Acts 24 tells the story of a Jewish high priest, elders, and a lawyer named Tertullus accusing Paul when he was brought to Governor Felix to make his defense.
The verse that we are discussing this time is:
24:15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (NIV)
A member of our bible study asked, “What did Paul mean by this statement?” In particular, we are questioning the phrase: “the same hope in God as these men themselves have.” Who are “these men” referring to? As we were discussing this verse, the Holy Spirit gave us insight. A person who experientially knows and understands resurrection was being accused by people who only knew about the resurrection written in black and white. They had no personal experience to back it up. This is true of those in churches today. Some experientially know the power of the resurrection, and others only go by the written letter.
Let’s discuss this. I think that “these men” refers to the Jews. Paul’s name was Saul before he became a Christian. He was a Pharisee like them (Philippians 3:5). The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, but the Sadducees didn’t. Even though the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, they didn’t accept Jesus, who proclaimed himself to be the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). They knew the doctrine of the resurrection but failed to see Jesus, who was the resurrection.
There is a parable in China called “Lord Ye Loves Dragons.” The parable is about a person who loves dragons so much that he fills his house with them, but when the dragon visited him, he was terrified and drove the dragon away. A person can be full of positive talk about a particular thing but, in actuality, not like it at all. The dragon is a negative image in the Bible and Western culture. I used the Chinese parable to illustrate a story. The Pharisees are “Lord Ye who Loves Dragons.” They outwardly spoke of their hope for resurrection, but when Jesus came to them as the resurrection, they rejected Him.
Paul was like this before his conversion. He passionately defended Judaism, even calling for the arrest of those who believed in Jesus. Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and transformed his life. He went from a persecutor of Christians to an apostle of Christ. Paul finally understood the resurrection not only in black and white but from personal experience.
What happened here? Why can a spiritual experience completely change a person, yet the wealth of knowledge that he possessed before conversion didn’t change him?
Do you really know the resurrection through experience or only as words on the page?
If Christians today truly understood the power of the resurrection, their attitude about life would be totally different. They wouldn’t be so eager to cling to the things of this world.
For example, there was a story about a Christian couple whose young daughter passed away while exercising. If you were the pastor of this couple’s church, how would you comfort them? Christians often try to comfort by saying, “she’s in God’s arms and is so happy.” Unfortunately, many who say such things really aren’t sure if this is true, and it comes across to the grieving parents as a Christian cliché rather than comfort. If the pastor really believes and understands the resurrection experientially, he’ll be able to communicate it in a way that truly comforts. When there is no experiential truth, there is a lack of boldness and a sense of helplessness.
Felix was a Gentile governor. He was a sinner. When Paul preached the gospel to him, he was afraid on the one hand, but on the other hand, he hoped that Paul would offer him a bribe. He is an example of a person who doesn’t know the resurrection at all, but he was the judge here.
The Jews who accused Paul were like Saul, which was Paul’s name before God changed it. They were zealous for God, but they did not know the resurrection through experience. Instead, they accused Paul, who had seen the risen Jesus appear with his own eyes. This gave Paul a chance to testify to the resurrection of Jesus before Felix and these Jews, who didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection.
Paul isn’t the only one who experienced this. Many Christians today have experienced the power of the resurrection. Let’s look at the example of the couple whose daughter died. Suppose they had unbelieving relatives at home. We can liken them to Felix, a judge, and the couple would be the accusers or the Jews. The pastor was in Paul’s position. The couple complains to the pastor asking why a loving God allowed their child to die when He could have prevented it. If this pastor knew the power of the resurrection as Paul did, he would be able to comfort this couple, and perhaps even the unbelieving family would be saved.
In 1 Corinthians 4:9, Paul said, “we have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” Paul needs to show by example, the resurrection power of God to the judges who didn’t believe in the resurrection as well as those Jews who only had book knowledge of the resurrection without experience. Whether or not Felix or the Jews were persuaded, Paul lived out the power of the resurrection.
Katt Kerr, an American prophet, told the story about the couple losing their daughter. As she was praying, she had a vision. The Lord told her that He didn’t cause the accident, but in his wisdom and authority, He allowed the girl to remain in Heaven. In her vision, Katt saw that the little girl had become a young adult leader in Heaven and was mentoring many young people. The couple was comforted when Katt shared the vision with them.
I was saved in the Local Church Movement but joined the Charismatic church in 2015. I began to have prophetic gifts activated and started to have many dreams of Heaven. Jesus has appeared to me several times also. When I was trying to share my experience of seeing Jesus to a former friend at the Local Church Movement, he politely interrupted me and said, “Let’s just talk about the Bible.” In other words, he wasn’t interested in my experiences. This situation may not be unique to the Local Church Movement. Some evangelicals hold similar views. The interesting thing is that the Local Church Movement is not opposed to spiritual experiences. They place special emphasis on spiritual growth and spiritual life experiences. I led some fellow believers in a study on “The Experience of Life” by Witness Lee, and we gleaned much from it. The Local Church Movement doesn’t deny Watchman Nee’s spiritual experiences and Witness Lee’s dreams. Why was this fellow believer not willing to hear about my personal experience?
