The Book of Acts: Introduction

(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font.)

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

August 28, 2005

The Book of Acts: Introduction

Acts 1:1-8

This morning we begin a journey through the history of the early church as
recorded in the Book of Acts. It is a journey I have been looking forward to
going through with you as I have been reading through this book over and over
again the last month or so. I have found Acts to be a fascinating account of the
spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. It is full of great examples of the
faith of the first believers as they overcame personal difficulties, persecution
and opposition from those who rejected the claim of salvation through Jesus
Christ who was resurrected from the dead.

Avoiding Error

This morning will be an introduction and overview of the book. Some of this
may seem a little on the academic side, but it is important that we lay a firm
foundation as we begin our study because many have fallen into theological
error, aberration and even heresy because they failed to gain an understanding
of the overall purpose and structure of the book before developing theology on
particular texts within the book. That same error can occur in the study of any
of the books of the Bible, but it is of particular danger in Acts because it is
an historical book which records the transition between the Old Covenant and
dispensation of the law (period of time in which God operated through the Nation
of Israel and the Mosaic Law) and the New Covenant and the dispensation of the
church (period of time in which God is operating through the Church and the
gospel message).

It is important to stress this transitional nature of the book of Acts from
the start of our study. Acts accurately records particular events and the
actions and reactions of people in tracing its various themes. It is not a
direct commentary on the proper understanding of those events, the theology
taught in them, or even the proper response of that Christians should have to
similar experiences. That is the purpose of the epistles. For example, Acts
5:1-11 we have the story of Annanias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit and
their consequential deaths. While the story is a great illustration about the
importance of not lying, especially to the Holy Spirit, it would be wrong to use
this as the basis for teaching that every believer that lies will supernaturally
die when confronted about it by their church leader. If you want to know about
God’s commands to Christians concerning lying you would go to a passage such as
Colossians 3:9 (Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self
with its [evil] practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed
to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him
). If
you want to know about God’s response to Christians who sin, you would go to a
passage such as Hebrews 12:4-11 which includes the statement, "For those whom
the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives."

My point is simply that we must be careful of using Acts as a foundation for
our theology since Luke was writing as an historian and not a theologian. Acts
contains theological insights and examples, especially in its many recorded
speeches, but we are to go to the Epistles for our theological foundations since
that was their purpose.

Authorship

Lets cover some of the basic information about the book before we lay out an
overview of it. The first question to address is authorship. Who wrote it? It
clear from the usage of the term "we" in many sections of Acts (16:10-17;
20:5-21:18; 17:1-28:16) that the author traveled with Paul during part of his
second and third missionary journeys as well as the trip to Rome. Paul cites
Luke as being with him during this period in Col. 4:14 (in which Paul calls him
"the beloved physician."); 2 Tim. 4:11 and Philemon 1:24. The unanimous voice of
early church tradition, beginning with Irenaeus in A.D 185, is that Luke is the
author of Acts. This is the same Luke that wrote the gospel account that bears
his name. Extra Biblical literature (anti-Marcionite prologue) tells us that
Luke was a Syrian physician from Antioch that became a Christian and then
accompanied Paul until his martyrdom. He then continued to serve the Lord
"without distraction, without a wife, without children, and at the age of
eighty-four he fell asleep in Boeotia, full of the Holy Spirit."

Date

The second question to address is when did Luke write this account? Without
going into all the detail, it is probable that Acts was written about A.D. 62
since Acts concludes with Paul having been in jail for two years and Paul was
released from his first Roman imprisonment that year. Any later date cannot
explain why Luke would have ended Acts so abruptly and not included significant
events that occurred after A.D. 62. Early chapters could have been researched
while with Paul in Jerusalem. Those that argue for a later date generally due so
because they believe that Luke wrote based on the gospel of Mark and the
writings of Josephus (a very questionable belief to begin with) and that Luke
19:43,44 and 21:20-24 which describes the destruction of Jerusalem were based on
recorded history instead of prophecy by Jesus as recorded in the text.

Basis of Writing

A third question that needs to be addressed is on what basis did Luke write
Acts. Matthew and John both wrote on the basis of being first hand witnesses of
what they recorded, and Luke is a first hand witness to some of the things he
writes, but what was the source of the rest of his material? I suppose I will
never cease to be amazed at the speculations that liberal scholars will go to in
answering such questions because they refuse to believe what the author himself
states. In Acts 1:1 we find that Luke is writing on the same basis that he did
in compiling the gospel of Luke. He states, 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 by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom
He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by
many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and
speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God."
Acts is actually a
continuation of what he began in Luke. A comparison of Luke 24 and Acts 1 shows
the harmony of thought in detail. Both record Jesus eating with the apostles,
the promise of the Father, that they would be given power from God, that they
would be witnesses of Jesus, they were on the Mt. of Olives near Bethany, that
they saw Jesus taken up to heaven, that they then returned to Jerusalem praising
God and praying. Acts 1 is a quick re-statement of what occurs in Luke 24 just
as you would expect in a book that would continue the story of an earlier book.

