· Sequel to Luke
· The structure of the books of Luke and Acts are closely tied. Both books are most easily tied to the geography of the book. Luke begins with a global perspective, dating the birth of Jesus to the reign of the Roman emperors in Luke 2:1 and 3:1. From there we see Jesus' ministry move from Galilee (4–9), through Samaria and Judea (10–19), to Jerusalem where he is crucified, raised and ascended into heaven (19–24). The book of Acts follows just the opposite motion, taking the scene from Jerusalem (1–5), to Judea and Samaria (chs. 6–9), then traveling through Syria, Asia Minor, and Europe towards Rome (chs. 9–28). This chiastic structure emphasises the centrality of the resurrection and ascension to Luke's message, while emphasising the universal nature of the gospel.
· As in the Gospel of Luke, there are numerous references to the Holy Spirit throughout Acts. Acts features the baptism in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (1:5, 8; 2:1-4; 11:15-16) and the subsequent spirit-inspired speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit is shown guiding the decisions and actions of Christian leaders (15:28; 16:6-7; 19:21; 20:22-23), and the Holy Spirit is said to fill the apostles, especially when they preach (1:8; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 11:24; 13:9, 52).
· About 30% of Acts is speeches. Paul’s conversion is told three times, emphasising the importance of proclamation. Like Thucydides, Luke is probably using his initiative to write something credible rather than offering word-for-word reportage.
· Conzelmann – Pentecost is the start of the church age in salvation history. As the giving of the Law at Sinai served as the birth of the nation Israel, so the Pentecost story serves as a theological construction of the church's birth. As befits a church age, the corporate work of the Spirit is stressed.
· The theme of the return of Christ was introduced early in the story (1:6-11). Two heavenly beings say that the return of Christ will be in the same manner as the ascension. This rules out any suggestion that the second coming took place spiritually at Pentecost; as such, it supports a futurist interpretation of the second coming, and rules out ‘realised eschatology’ (to use the phrase of C H Dodds).
· Pentecost reverses the curse of Babel (Gen 11:9).
· The early church presented in 2:42-41 combined worship, fellowship, proclamation, and concern for physical and social needs. Its primary purpose was witness and mission (1:8).
· The apostolic mission energised by the Holy Spirit proclaimed that salvation was available for Jews and Gentiles.
· For Luke, the act of faith and the act of repentance were synonymous. In 2:37, Peter told the Pentecost audience that forgiveness of sins and the experience of the Spirit's presence were promised to those who repented and were baptised (also cf. 3:19, 26; 5:31). Luke associated forgiveness with the response of faith in Acts 10:43; 13:38, 39; 15:9. In Paul's defense before Agrippa, faith and repentance were brought together with the forgiveness of sins (26:18). The church was the sphere in which the forgiving and re-creating presence of God was experienced.
· Women played a prominent role in the early church. They were involved in the election of Matthias (1:15-26). They too received the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (2:1-18). Women were among the first believers (5:14; 12:12;16:14-15; 17:4,34). In Acts 18, Priscilla took the lead with her husband Aquilla in teaching the eloquent Apollos. Acts 21:8-9 indicates that Philip's daughters had the gift of prophecy.
The previous account was of what Jesus began to do and teach. Before his ascension, Jesus tells the disciples they will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. ‘You shall be witnesses to me.’ Jesus refuses to answer questions about when the second coming with be. Two men in white robes say that Jesus will return in the same way that he has ascended. The disciples return to Jerusalem. A replacement is needed for Judas – the candidates are Barsabas and Matthias. Matthias is chosen by lot.
At Pentecost, tongues of fire descend on the disciples, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues. Those are witness this hear their own language being spoken. Peter preaches: the disciples are not drunk, but filled with the Holy Spirit, as foretold by Joel. Peter preaches the risen Jesus – the Christ refered to by David in the psalms. Peter exhorts those present to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Three thousand are baptised. The Christian community that is formed share all possessions equally. They eat, worship and live together.
A paralysed beggar asks for alms. Peter heals him in the name of Jesus Christ. All are filled with amazement. Peter preaches: the prince of life, whom the Jews killed, was raised from the dead. Christ suffered to fulfil the words of the prophet. Peter preaches repentance, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Peter refers to Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19, where Moses says a prophet will be raised up like him, and that whoever rejects that prophet will be utterly destroyed.