This may seem like a small issue, but it is actually a big one. Many Christians in traditional churches do not deny Paul’s spiritual experience in Damascus, nor do they deny the special spiritual experiences of some of the great spiritual people who have been universally recognized and accepted. However, many traditional churches have a more cautious and skeptical attitude towards the special spiritual experiences of unimportant people or regular members of the church. They are reluctant to talk about these experiences, and they don’t encourage those in their fellowship to pursue such experiences. According to my observations, because they lack encounters with the risen Lord, some churches will follow the ways of the Israelites in this chapter. They discuss the resurrection and possess a lot of head knowledge about it, but they haven’t experienced the power of the resurrection in their own lives.
On the contrary, the Pentecostal Movement encourages individuals to pursue spiritual experiences. I have heard many testimonies of people who have seen the risen Lord in dreams or visions. These visions and dreams changed their lives. Tom Jones, one of my teachers in the doctoral program, even wrote a dissertation on how an encounter with the Lord can profoundly change a person’s life. Many evangelical Christians don’t believe in some of these personal spiritual experiences, but it’s difficult to deny them when so many people are having these life-changing experiences.
These observations lead me to believe that many evangelicals may fall into the trap of having much book knowledge without experience, which can lead to staleness in their Christian walk. They highly value the Bible and despise experience because they are afraid of being deceived by evil spirits. What they may not realize is that they can easily be deceived through erroneous Bible teaching if they aren’t renewing their minds. There is a balance in all of this. Christians who are only seeking after spiritual experiences but lack a solid Biblical foundation can also be deceived. They may get excited about their experience yet lack the maturity to discern what is from God versus the false experience of the enemy. I’ve seen examples of this.
So how should we deal with the relationship between knowledge and experience of the resurrection? I believe that we must strive to understand the knowledge of the resurrection, just like Paul, who studied the knowledge of Judaism in the school of Gamaliel, Israel’s best teacher. But when the time came, he saw the risen Lord appear to him on the road to Damascus. Therefore, not only did he have an understanding of the knowledge of the Bible, but he also had an understanding of the experience of the Lord’s resurrection.
My experience is the same. I believe it was the Lord’s sovereignty that brought me to the Local Church Movement. The Local Church Movement places great emphasis on studying the Bible. The Christians studying the Bible there are one of the hardest working groups I have ever seen. But because I could not have children, I was compelled to ask for help from the Pentecostal Movement.
I experienced being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal Movement, which began my charismatic experience. I have been taken to Heaven many times and observed what goes on there as well as seeing those who live in the Garden. Jesus has appeared to me in dreams several times as well. These experiences have helped me to understand the Bible better.
For example, some of the Bible teachers I had early in my Christian life taught the importance of the spiritual side of Heaven known as the New Jerusalem but denied that there is a material heaven. In my dreams of Heaven, I saw buildings, carriages, trains, and other means of transportation. Jesus took me behind the glass in a building and showed me how people had gone up to Heaven one by one. There were also meetings with someone preaching. Many times I’ve been brought to Heaven to observe some Chinese people’s lives who not only have houses, but they grow vegetables and plant fruit trees. I’ve been invited to taste the fruit and Chinese food. These experiences have helped me to see that material and spiritual are not separable. The Lord Jesus could walk through walls after he was resurrected. The disciples thought He was a spirit, but Jesus asked for a piece of fish and ate it. This story shows that material and spirit is a mystery after the resurrection.
I am currently studying theology, and I have learned that Plato’s “dualism” has had a great influence on the history of the church. Plato argues that men’s body and soul (spirit) are separate entities. He places the spiritual side of men in high regard but despises the physical side. This teaching had a great influence on the church. It directly affected the asceticism of monasteries that later rose in church history. Although the situation of physical corruption and depravity in the Catholic Church is not desirable, there is a limit to completely denying materialism and punishing oneself for practicing it. During the time of Martin Luther’s reformation, he found that asceticism did not work at all, and he gradually realized the truth of “justification by faith.”
No doubt, God doesn’t want us to live according to the flesh in this life. God’s purpose is not to destroy our bodies or bodily sensations. One of the bodily sensations is the pleasure of enjoying good food. Heaven has a lot of food for us to enjoy. If you don’t believe it, you can look at Revelation 22:2. The tree of life has 12 fruits, yielding its fruit every month for us to eat. There are also buildings in Heaven. I was allowed to see the heavenly house of a Christian lady who comes weekly to our bible study. Her house in Heaven was big, and it resembled a brick structure. The vine and wall had grown together as one, and it was filled with a lot of grapes. The wall next to the main entrance could be opened, and it was a music box that could play music. I can’t explain whether this is spiritual or material, or both spiritual and material.
For example, Christians have another theological controversy, which is whether a person will go to hell after they die if they didn’t’ believe in God when they were still alive or whether they still have the opportunity to come to know God in the afterlife. I know this is a very controversial issue. Many times, in my prophetic dreams, I was brought to a valley where diseased Chinese people were living, including my fourth aunt, who had died of breast cancer. I don’t believe she was saved before she died, but she received and welcomed me. She gave me a fruit similar to a mulberry, but it was like the size of a mango. Her house was as small as the apartments on earth, which is in stark contrast to the big house of the Christian lady mentioned above. These people live in a deep valley.