Luke 1:1-4 states how Luke gathered his information and for what purpose.
"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things
accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses
and servants of the word have handed them down to us, 3 it seemed fitting for me
as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write
[it] out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you
might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught
.

In short, Luke writes on the basis of his own investigation of eyewitnesses
and the accounts those eyewitnesses passed on to others. A careful study of Acts
shows that Luke is an excellent historian both in his first hand accounts and in
his accurate recording of the information other people gave him. For example,
though Luke is an excellent Greek writer himself, his style varies and adjusts
depending on the source of his information. When he recounts Peter’s speeches
the Greek grammar used parallels that of Peter’s own writings. Similar
parallelism is seen in Luke’s recording of Paul’s speeches and Paul’s own
writings.

It should also be pointed out that though liberal scholars used to scoff at
some of the details Luke record as being inaccurate to history (such as the
names of places and titles of officials), they have had to recant as
archeological research continues to reveal that Luke is right and liberal
scholars are wrong.

What this means to us is that Luke is an accurate and faithful historian. You
can believe what he has written is a faithful and true record of historical
events and not something that he has made up on his own. Like the rest of the
Bible, you can trust it.

Purpose

The final preliminary question that we must answer is what is the purpose of
the book of Acts? Why did Luke write this book?

As already cited in Acts 1:1-3 and Luke 1:1-4, Luke is writing to "most
excellent Theophilus.
" Theophilus is a Greek man whose name means "friend of
God." We assume he belongs to the educated ruling class of society since Luke
gives him the title of "most excellent." As Acts 1:1 states, Luke’s first
account, the Gospel of Luke, concerned "all that Jesus began to do and teach
until the day when He was taken up."
Luke 1:3 states that this was written
out in "consecutive order" so that Theophilus "might know the exact
truth about the things"
he had been taught. Luke’s first account was a
careful historical account of Jesus’ life and teachings from birth to ascension.
As I mentioned earlier, it is important to keep that in mind through the rest of
our study. Luke’s purpose is to give an historical account, not a theological
one. Writing history and interpreting history are two different activities. Acts
records events. The epistles give us the theological understanding to interpret
them.

Luke’s first book covers Jesus’s life from birth to ascension. The clue to
the purpose of Luke’s second book is in Acts 1:2, "until the day when He was
taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He
had chosen."
The book of Acts concerns the carrying out of the commands that
Jesus by the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostles just prior to His ascension. What
commands in specific is Luke interested in? He records that in Acts 1:3-8.
"To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many
convincing proofs, appearing to them over [a period of] forty days, and speaking
of the things concerning the kingdom of God. 4 And gathering them together, He
commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had
promised, "Which," [He said,] "you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with
water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6
And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it
at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is
not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own
authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and even to the remotest part of the earth."

In Acts 1:3 Luke makes emphasis upon the proofs of Jesus’ resurrection that
occurred over a period of forty days during which He gave the apostles further
instruction concerning the kingdom of God. Throughout Acts we will see that Luke
will emphasize Jesus’ resurrection as a pivotal part of the gospel message.
Several times we find groups that are interested in the gospel message until
Jesus’ resurrection is presented. We will look at that in more detail next week.

In Acts 1:4,5 Jesus gives them the command to remain in Jerusalem until they
are baptized with the Holy Spirit. In verse 6 they immediately wonder if this
will coincide with the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. In verse 7 Jesus
directs them off of what is a secondary issue that they do not need to be
concerned about and focuses them back onto the priority given in verse 8,
"but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you
shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even
to the remotest part of the earth."

That is what the Book of Acts is about. It is a selective historical account
of certain of the apostles carrying out this command. They would receive power
from the Holy Spirit and that power would be evidenced in their boldly
proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ starting in Jerusalem and continuing on
throughout Judea, then to Samaria and then to the remotest part of the earth. I
say it is selective account because Luke’s concentration is on Peter (chapters
1-12) and Paul (chapters 13-28). With the exception of John and James, the other
apostles are only mentioned by name in chapter 1, and Luke only references James
and John while they are still in Jerusalem. At the end of our study of Acts I
will tell you about what church tradition tells about what each of the other
Apostles accomplished, but Luke concentrates on Peter and Paul. Part of the
reason for this is that God used Peter to open the door to taking the gospel to
the Gentiles, and Paul went through that door spreading the gospel throughout
the Roman world. They are the representatives of what the other Apostles did and
the models for us to follow as well.