The Sadducees have Peter and John arrested for preaching the resurrection of the dead. They are brought before the Sanhedrin, and asked by what power they perform their works. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says it is by the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – the rejected stone which became the cornerstone. Peter’s eloquence is amazing given that he is uneducated. The Sanhedrin commands them not to preach in Jesus’ name any more, but Peter refuses. They are released because the people are behind them. They pray for boldness in preaching, and are filled with the Holy Spirit. All possessions are communal, with people selling their houses for the common good. Barnabas sells his land and lays the money at the apostles’ feet.
A man called Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell possessions, but keeps back some of the proceeds. Peter rebukes them, and they fall down dead. Many wonders are performed throughout the city, with many healed. The high priest has the chief apostle put into prison again, but an angel frees him. They are arrested once more, but Peter boldly stands as witness to the crucified and risen Christ. A Pharisee called Gamaliel advises the Sanhedrin to do nothing – if they work by the power of men, their movement will quickly peter out. If not, no man can stop them. After a beating, the apostles resume preaching with joy.
The Hellenists complain to the Hebrews that their wives are ignored in daily distributions. The apostles appoint seven men to preside over the business of distribution. One of them, Stephen, performs great wonders, and overcomes the Synagogue of the Freedmen with the Spirit. The Jews falsely accuse Stephen. Stephen has the face of an angel.
Stephen briefly tells the story of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. Stephen stresses the Israelites apostasy. Stephen says his Jewish accusers reject the Holy Spirit, as their ancestors did in the past, killing prophets who foretold the coming of the Just One. Stephen has a vision of the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Father. Stephen is stoned to death – an execution supervised by Saul.
The church is persecuted at the hands of Saul and scatters. Philip successfully preaches the gospel to the Samaritans, and converted Simon the Sorcerer. Simon asks Peter if he can buy the power of conferring the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Peter rebukes him. The Lord directs Philip to an Ethiopian government official, who is reading the book of Isaiah. The Ethiopian is reading the part about a lamb being led to the slaughter, but is confused. The Ethiopian confesses Christ and is baptised, whereupon Philip mysteriously disappears.
Saul seeks Christians in Damascus to being back to Jerusalem to persecute. A voice asks, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ , and tells him it is hard to prick against the goads (kicks). (Jesus is the farmer, Saul is the ox – stubborn, yet being goaded in the right direction.) Saul is struck blind. His travelling companions do not hear anything. God tells Ananias to meet Saul, and where he can find him. Ananias lays hands on Saul, and the scales fall from his eyes. Saul is baptised. To everyone’s amazement, Saul preaches in Damascus. The Jews plot to kill Saul, so he escapes in a basket over the walls of Damascus. Saul meets up with the initially wary Christians in Jerusalem, and disputes against the Hellenists. When the Hellenists try to kill him too, the Christians send Saul to Tarsus. The churches in Judea, Galilee and Samaria prosper. In Lydda, Peter heals Aeneas, who was bedridden with paralysis, so all Lydda believe. Peter raises Dorcas from Joppa from the dead. Peter stays with Simon, a tanner. (For a law-keeping Jew of that time, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals.)
Cornelius, a God-serving Roman centurion, is told by an angel to go to Peter. Cornelius goes to Joppa. Peter has a trance, in which a sheet comes down from heaven. The sheet has all kinds of clean and unclean animals on it. The Lord invites him to eat, and Peter refuses, saying he has never touched anything unclean. This happens three times, and the sheet reascends to heaven. After the vision, Peter is called by messengers to Caesarea to meet Cornelius. Cornelius falls down to worship Peter, but Peter says that he is merely a man. Peter keeps company with Cornelius, despite the fact it is forbidden for a Jew to do so. At Cornelius’ house, Peter preaches the risen Christ, and emphasises that all may be accepted by him. The Holy Spirit descends on the gentiles, who begin speaking in tongues, and are baptised. The Jews present are amazed.