I was brought to a similar place in my dream. In this dream, my wife and I were together looking for her father, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The sudden death of her father, while she was in college, caused her deep emotional pain. I have never met my father-in-law. In this dream, when I got to this place, many people were there, and they excitedly welcomed and received us. Someone brought my wife inside. I was chatting with an old Chinese lady sitting at the door in this building. She showed me the large print edition of the Bible she was reading. After this experience, my wife’s heart was completely healed because she was worried that her father would go to hell because he had not believed in God before He died.
I am not trying to arouse a theological debate when I talk about these experiences, nor am I encouraging people to neglect receiving salvation in this life and to suggest they wait for the afterlife. Rather, I’m saying that many things are beyond our imagination. There are many mysteries that we don’t understand, so we can’t easily say that we understand everything the Bible is saying.
I have just cited a few examples. These spiritual experiences helped me to re-understand the Bible. But on the other hand, I am very grateful for the truths and spiritual practices I learned in the Local Church Movement, including calling on the name of the Lord, pray-reading the Word of God, morning revival, and so on. I keep practicing them every day, and I don’t let my new spiritual experiences take the place of me establishing a closer relationship with God. On the contrary, I still give top priority to maintaining a close relationship with God. I worked hard to combine the methods, habits, and attitude of studying the Bible diligently that I learned in the Local Church Movement with the prophetic gifts of the Charismatics. The Lord appeared to me in a dream, telling me that the two rivers would converge. This may be a confirmation from God.
Not only do we need to know the intellectual knowledge of the resurrection, but we also need to try our best to pursue the experience of the risen Lord. If you don’t read the Bible, you won’t know its truths. If you don’t dare to pursue spiritual experiences, you won’t have many experiences. This is a basic law of nature. The muscle that you regularly train will become stronger. If you never train a certain muscle, naturally, that muscle will become weak. Also, the Bible clearly says, if you didn’t get it, it’s because you never asked for it (John 16:24). The principle of the Bible is if you ask, it shall be given to you; if you knock, the door shall be open; if you seek, you shall find (Matthew 7:7–8). These spiritual experiences are not reserved for special people. Because of wrong teachings and fear toward these spiritual experiences, many believers were never taught to pray or ask for these experiences. But I can guarantee you that you would become a totally different person if you have a genuine encounter with the Lord. God wants you to encounter Him powerfully, but some will let fear keep that encounter from happening. Personally, I was very intrigued but wary when hearing about other people’s encounters, but I asked God to show me the heavenly realm, and He did.
When I was a kid, I often saw electricians in my village climbing up the electric poles making repairs.
They have a tool on each foot. They would hang the tool first on the electric pole; then they would move their other foot to a higher place, and hang this tool again on the electric pole, then move their other foot. They could only do one step at a time. Their left and right feet alternate back and forth, and the gap can’t be too large; otherwise, they would fall from the electric pole.
The electric pole is a very good picture. Our pursuit of biblical knowledge about the resurrection is like our left foot; our Charismatic and spiritual experience of the risen Lord is like our right foot. When you lack one foot, it will make you unbalanced, making it impossible for you to climb to the top of the electric pole and complete the task of repairing the electric wires.
If you only seek the intellectual knowledge of the Bible and neglect the pursuit of the Charismatic and spiritual experience, you will be like the Israelite high priests, elders, and lawyers in this chapter. Although they had a lot of knowledge about the resurrection and hoped for it, they didn’t know the risen Jesus who is the resurrection even when he stood before them. They even persecuted Paul, who knew the resurrection. When they accused Paul, the Gentiles, and Felix, who didn’t have the knowledge of the resurrection and lacked the experience it, became the judges. Many times, our knowledge and truths cannot save people like Felix. Instead, these would become a stumbling block to them. But Paul, who possessed both the knowledge of the resurrection and the experience of the resurrection, was able to witness the power of God’s resurrection.
We simply cannot afford to belittle these kinds of spiritual experiences. Fear must be eliminated. Without these spiritual experiences, we could end up like the Pharisees. We are not encouraging people to seek experiences and neglect the Bible. I’ve witnessed many churches and individual Christians who are lukewarm because they lack a deep encounter with the Lord.
Those of us who have experienced the power of His resurrection may find ourselves in situations similar to Paul. God’s purpose is not to harm us but for his power to be shown to unbelievers as well as skeptical believers who lack spiritual encounters.
We need to break free from fear and courageously pursue spiritual experiences as well as a deep knowledge of the truths in the Bible. Evangelicals and Charismatics should not be enemies. We are all part of the body of Christ. We need to unite, merge truths, and break the boundaries of a denominational spirit for churches to be one in Him to accomplish His purpose. If the church isn’t united in the knowledge of God, they won’t be united in other aspects. We must come to a place of unity in understanding the Bible.