Acts: An Introduction

 

The coming of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church, the preaching of the Gospel, the expansion of the church, the missionary journeys of Paul; these are just a few of the events recording in the book of Acts. It is a very exciting book to read. It has a way of drawing you in and keeping you on the edge of your seat. As we begin this study in the book of Acts there are several things to consider by way of introduction.

The Nature of the Book of Acts. The nature of the book of Acts is two-fold. First of all, it is transitional. The book of Acts provides a transition between the life of Christ and the age of the church. If there were no such transitional book in the New Testament, there would be a huge hole in the cannon of scripture. It would be difficult to study the Bible apart from the book of Acts. If you jumped from the Gospels right into the epistles, it would cause much confusion. The epistles were written as instructions to the church. However, without the book of Acts we would not know what the church is and how it came to be. The book of Acts provides a natural transition from one dispensation to another. Secondly, the book of Acts is historical. Acts gives us an historical account of the birth and expansion of the church. It documents the rapid growth of the church which provides historical proof for the resurrection of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Author of the Book of Acts. The human author of the book of Acts is the apostle Luke. Of course, we know that Luke was moved along by the Holy Spirit and that all scripture is given by the inspiration of God. The ‘former treatise’ mentioned in verse one is a reference to the Gospel of Luke. The book was personally written to Theophilus who was a friend of Luke’s and possibly a Roman official. In Luke’s Gospel he shared the things that Jesus ‘began both to do and teach.’ The book of Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke.

The Purpose of the Book of Acts. The purpose of the book of Acts is apologetic in nature. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “In the preface to the Gospel, intended to cover the second volume also, Luke told Theophilus (and the audience he represented) that he had set out to write an accurate, orderly account about the beginnings of the Christian movement in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth (Lk 1:1–4). The opening lines in Acts indicate that the narrative beginning with Jesus of Nazareth (vol 1) is continuing, and that Luke’s second volume intends to trace the story from Palestine to Rome (Acts 1:1–8). Why was Luke interested in documenting the story for Theophilus? A brief statement in Luke 1:4 points to an answer: “… that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” The implication seems to be that Luke was writing an apologetic work, hoping thereby to correct misunderstandings or misconceptions, and defending Christianity against false charges brought against it. Much in the content of Luke’s work, especially in Acts, supports this understanding of his purpose.”[1] The book of Acts is more than just an apologetic work, it is also a theological work. As Luke records the history of the early church, he lays out a basic theological framework. “Within his lengthy apology for the integrity of Christianity, Luke’s specific theological perspectives can be clearly seen. The two-volume work presents a grand scheme of the history of redemption, extending from the time of Israel (Lk 1; 2) through the time of Jesus, and continuing through the time of the church, when the good news for Israel is extended to all nations. Paralleling that emphasis is an insistence that God is present in the redemptive story through the Holy Spirit.”[2] The book of Acts is about you and me, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It reveals our origins as believers and it demonstrates the active involvement of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our lives.

                The Emphasis of the Book of Acts. Throughout the book of Acts there are several paralleling themes. There are several basic underlining emphasis seen as you read the book of Acts.

  1. The emphasis on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even though the first chapter of the book of Acts records the ascension of Jesus into Heaven, the book continues to emphasize the person and work of Jesus Christ. J. Vernon McGee said, “The Lord Jesus has left His disciples now. He is gone. He has ascended in the first chapter of the book. But He is still at work! He has just moved His position. His location. He has moved His headquarters. As long as He was here on earth, His headquarters were in Capernaum. Now His headquarters are at the right hand of the Father. The Lord Jesus is prominent. He is at work from the vantage place of heaven itself.”[3] The same can be said about the entirety of scripture. From Genesis through Revelation, it is all about Jesus. The work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection is the central point of history. All of scripture points to that one event and that one person.

 2. The emphasis on the resurrection.

Without the resurrection, there would be no need for the scriptures. Without the resurrection, there would be no need for preaching. Without the resurrection, there would be no church. The theme of the very first sermon preached in the church age was the resurrection. In Acts 2, Peter preached on the resurrection of Jesus. The birth of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit; none of those things would be possible apart from the resurrection of Christ. The greatest proof, the greatest apologetic; is the resurrection of Jesus. At the time of the events recorded in the early part of the book of Acts, everyone knew of the resurrection of Jesus. There was no doubt. It was an historical fact. There were people present during Peter’s sermon that saw the resurrected Christ. Luke starts out his apologetic work by pointing to the greatest evidence of all for the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 1:4-5, we are reminded of the promise that Jesus would not leave us alone. He sends the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. The book of Acts records the coming of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers at the moment of Salvation. It is also records how believers are to be filled with the Spirit. By living a Spirit filled life we are able to tap into the power that is already in us by the indwelling Spirit. This power gives us the authority and the ability to carry out the work of the church in this age

4. The emphasis on the Church.

The emphasis placed on the church in the book of Acts centers around the local church. Reference is given to the universal church of all believers, however, the main emphasis in the book of Acts is the strategic importance of the local church. The reason we have local churches today is because of the emphasis on the local church seen in the book of Acts. Local churches would do good to pattern their ministry after the local churches described in the book of Acts. The book of Acts serves as a guide for the church.

A careful study in the book of Acts provides an opportunity to learn the history of the church and how the Holy Spirit can work in and through the church today. The book of Acts is not complete. It ends abruptly with Paul dwelling in his own hired house. I believe, the reason Luke sort of leaves us hanging is that the story of the church continues. The story continues with you and me. The story continues with the local church that you attend. The story continues with every sermon, every church service, every ministry event, every mission work, every mission trip; how that story is written is up to you and me as we carry on the work of the church in this age.

 

 

 

[1] Brauch, M. T. (1988). Acts of the Apostles, Book of The. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 22). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] Brauch, M. T. (1988). Acts of the Apostles, Book of The. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 23). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible. The Book of Acts

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