Jews object that Peter associates with gentiles. Peter recounts his vision of the sheet with clean and unclean animals on it. Peter recalls the words of Jesus: John baptised with water, but I shall baptise with the Holy Spirit. If the gentiles receive the same gift as the Jews, who is Peter to withstand God? The church in Antioch grows as gentiles turn to the Lord. Barnabas ministers in Antioch. Saul works with Barnabas, and the term ‘Christian’ is first used in Antioch. Agabus prophesies famine, so the disciples send relief to their brethren throughout Judea.
Herod (the nephew of Antipas) harasses the church, and kills the apostle James. Peter is arrested during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. An angel causes Peter’s chains to fall off, and helps him to escape. Peter goes to the house of Mary, mother of John. A girl called Rhoda tells the apostles Peter has come, but she is not believed until they see Peter for themselves. Herod orders that the prison guards are put to death. Herod makes an oration to the people of Tyre and Sidon, and is praised by them as a god rather than a man. On this, an angel strikes him dead, because he does not glory to God.
The Holy Spirit calls Barnabas and Saul (they are ‘separated’ to the Holy Spirit). Accompanied by John Mark, they minister in the cities of Seleucia, Salamis and Paphos. In Paphos, a sorcerer and false prohet called Bar-Jesus is rendered blind by Saul (aka Paul). John Mark departs home before Paul and Barabas proceed to Perga, thence to Antioch, where Paul delivers a sermon in the synagogue. Paul gives a potted history of Israel, and stresses Jesus’ Davidic lineage; he preaches the risen Christ, and alludes to psalm 2: you are my Son, today I have begotten you. When the Jews see the popularity of Paul’s message, they become envious. Paul quotes Isaiah, saying that Christ is a light to the gentiles. The Jews expel Paul and Barabas from the region, they shake the dust from their shoes, and come to Iconium.
There is a mixed reaction in Iconium, so Paul and Barabas are forced to flee to Lystra and Derbe. In Lystra, Paul cures a lame man. Excited crowds declare that Paul and Barabas are Greek gods visiting the earth. Jews from Iconium and Antioch follow Paul, and persecute him. Churches are established. They return to Antioch.
Jews from Judea teach that circumcision is necessary for Christians. Paul and Barnabas dispute this. A council in Jerusalem debates the issue, and letters are sent to the churches of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, saying that circumcision is not necessary, but only abstinence from idolatry, blood, things strangled, and sexual immorality. Judas and Silas serve as visiting ministers in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas make plans to visit all the churches they have established, but they quarrel about whether to take John Mark with them, so in the end, Barnabas and John Mark go to Cyprus, while Paul takes Silas with him to Syria and Cilicia.
Paul comes to Derbe and Lystra. Paul circumcises Timothy, a Christian with a Jewish mother but a Greek father, so there would be less to hinder his ministry among the Jews. They travel through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit forbids them to travel to Asia. Paul has a night vision of a man inviting him to Macedonia. Paul and his team travel to Phillipi (the foremost city of Macedonia) and stay with a devout women called Lydia. A possessed slavegirl proclaims Paul and his team to be the servants of the Most High God. Paul casts the demon out. Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for delivering the slave-girl from her demonic possession. At night, the chains fall from them. The jailer is about to kill himself, thinking his prisoners have escaped, but Paul and Silas reveal themselves to him. The jailer and his family are then baptized. The next day, Paul and Silas are freed by magistrates. The magistrates are anxious when Paul reveals his Roman identity.
Paul converts Jews in Thessalonica. Some envious Jews instigate a riot. There is more evangelistic success in Berea. Jews from Thessalonica follow Paul to Berea and force him to depart, however. Paul preaches in the synagogues of Athens. Paul also preaches to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Paul mentions an altar in Athens to ‘the unknown god’, and preaches the god that he knows. The response is mixed.
Paul arrives in Corinth and stays with the tentmakers Aquila and Priscilla. Paul preaches to both Jews and Greeks. Paul receives encouragement in a vision to stay, and remains in Corinth for one and a half years. The Jews of Corinth attempt unsuccessfully to convict Paul before the civil authorities. Paul cuts his hair in order to make a Nazirite vow. Paul travels to Ephesus, Antioch, Galatia and Phrygia. Aquila and Priscilla instruct a fervent Jew called Apollos about Christ.