This book is entitled ACTS, or as many of your translations have it, "The
Acts of the Apostles." Some later manuscripts entitle it "The Acts of the Holy
Apostles" or "Acts of the Holy Apostles of Luke the Evangelist." Whatever title
you have in your Bible, keep in mind that what is going on through this book is
a selective historical recording of the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ
through the Holy Spirit into the lives of the Apostles and through them to the
world. Jesus told them in John 16:7 that when He departed from them He would
send the paraklhtoV translated as "Helper,"
"Comforter," or "Counselor," who is the "Spirit of Truth" (vs. 13) Who would
guide them into all the truth and would glorify Jesus (vs. 14). The lives of the
Apostles were tied to Christ. Paul put this best in Galatians 2:20, "I have
been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in
me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of
God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me."
So in a real sense, the
book of Acts is the continuing story of Jesus Christ working through His Church.
Though the book concludes with Paul, it is a story that is not yet finished
because Jesus is still working through His church, which is each of you who is
His follower. The Holy Spirit still indwells believers and empowers them to live
for Him and boldly witness of Him.


Overview : Acts 1:8 not only serves as the theme verse, but also as the
outline.

I. Witnesses in Jerusalem (1:1-8:3)

A. Apostles Commissioned (1)

B. Church Established (2)

C. The Church Ministers (3)

D. Persecution Begins (4, 5)

E. Ministry Expands (6, 7)

F. The Church is Scattered (8:1-3)

II. Witnesses in Samaria & Judea (8:4-12:25)

A. Witness to Samaria (8:4-25)

B. Witness to Judea (8:26-40)

C. Conversion of Saul (9)

D. Witness to Gentiles (10,11)

E. Witnesses Protected (12)

III. Witnesses to the Remotest Part of the Earth (13:1-28:31)

A. First Missionary Journey (13,14)

B. Jerusalem Council (15:1-35)

C. Second Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)

D. Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:16)

E. Paul’s Arrest & Trials (21:17-26:32)

F. Voyage to & Stay at Rome (27,28)

Three prominent themes in Acts are the Power of the Holy Spirit, Missions and
overcoming opposition. A quick tracing of these themes will give us an overview
of the book and show the transition that takes place from the Old Covenant to
the New Covenant.

Power of the Holy Spirit:

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit could come upon a person, but He could
also leave that person. David saw that happen to King Saul and that is why in
David’s confession of sin in Psalm 51 David also petitioned God not to take the
Holy Spirit away from him (vs. 11). In the New Testament the Holy Spirit
indwells the believer forever (Rom. 8:9,11; John 14:16,17). In the book of Acts
we see Holy Spirit poured out upon disciples in chapter 2, which was the birth
of the church, and then manifest Himself in power upon them by both an outward
sign and an outward action. The manifestation of the promise of being "baptized
with the Holy Spirit" was speaking in other tongues which was in fulfillment
with Old Testament prophecies of both Joel 2, as Peter explains in Acts 2, and
Isaiah 28:11, as Paul explains in 1 Cor. 14:21,22. The outward action which then
followed was the bold proclamation of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ
in keeping with Jesus’ prophecy in verse 8.

The outward sign of speaking in tongues as the evidence of the baptism of the
Holy Spirit is what convinced these early Jewish believers that other people
were also to be part of the church. Remember that the Jewish people, including
the apostles, were very ethno-centric in their thinking. They thought that
salvation was only for the Jews and those that would convert to Judaism, though
Gentile converts were always second class in their religious structure. In Acts
2 the Holy Spirit fills each of the Jewish believers and they speak in at least
15 different languages. Peter then explains that this was the fulfilment of
Joel’s prophecy. It is also important to note in verse 11 that what they were
speaking was the "mighty deeds of God." The sign was not just how they were
speaking, but the subject matter of their speech too. More on that in a minute.

Luke points out the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the gospel goes to
different people. In 8:14-17 the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit when Peter
and John lay hands on them. In 10:44-48 while Peter is preaching to a group of
devout Gentiles, the Holy Spirit comes upon all who were listening and they
speak with tongues and exalt God at which Peter concludes that since these
Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as he had earlier, then they should also
be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. In chapter 11 Peter reports this when
he returns to Jerusalem and the Jewish believers there glorified God, saying,
"Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance to life."

