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Acts 28 The Spiritual Meaning of a Viper

Posted by hystar on October 18, 2010

Acts 28:2-3 KJV And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. (3) And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.

Acts 28:2-3 is a very good example illustrating William Miller’s eleventh rule of Bible study.

11. If a word makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, it is to be understood literally; if not, figuratively. Rev. 12:1, 2; 17:3-7.

Looking at the texts one should instantly realize Paul is gathering sticks in the rain. Paul surely must have known, wet sticks will not burn. At least not right away. Throwing wet sticks in a fire will create a great deal of smoke. Not a pleasant way of repaying your hosts for their hospitality.

Reading a few additional texts will reveal another unusual detail.

Acts 28:4-5 KJV And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. (5) And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.

Acts 28:2-3 should provide adequate reason to look for a spiritual meaning. A close examination will verify this fact. The text tells us it was raining. God used the words, “present rain,” to make certain this fact would not be over looked. As further evidence Luke included the fact the viper came out of the heat. Vipers enter a dormant state in the cold. This would have explained why Paul was not instantly bitten. Paul was out on the rain and cold gathering sticks for the fire. When he returned he began adding them to the fire. The heat from the fire quickly warmed the viper. Alarmed, the viper sprang from the bundle of sticks. In a blink of an eye it stuck at Paul, latching onto his hand.

The fact Paul lived through this ordeal, further verifies this is an unusual event, beyond the natural laws of nature. At that moment, Paul may have recalled a story one of the apostles may have related to him. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (34) Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: Matthew 23:33-34.

Jesus not only told the priests their forefathers were responsible for persecuting God’s prophets, He prophesied the priests in His generation would be responsible for persecuting those He was about to send. One of which was Paul.

Once a text containing a figurative, or spiritual meaning has been identified, how do you find the interpretation? The first step is to identify the key words. Key words are most likely nouns, people, places, and things. In this case only one word will be studied, the word viper.

Using a Concordance, or computer Bible program, search the word viper. Only a few results will be found. Among these, Isaiah 59, which provides a detailed description of the people who put Paul in his predicament.

Isaiah 59:1-10 KJV Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: (2) But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (3) For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. (4) None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. (5) They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. (6) Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. (7) Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. (8) The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. (9) Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. (10) We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.

Isaiah compares a group of people who pervert justice to a viper. They lie because of their vanity. God is far from them. Who is Isaiah describing? Based on the detailed description, and the point in history this prophecy was given, it could be any number of groups. Scripture reveals only two groups this prophecy could possibly point to, the Jews in the time of Isaiah, and those who persecuted Jesus. Supporting evidence is supplied by the gospels.

Matthew 26:59 KJV Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;

Mark 14:55-56 KJV And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. (56) For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.

Matthew and Luke record a fulfillment of this prophecy. The chief priests and elders conspired against an innocent man. They had no form of justice. They resorted to lies and false witnesses to put Jesus to death.

The Jews heard Jesus speak for three and a half years. They send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him

in his words. (Mark 12:13 KJV) They refused to accept His words, wisdom, warnings, parables, and prophesies. Their greatest error was their failure to test Jesus’ words with scripture. If they had, they would have been led to the realization, He was the Saviour sent by God.

The chief priests and elders were spiritually blind. They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. (Matthew 15:14 KJV)

Their arrogance was held in higher regard than truth. Their pride was more important than the life of the innocent. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (Matthew 27:25 KJV)

The shedding of innocent blood did not stop at Jesus, it was the beginning of a new form of persecution.

Acts 6:9-13 KJV Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. (10) And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. (11) Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. (12) And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, (13) And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

Acts 26:10-11 KJV Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. (11) And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

The persecution began with Jesus, continued with Stephen, and extended to everyone the chief priest and leaders suspected of being followers of Jesus.

Saul, once one of the most loyal followers of the chief priest was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus. Once Saul had converted and began quoting scriptures showing Jesus was the Christ, his friends became his enemies.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. Acts 8:1,3, Acts 9:1-2.

Saul was a predominant Jewish leader. He personally delivered accusations against the Christians to the high priest, who gave him direct orders to persecute Christ’s followers. There must have been a number of people, who considered it a status symbol to be seen with Saul, who testified concerning his status; I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. Acts 22:3-5.

On the road to Damascus, Saul met Jesus, and was changed forever. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: Acts 9:20-23.

His status within the Jewish religion did not save Saul from Persecution, it may have made it worse. Climbing the ladder of success, Saul’s knowledge of the scriptures and zeal demanded the respect of those around him. The moment Saul introduced new concepts, the wrath of the Jewish leadership lashed out against him. The same people responsible for the death of Jesus now set their hatred upon Saul. Their tactics were the same. They neglected to search the scriptures for the truth while they resorted to lies and deceit to take the life of Paul.

Acts 21:27-32 KJV And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, (28) Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (29) (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) (30) And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut. (31) And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. (32) Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.

Acts 23:12-14 KJV And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. (13) And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy. (14) And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.

Acts 25:2-3 KJV Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, (3) And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.

Acts 25:7 KJV And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.

The viper opened up a way for Paul to share the scriptures that prophesied about Jesus. How the high priests and his followers lied to convict Him. How Jesus suffered the torments from the Roman guards. How a criminal was set free while He was left to die. How the priests aroused the people. How they had darkened the eyes, and shut the ears of their followers. How they nailed Jesus to the cross, and how He died. Paul must have also told his hosts how Jesus rose on the third day, sharing the prophecies of old, and the good news, death was defeated. Can you imagine the stories Paul must have been told from eye witnesses? Paul was given the opportunity to share the scriptures describing how Jesus sits on the right hand of God in Heaven, how God created the earth, the sea, and all the creators in them. How God created man, and woman, in his image. How Jesus came down from Heaven to live a sinless life among men. Paul may have related a number of Jesus’ parables, and the lessons He taught.

To what may appear as an insignificant snake bite by the casual reader, turns out to be much more. It was a miracle Paul was not harmed. This not only opened up an opportunity for Paul to witness, but provided a link to the prophecy of Isaiah which described those responsible for the persecution of Jesus, and His disciples. Imagine how effective Paul was able to illustrate this to his hosts as he related Isaiah’s prophecy, including the details explaining why the priests deceived their followers. Evidence comes in many forms. God has a method of recalling it to memory when it needs to be shared.


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