In Ephesus, Paul finds disciples of John the Baptist who have not yet received the Holy Spirit. When baptised in the name of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they prophesy. Paul has a mixed response in Ephesus. Paul performs miraculous healings. The seven sons of Sceva, Jewish exorcists, try to exorcise by the name of the Lord Jesus, but the evil spirits do not recognise them, and beat them. Many in Ephesus renounce occult objects. Demetrius, a maker of idols, opposes Paul because his business has suffered. A riot starts, which is finally calmed by a city clerk.
Paul travels through Greece and Macedonia to arrive at Troas. Paul raises Eutychus from the dead. Paul comes to Miletus and sends for the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet him there. Paul says he will face chains and tribulations in Jerusalem, but the prospect of testifying to the gospel fills him with joy. Paul warns against the savage wolves who will preach perverse things. Paul tearfully departs Ephesus.
Paul sails to Syria, and is warned by disciples in Tyre not to go to Jerusalem. In Caesarea, the prophet Agabus binds his hands and feet with Paul’s belt and tells him the Jews in Jerusalem will bind Paul in the same way. Paul says he is willing to die for the Lord Jesus. Paul goes to Jerusalem, and as a show of goodwill to the Jewish community there, sponsors four Jews who are taking the Nazirite vow. Jews from Asia stir a mob against Paul. Roman soldiers rescue Paul, who asks to be allowed to speak to the crowd. Paul addresses the crowd in Hebrew.
Paul’s sermon; he delivers an autobiography, telling of his persecution of Christians and subsequent conversion. The crowd riots in response to Paul’s message. The commander orders that Paul be interrogated under scourging, but revokes the order when Paul reveals his Roman citizenship. The Roman commander arranges a hearing of the charges against Paul before the Sanhedrin.
Paul rebukes the high priest for ordering him to be struck on the mouth. The Sanhedrin’s reaction to Paul is split between Pharisees (who do believe in the resurrection of the dead) and the Saducees (who do not). Paul is rescued by the Roman commander. Paul is told in a dream that he will go to Rome and testify there. Forty Jews vow not to eat or drink until they have set an ambush to kill Paul. Paul’s nephew learns of the plot, and Paul is warned. Paul escapes to Caesarea, with a full military escort and a letter referring his case to the provincial governor. The letter says that Paul is not worthy of death. Paul awaits trial in Caesarea.
Ananias the high priest and an orator named Tertullus give evidence against Paul. Paul is accused of profaning the temple. Paul declares that there are no witnesses to back up such an accusation in all his frequent appearances at the temple. Felix (the governor of Judea) defers a decision, later taking his Jewish wife Drusilla to hear Paul speak of Christ. Felix hopes that Paul will bribe him to be released.
When Felix is replaced by festus, Paul’s Jewish accusers decide to re-try the case against Paul. Paul appeals to Caesar. Festus explains the case involving Paul to the visiting King Agrippa. The trial begins, and Festus makes an opening speech explaining the situation of the Jews desiring his death and Festus seeing nothing to warrant that.
Paul gives an autobiographical speech. Against his Jewish accusers, Paul stresses that Moses and the prophets predicted the coming of Christ. Paul dismisses Festus’ claim that he is mad. Agrippa says he is almost tempted to become a Christian, and comments that Paul would have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar.
Paul is taken by ship to the island of Crete. The decision is made to sail on, instead of wintering at the city of Fair Havens on the island of Crete. A good start is made from Crete, but the ship quickly encounters great difficulty in a storm. Paul reveals to the crew that they will not perish, because an angel appeared to him and told him it was God’s intention that he appear before Caesar. On the fourteenth night of the storm, Paul ministers to the passengers and crew. The ship runs aground and all are safe, in fulfillment of God’s promise through Paul. The centurion, wanting to save Paul, prevents the soldiers killing prisoners to stop them escaping.
Paul arrives on Malta. When he is bitten by a viper, the islanders think it is divine justice for a crime he has evaded punishment for, but when he appears unharmed, they take him for a god. Paul heals the father of Publius, a famous citizen, and many others. Paul finally arrives at Rome. Paul meets the Jewish leaders, and again stresses that Moses and the prophets prophesied the coming of Christ. Paul quotes Isaiah’s ‘hearing you will hear, and not understand’. The Jews dispute amongst themselves. Paul spends two years in rented accommodation in Rome before his trial in Caesar’s court, freely preaching the gospel.