This second volume of the Luke-Acts set is entitled “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, some prefer to call it “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” because, no matter how much recognition the apostles get, the Holy Spirit was the person and power behind them. In Acts alone, the Holy Spirit is referred to more than sixty times, at least twice the mentions he received in any other book of the Bible.
Acts is the story of the Church – what it is and how it began. Many favorite Sunday School stories appear in its pages as Luke introduced his reader, initially Theophilus, to both the good and the bad events the early Christians experienced. The book covers the first 30 years of Church history, from its inception in A.D. 33 through Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, ending in A.D. 62.
There are at least three different ways to outline the book into its natural, broad divisions. The shortest outline is the simple division between Peter’s work (chapters 1-12) and Paul’s (chapters 13-28). Secondly, Acts 1:8 gives a threefold outline. Jesus told the apostles they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem (chapters 1-8), Judea and Samaria (chapters 9-12), and the furthest parts of the earth (chapters 13-28). Another outline, less obvious, reveals six key divisions using Luke’s “progress reports” of the Church’s growth in Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:31.
The major key to interpreting Acts is understanding that it is transitional in nature. Much of the book is descriptive (what the early Christians experienced or did) rather than prescriptive (what all Christians should experience or do). In fact, there are many things Luke recorded that we should not expect to be normative today, and recognizing those differences is an important component of correct interpretation.
Chapter one picks up immediately where Luke’s gospel ended. It is obvious that Luke intended for this to be a second volume, as his introduction to Theophilus shows (Acts 1:1-2). 1 None of the gospels gives a full account of Jesus’ work following his resurrection, but Luke noted in verse three that Jesus spent 40 days with the apostles, teaching them “ABOUT MATTERS CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” One of these matters was the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which would occur shortly. Until that time (Jesus did not say how long), they were to wait in Jerusalem. However, after it happened, Jesus promised that they would “RECEIVE POWER,” with the result that they would “BE…WITNESSES” (Acts 1:8). “My witnesses” means they would preach about Jesus, which makes sense because he had already told them that they would receive “THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH WHO GOES OUT FROM THE FATHER – HE WILL TESTIFY ABOUT ME, AND YOU ALSO WILL TESTIFY” (John 15:26-27).
Although they wanted to know more about the Messianic kingdom and its timing, Jesus would tell them no more. In what was apparently a surprise to them, Jesus ascended into heaven, slowly disappearing until they could no longer see him (Acts 1:9-11). As they searched the skies, two angels told them to obey Jesus’ instructions to wait in Jerusalem. He would come back the same way he left – physically and visibly.
During the next ten days, they waited and prayed (Acts 1:12-14). At this time there were about 120 believers waiting for whatever was going to come next. Based on their interpretation of two psalms, they decided that Judas’ position needed to be filled with a twelfth apostle (Acts 1:15-26). Rather than putting it to a popular vote, they took two steps. First, they nominated only those with specific qualifications – a man, who had accompanied them everywhere, and who had been part of the group since Jesus’ baptism, which eliminated all but two candidates. Second, they placed these two men before God, praying and casting lots for direction. The lot fell to Matthias, “SO HE WAS COUNTED WITH THE ELEVEN APOSTLES.”
- Based on the almost “hurried” ending in chapter 28, some people propose that Luke may have intended a third volume of Paul’s later travels and additional Church history. ↩