Peter reported this again in Acts 15 when the Jerusalem council in opposition to
those that were saying that the Gentile believers would also have to observe the
Mosaic Law. Luke’s final specific mention of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and
speaking in tongues is in Acts 19:1-7 when Paul is at Ephesus and runs into a
group of disciples of John the Baptist. After he baptizes them in the name of
the Lord Jesus he lays hands on them and Holy Spirit came upon them manifested
by speaking with tongues and prophesying. Luke cites these manifestations of the
Holy Spirit as the gospel expands to new people groups who are more distance
from Jews, Judaism and Jerusalem.

Missions – Proclamation & Opposition

Luke makes even more references to the Holy Spirit giving a person power to
be bold witnesses of Christ. Tracing this theme we also find the expansion of
missions. It begins in chapter 2 when all the people who were filled with the
Spirit were speaking of the "mighty deeds of God" and then Peter, who less than
two months before had cursed and then run away when a servant girl accused him
of being a friend of Jesus, now boldly proclaims the gospel including charging
his audience with the responsibility for crucifying Jesus. In chapters 3,4 & 5
we find Peter and John continuing to boldly proclaim Christ despite rising
opposition. Peter begins his bold defense before the Sanhedrin after he is
"filled with the Holy Spirit." In 4:31 they have reported to the other believers
what had happened. They then prayed resulting in the place they were at being
shaken and all of them being filled with the Holy Spirit began to "speak the
word of God with boldness."
In chapter 6 the disciples look for men who were
"full of the Spirit" to help with caring for needs within the church. One of
those men chosen is Stephen who verse 8 says "full of grace and power, was
performing great wonders and signs."
Those arguing with him were unable to
cope with "the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking" (vs. 10), so
they send in false witnesses. In chapter 7 Stephen still gives a bold defense
that "cut them to the quick" resulting in their stoning him.

In chapter 8 we find Philip, another one of the men from Acts 6 who were full
of the Spirit, preaching in Samaria, then to the Ethiopian eunuch along the
desert road going to Gaza, then Azotus and north along the coast to Caesarea. In
chapter 9 Paul is converted on the road to Damascus. When he gets to Damascus,
Ananias lays hand on Paul and he is filled with the spirit (vs. 17), after which
he is baptized (vs. 18), and then within a few days he is proclaiming Jesus in
the synagogues (vs. 19-21). He so effective that "when many days had elapsed,
the Jews plotted together to do away with him"
(vs. 23). He escapes and goes
to Jerusalem where he was also "speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord"
(vs. 28) until a there were attempts to kill him after which he was sent to
Caesarea and then to Tarsus. During this same period of time Peter had gone down
to Lydda and the Joppa.

In Chapter 10 Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian cohort, receives a vision
from God and sends for Peter, who having also had a vision from God, goes to
Caesarea and preaches the gospel there. These devout Gentiles receive the Holy
Spirit while Peter is still speaking and were speaking with tongues and exalting
God after which they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (vs. 44-48). In
Chapter 11 Peter reports these events to the believers in Jerusalem. The end of
the chapter reports about Barnabas, who was full of the Holy Spirit, joining
those who were from Cyprus and Cyrene that were witnessing to the Gentiles in
Antioch with the result that considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.
Peter is imprisoned in Chapter 12, but is miraculously released by an Angel,
then goes to another place.

In chapter 13 the Holy Spirit sets apart Paul and Barnabas and the first
missionary journey begins. They travel to Salamis where they begin to proclaim
the gospel. In Paphos, Elymas the magician opposes Paul, but being filled with
the Holy Spirit, Paul blinds him. He and Barnabas continue on to Perga, then
Psidian Antioch where after preaching to the Jews and finding strong opposition
they turn to the Gentiles. Those disciples were continually filled with joy
and the Holy Spirit."
Paul and Barnabas continued on to Iconium were they
were again opposed so they went on to Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe. Strong
opposition in Lystra resulted in Paul being stoned, but though they left him for
dead, he got up and continued on preaching going back through the same cities he
had been through before.

