Beginning with a brief summary of Jesus’ last days on earth with his disciples, his ascension, and the selection of a replacement for Judas Iscariot, Luke moves quickly to his subject – – the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. Pentecost highlighted by the filling of the Holy Spirit (2:1-13) and Peter’s powerful sermon (2:14-42), was the beginning. Then the Jerusalem church grew daily through the bold witness of Peter and John and the love of the believers (2:43-4:37). The infant church was not without problems, however, with external opposition (resulting in imprisonment, beatings, and death) and internal deceit and complaining. Greek-speaking Jewish believers were appointed to help with the administration of the church to free the apostles to preach. Stephen and Philip were among the first deacons, and Stephen became the church’s first martyr (5:1-8:3).
Instead of stopping Christianity, opposition and persecution served as catalysts for its spread because the believers took the message with them wherever they fled (8:4). Soon there were converts throughout Samaria and even in Ethiopia (8:5-40).
At this point, Luke introduces us to a bright young Jew, zealous for the law and intent on ridding Judaism of the Jesus heresy. But on the way to Damascus to capture believers, Saul was converted when he was confronted in person by the risen Christ (9:1-9). Through the ministry of Ananias and the sponsorship of Barnabas, Saul (Paul) was welcomed into the fellowship and then sent to Tarsus for safety (9:10-30).
Meanwhile, the church continued to thrive throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Luke recounts Peter’s preaching and how Peter healed Aeneas in Lydda and Dorcas in Joppa (9:31-43). While in Joppa, Peter learned through a vision that he could take the gospel to the “unclean” Gentiles. Peter understood, and he faithfully shared the truth with Cornelius, whose entire household became believers (chapter 10). This was starling news to the Jerusalem church; but when Peter told his story, they praised God for his plan for all people to hear the good news (11:1-18). This pushed the church into even wider circles as the message was preached to Greeks in Antioch, where Barnabas went to encourage the believers and find Saul (11:20-26).
To please the Jewish leaders, Herod joined in the persecution of the Jerusalem church, killing James (John’s brother) and imprisoning Peter. But God freed Peter, and Peter walked from prison to a prayer meeting on his behalf at John Mark’s house (chapter 12).
Here Luke shifts the focus to Paul’s ministry. Commissioned by the Antioch church for a missionary tour (13:1-13), Paul and Barnabas took the gospel to Cyprus and south Galatia with great success (13:4-14:28). But the Jewish-Gentile controversy still smouldered, and with so many Gentiles responding to Christ, the controversy threated to divide the church. So a council met in Jerusalem to rule on the relationship of Gentile Christians to the Old Testament laws. After hearing both sides, James (Jesus’ brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church) resolved the issue and sent messengers to the churches with the decision (15:1-31).
After the council, Paul and Silas preached in Antioch. Then they left for Syria and Cilicia as Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus (15:36-41). On this second missionary journey, Paul and Silas travelled throughout Macedonia and Achaia, establishing churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and Ephesus before returning to Antioch (16:1-18:21). Luke also tells of the ministry of Apollos (18:24-28).
On Paul’s third missionary trip he travelled through Galatia, Phrygia, Macedonia, and Achaia, encouraging and teaching the believers (19:1-21:9). During this time, he felt compelled to go to Jerusalem; and although he was warned by Agabus and others of impending imprisonment (21:1-12), he continued his journey in that direction.
While in Jerusalem, Paul was accosted in the temple by an angry mob and taken into protective custody by the Roman commander (21:17-22:29). Now we see Paul as a prisoner and on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (23:1-9), Governor Felix (23:23-24:27), and Festus and Agrippa (25:1-26:32). In each case, Paul gave a strong and clear witness for his Lord.
Because Paul appealed to Caesar, however, he was sent to Rome for the final hearing of his case. But on the way the ship was destroyed in a storm, and the sailors and prisoners had to swim ashore. Even in this circumstance Paul shared his faith (27:1-28:10). Eventually the journey continued and Paul arrived in Rome, where he was held under house arrest while awaiting trial (28:11-31).
Luke ends Acts abruptly with the encouraging word that Paul had freedom in his captivity to talk to visitors and guards: “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (29:31).