WITH a flick of the fingers, friction occurs and a spark leaps from match to tinder. A small flame burns the edges and grows, fuelled by wood and air. Heat builds, and soon the kindling is licked by orange-red tongues. Higher and wider it spreads, consuming the wood. The flame has become a fire.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, a match was struck in Palestine. At first, just a few in that corner of the world were touched and warmed; but the fire spread beyond Jerusalem and Judea out to the world and to all people. Acts provides an eyewitness account of the flame and fire – the birth and spread of the church. Beginning in Jerusalem with a small group of disciples, the message travelled across the Roman empire. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, this courageous band preached, taught, healed, and demonstrated love in synagogues, schools, homes, marketplaces, and courtrooms, and on the streets, hills, ships, and desert roads – wherever God sent them, lives and history were changed.
Written by Luke as a sequel to his Gospel, Acts is an accurate historical record of the early church. But Acts is also a theological book, with lessons and living examples of the work of the Holy Spirit, church relationships and organisation, the implications of grace, and the law of love. And Acts is an apologetic work, building a strong case for the validity of Christ’s claims and promises.
The book of Acts begins with the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit and the commencement of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit-inspired evangelism began in Jerusalem and eventually spread to Rome, covering most of the Roman empire. The gospel first went to the Jews; but they, as a nation, rejected it. A remnant of Jews, of course, gladly received the good news. But the continual rejection of the gospel by the vast majority of the Jews led to the ever-increasing proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles. This was according to Jesus’ plan: the gospel was to go from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (1:8). This, in fact, is the pattern that the Acts narrative follows. The glorious proclamation began in Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), went to Judea (11:19, 13:4 and on to the end of Acts). The second half of Acts is focused primarily on Paul’s missionary journeys to many countries north of the Mediterranean Sea. He, with his companions, took the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Some of the Jews believed, and many of the Gentiles received the good news with joy. New churches were started, and new believers began to grow in the Christian life.
As you read Acts, put yourself in the place of the disciples – feel with them as they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and thrill with them as they see thousands respond to the gospel message. Sense their commitment as they give every ounce of talent and treasure to Christ. And as you read, watch the Spirit-led boldness of these first-century believers, who through suffering and in the face of death take every opportunity to tell of their crucified and risen Lord. Then decide to be a 20th-century version of those men and women of God.
PURPOSE: To give an accurate account of the birth and growth of the Christian church
AUTHOR: Luke (a Gentile physician)
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Theophilus and all lovers of God
DATE WRITTEN: Between A.D. 63 and 70
SETTING: Acts is the connecting link between Christ’s life and the life of the church, between the Gospels and the Letters
KEY VERSE: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:18).
KEY PEOPLE: Peter, John, James, Stephen, Philip, Paul, Barnabas, Cornelius, James (Jesus’ brother), Timothy, Lydia, Silas, Titus, Apollos, Agabus, Ananias, Felix, Festus, Agrippa, Luke
KEY PLACES: Jerusalem, Samaria, Lydda, Joppa, Antioch, Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Malta, Rome
SPECIAL FEATURES: Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Because Acts ends so abruptly, Luke may have planned to write a third book, continuing the story.
Peter’s Ministry (1:1-12:25) After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter preached boldly and performed many miracles. Peter’s actions demonstrate vividly the source of effects of Christian power. Because of the Holy Spirit, God’s people were empowered so they could accomplish their tasks. The Holy Spirit is still available to empower believers today. We should turn to the Holy Spirit to give us the strength, courage, and insight to accomplish our work for God.
- Establishment of the church
- Expansion of the church
Paul’s Ministry (13:1-28:31) Paul’s missionary adventures show us the progress of Christianity. The gospel could not be confined to one corner of the world. This was a faith that offered hope to all humanity. We too should venture forth and share in this heroic task to witness for Christ in all the world.
- First missionary journey
- The council at Jerusalem
- Second missionary journey
- Third missionary journey
- Paul on trial
EXPLANATION: Acts is the history of how Christianity was founded and organised and solved its problems. The community of believers began by faith in the risen Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to witness, to love, and to serve.
IMPORTANCE: New churches are continually being founded. By faith in Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church can be a vibrant agent for change. As we face new problems, Acts gives important remedies for solving them.
EXPLANATION: The church did not start or grow by its own power or enthusiasm. The disciples were empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. He was the promised Counsellor and Guide sent when Jesus went to heaven.
IMPORTANCE: The Holy Spirit’s work demonstrated that Christianity was supernatural. Thus the church became more Holy Spirit-conscious than problem-conscious. By faith, any believer can claim the Holy Spirit’s power to do Christ’s work.
EXPLANATION: Acts presents the history of a dynamic, growing community of believers from Jerusalem to Syria, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In the first century, Christianity spread from believing Jews to non-Jews in 39 cities and 30 countries, islands, or provinces.
IMPORTANCE: When the Holy Spirit works, there is movement, excitement, and growth. He gives us the motivation, energy, and ability to get the gospel to the whole world. How are you fitting into God’s plan for expanding Christianity? What is your place in this movement?
EXPLANATION: Peter, John, Philip, Paul, Barnabas, and thousands more witnessed to their new faith in Christ. By personal testimony, preaching, or defence before authorities, they told the story with boldness and courage to groups of all sizes.
IMPORTANCE: We are God’s people, chosen to be part of his plan to reach the world. In love and by faith, we can have the Holy Spirit’s help as we witness or preach. Witnessing is also beneficial to us because it strengthens our faith as we confront those who challenge it.
EXPLANATION: Through imprisonment, beatings, plots, and riots, Christians were persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles. But the opposition became a catalyst for the spread of Christianity. Growth during times of oppression showed that Christianity was not the work of humans, but of God.
IMPORTANCE: God can work through any opposition. When severe treatment from hostile unbelievers comes, realise that it has come because you have been a faithful witness and you have looked for the opportunity to present the good news about Christ. Seize the opportunities that opposition brings.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.