit and our body, so our souls are affected by both our spirit and body. For example, if someone falls down when sick, the physical body affects the soul. Our soul also experiences changes and transformation when our spiritual men are regenerated. Our souls get damaged or even demonized by attacks from evil spirits. However, there is another kind of change in our soul when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. Many churches nowadays are not discussing much about these changes. But there are several examples in the Old Testament, such as Saul who had a life change by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says Saul had a new heart and became a different man after the Holy Spirit was upon him. Since this was in the Old Testament, it was not the Holy Spirit in his heart (1 Samuel 10:9). It was the Holy Spirit coming upon him.
I was part of a church that traditionally focused on the growth of our spiritual life. These traditions teach the believers to overcome sin and self through the power of the cross. However, they do not talk about or promote the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I was zealous to pursue spiritual growth and overcome all my sins and weakness through denying myself and practicing bearing my cross. However, I found that many people, including myself, could not overcome certain weaknesses no matter how hard we tried. Later I realized that this was not an area only related to my sins or flesh, but also to the strongholds set up by evil spirits. For example, many Chinese families traditionally worship idols, which brings generational curses to our family lines. In my church background, we did not talk much about deliverance ministries. However, when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, I found myself delivered from some of these strongholds or generational curses by the sovereignty of God.
Another story from Randy Clark will also help to illustrate this point. He said he had some sexual sins when he was a young believer. He later repented and regretted his behavior. However, he did not realize he had a need to be delivered from evil spirits until the day he met some deliverance ministers who helped to cast out some demons from him. He then realized it was NOT ONLY his personal weakness in the flesh, but a generational curse or the work of the evil spirits who worked in his family line. He found that many in the past few generations of his family had this similar sexual sin. Once the evil spirits were cast out from him and he went through the deliverance ministries, this generational curse was removed from his family line. He testified that his son and daughters no longer repeat the sins he and his previous family members had committed.
When I reflected on my own experiences, I had much failure in overcoming certain weaknesses or my flesh when I was practicing bearing the cross in my previous denomination. I found myself and many others saying the words, “I was crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) but in reality, we still could not overcome certain issues in our souls. You get to know each other very well once you have been in a local church long enough. You will know many people have never overcome certain issues in their life though they try very hard to bear their crosses. Through my own experiences in both the Local Church Movement and Charismatic churches, I found that both aspects (bearing the cross and the baptism of the Holy Spirit) are needed. As He lives in us, The Holy Spirit can work within us to lead us to experience the cross internally. However, we cannot overlook the fact that the empowering of the Holy Spirit can help us to be free from demons and strongholds when we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We need both the inner working of the Holy Spirit in us and also the empowering of the Holy Spirit upon us. The Holy Spirit will empower us to overcome more of our weaknesses or flesh if we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is not as many people think- that it only empowers us with gifts of the Holy Spirit outwardly to do miraculous things.
You simply cannot leave the Holy Spirit out when you read the book of Acts. You cannot ignore the fact of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You cannot downplay the visions and dreams recorded in the book of Acts. One third of the Bible is about visions and dreams. Many traditional churches do not give room to talk about visions and dreams or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Teachings and doctrines control the podium instead. This will eventually suffocate the church from having the supernatural experiences recorded in the book of Acts, and even hinder people from growing spiritually in the Lord.
Today, churches are separated by how much they know about the Holy Spirit and how much they are willing to allow the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to give room to the operation of the Holy Spirit and heed the ways that the Holy Spirit uses to convey his message to us. Visions, dreams, and trances are great tools God can use to talk with us. It involves both our spiritual man and our soul to receive this message.