In Acts 15 the Jerusalem council is led by the Spirit (vs. 28) to conclude
that Gentile converts did not need to keep the Mosaic Law. The gospel would be a
message of God’s grace and not law. Soon after this council Paul beings the
second missionary journey, which being led by the Spirit brought Paul not only
back through placed he and been before in Syria, Cilicia, Derbe, Lystra then up
through the Phrygian and Galatian region, then up to Mysia and finally to
Europe. He went first to Philippi in Macedonia, then Thessalonica, Berea and
then to Athens presents the gospel to the philosophers at the Areopagus. In
Chapter 18 Paul goes on to Corinth where he ministers for 1 ‘ years before
returning to Caesarea and then back to Antioch.

After some time Paul begins the third missionary journey traveling again the
Galatian and Phyrigian regions then to Ephesus where he meets the disciples of
John and lays hand on them so that they receive the Holy Spirit. He debates in
the synagogue there for three months (19:8) before opposition caused him to
withdraw and instead reason daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years
(19:9,10). After this Paul returned through Macedonia and Achaia with plans to
eventually go to Rome (19:21) though he would return to Jerusalem first with the
relief money he had collected for the poor. Paul backtracked through Macedonia
then to Troas, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Miletus (where he gave his
farewell address to the Ephesian Elders – ch. 20), then to Cos, Rhodes, Patara,
past Cyprus and on to Tyre where he spent several days with disciples there. A
prophet there also warned him that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem, but this
did not dissuade Paul (Ch. 21).

Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem and while in the temple keeping a vow he
had made some Jews from Asia saw him and stirred up a mob. He is rescued by a
Roman guard that arrests him, but this begins an imprisonment that lasts over
four years. Paul gives his testimony and proclaims Jesus to the Jewish mob in
the temple (ch. 22), before the Sanhedrin (ch. 23), before the governor Felix (ch.
24) and his replacement Festus along with King Agrippa. (ch. 25,26). His appeal
to Caesar would eventually take him to Rome where he would witness for two years
while waiting for his hearing (28). And though plots were made to kill him, and
he endured a shipwreck (27), God’s plans to have the gospel proclaimed by Paul
were never thwarted. Though Acts is only a limited record, the same was true for
the other Apostles. They received power from the Holy Spirit and became
witnesses for Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost
parts of the world. What Jesus had told them back in Matthew 10:18 when He first
chose them came true. They would be "brought before governors and kings for
[His] sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles."

The book of Acts concludes with Paul "preaching the kingdom of God, and
teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."
In
a real sense, Acts is a story without end. As I mentioned earlier, the work of
Jesus Christ continues on today through those He has called to Himself to be His
followers. The power of the Holy Spirit is still for us today that we might
proclaim the gospel message with boldness. That will be our continual challenge
in the months to come. You are the next chapter in Acts. It will be an exciting
adventure to see what will be written by your life.

 

Sermon
Study Sheets

 KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times the Holy Spirit is mentioned.
Talk with your parents about how God changed the world through the apostles.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What principles must we apply in studying the Bible so that we do not fall
into error or heresy? Explain the difference between an historical book and a
theological book. How do you interpret each?. Who wrote Acts? When did he write
it? How did he write it? What was his purpose(s) of writing it? Explain. What is
the theme of Acts? How does the baptism of the Holy Spirit manifest itself in
Acts? Why does Luke note this manifestation sometimes, but not every time? Does
this manifestation still occur today in the same way? Why or why not? Throughout
Acts we find that when a person was filled with the Holy Spirit they were
enabled to do something – what was it? Cite examples of this in Acts. Does this
still occur today? Why or why not? How does your life demonstrate the power of
the Holy Spirit working in you? If it does not, what needs to change? When will
you change it?

Sermon Notes – 8/28/05 a.m.

The Book of Acts – Introduction

Avoiding Error

 

Authorship:

Date:

Basis of Writing

 

Purpose:

 

I. Witnesses in Jerusalem (1:1-8:3)

A. Apostles Commissioned (1)

B. Church Established (2)

C. The Church Ministers (3)

D. Persecution Begins (4, 5)

E. Ministry Expands (6, 7)

F. The Church is Scattered (8:1-3)

II. Witnesses in Samaria & Judea (8:4-12:25)

A. Witness to Samaria (8:4-25)

B. Witness to Judea (8:26-40)

C. Conversion of Saul (9)

D. Witness to Gentiles (10,11)

E. Witnesses Protected (12)

III. Witnesses to the Remotest Part of the Earth (13:1-28:31)

A. First Missionary Journey (13,14)

B. Jerusalem Council (15:1-35)

C. Second Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)

D. Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:16)

E. Paul’s Arrest & Trials (21:17-26:32)

F. Voyage to & Stay at Rome (27,28)

 

Power of the Holy Spirit

 

Missions: Proclamation & Opposition