Establishing Godís Church in the World
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ACTS
Jerry A Collins
The story told in the book of Acts is an historical one but an open-ended, modern message as well because its message and lessons continue on into the church today. So it is a story worth retelling because it deals with issues which are always relevant to the church. Questions about relationship between Christians and Jews, Christians and pagans, the Christians stance within the modern state, challenges with and about prayer, the purpose of preaching and teaching in the church, evangelism and discipleship, the reality and response to persecution. We will try and listen to this story as it unfolds and take seriously its message as we hear its text question us about all of these issues and more today.
Author of Acts
The unanimous testimony of the early church was that Luke, author of the gospel of Luke, and the traveling companion and close friend of Paul, wrote The Acts. The author of Acts was a traveling companion of Paulís clear from the so-called Ďweí passages (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16) where he switches to the first person plural showing he was present. Luke is never mentioned in Acts by name as are most of Paulís other traveling companions. By process of elimination we are left with Luke as the author. That makes Luke the author of nearly ľ of the NT. He even states his purpose in for writing his two-volume work in the prologue of Luke It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out to you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3). Acts was also addressed to Theophilus, continuing where Lukeís gospel left off the first account I composed Theophilus about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when He was taken up after He had given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen (Acts 1:1-2). Theophilus is unknown tho Lukeís address of him as Ďmost excellentí suggests he was a Roman official (cf Acts 24:3; 26:25).
The Purpose of Acts
We can understand the purpose of Acts by observing one verse in Acts 1:8. We learn a number of details that begin to put this book together for us as we do this.
1. Who are the people involved? The context tells us that the word Ďyouí refers to the apostles (vs. 2). We also observe that this verse is answering a question the apostles had asked Jesus. We learn that they are people who have heard Jesusí teaching, seen His miracles, were chosen by Jesus and were anxious about His kingdom. The book of Acts records the incredible transformation of these men.
2. What is happening? This is part of the answer Jesus was giving to the apostleís question of vs 6. We notice that Jesusí answer is part of a dialogue in which the disciples are asking questions and Jesus is answering them. Disciples are always asking questions and Godís Word is always full of surprising answers.
3. Where is this taking place? This is taking place in Jerusalem. This is where the apostles are to begin as witnesses of Christ, His resurrection, His message. One thing we can observe about Jerusalem is that this is where the crucifixion took place and the apostles are known there as His followers. So a hostile environment is to be the starting point as Christís witnesses. If there had been no literal resurrection, then this is the last place you would want to begin.
4. When is this taking place? His Q&A session is in the context of Jesus ascension (vv 9-11). Jesusí answer, then, is His last words to His disciples before He ascends into heaven. Jesus, in effect, gives His disciples their marching orders and immediately leaves. Suddenly the apostleís ministry is to begin. Last words are usually lasting words. The discipleís message then becomes Ďthis crucified and resurrected Jesus is coming back again. It shapes their message and conviction.
5. Is anything emphasized? Here Jesus emphasizes the places the apostles would be His witnesses by the order in which He puts them. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, even the remotest part of the earth. This emphasis actually becomes the outline of the book as we see the witness of the apostles spread along this direction. Beginning in Jerusalem and finishing in Rome, Italy. All the disciples started out in Jerusalem (Acts 2), then Peter and John went to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:14) and Peter went to the Gentiles, beginning with Cornelius (Acts 10). Paul took over and spread the gospel into the Gentile world.
6. Is anything related? Jesus says the apostles are going to receive power that is the cause. The effect is that they are going to be something, namely witnesses. It is power and then witnesses not vice versa. The power the apostles need to be Jesus witnesses is compared with the coming of the HS upon them.
7. What about the historical context? Acts covers 30 years of history after Christ as it chronicles the expansion of the church from Jerusalem into all of the then known
Inhabited world. Rome, as the world power, is prominent throughout the book. Tensions mount between Jews and Rome, culminating in Romeís destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. These facts are significant to the commission to go into all of the world as Christís witnesses.
So as we analyze the details with the questions, who, what, where, when, why we discover specific information about the mindset of the apostles a they began their witness and as they carried it out. As we synthesize the details to understand the bigger picture they present, we discover the direction of their witness in the locality of Jerusalem further into Judea and Samaria and even unto the remotest parts of the earth. This understanding helps us grasp Godís commission today to the church which is to make disciples of all nations. The commissioning of the apostles is still in place and we are to participate in that today as we apply being witnesses of Christ in our generation.
The Outline of Acts
1. The witness in Jerusalem 1:1-6:7.
2. The witness in all Judea and Samaria 6:8-9:31.
3. The witness to the ends of the earth 9:32-28:31.
Lessons from Acts
1. Acts is the only historical sequel to the four gospels. No other narrative in the New Testament continues accounts given by the four gospels.
2. Acts forms the background and setting for most of Paulís apostolic activity. It provides much background and understanding of the books Paul wrote in the NT.
3. Acts gives us basic information and insights into the early church. Luke portrays the tensions, persecutions, world religions, frustrations, theological problems and hopes confronting the church that assist us in our own challenges today.
4. Acts marks the transition from Godís work amongst the Jews to His establishment of the universal church. We go from Jerusalem into the uttermost parts of the earth in 28 chapters.
5. Acts challenges Christians of every generation with the zeal, faith, joy, commitment, obedience of early church.