Now that we’ve made our way through the four Gospels, we move onto the second book written by Luke, Acts. This is not a Gospel or an epistle (an old name for “letter”), rather it is history. This is the history of the early church as it spread from Jerusalem outward to the gentile nations.
Luke was a physician by training. There were three medical schools in that part of the world, one ins Alexandria, Egypt; a second in Tarsus and a third in Athens. Luke was a frequent companion of Paul. Throughout this book you will see the pronoun “we” being used to indicate that at these points in the story when Luke is traveling with Paul. Peter is the key figure in the early chapters. Paul is the key in the later ones. The time period is from the ascension of Jesus in to heaven and for about thirty years thereafter. The book ends before 70 A.D. because that is when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and there is no mention of this important event in the book.
Acts 1:6-8 “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?”
If you notice, Jesus did not respond by saying something like, "No, dummy, that was just a figure of speech. I am not coming back to this planet after the way I was treated these past years."
The Jews knew that the Scriptures promised that there would be a Messiah who would bring peace and justice to this world. So why did so many Jews not recognize Jesus as the Messiah?
The Jews had two descriptions of the Messiah from the Old Testament. One was the description of the Lamb of God who would die for the sins of mankind, the second was the conqueror who would liberate the Jews from their oppressors and rule the world from Jerusalem. One reason that the Jews rejected Jesus was that they we looking for the conqueror; not the lamb. He came the first time as the "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." He will come again as the Lion of Judah to rule.
Jesus then goes on to say, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." Then, he gives his disciples their “marching orders,” when he said in verse 8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Judea and Samaria is what some refer to as the “West Bank” today.
Then Jesus was taken up into heaven and while the disciples were staring up trying to keep Jesus in their sights the angels came and in verse 11 said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
So Jesus is coming back . . . to earth . . . to reign. And it won’t be a secret coming. You can read the description of his return flight in Revelation 19:17.
The disciples then decided that they should appoint someone to replace Judas. One of the qualifications must be that he was a “witness with us of his resurrection” (verse 22).
Why was this important? Because the resurrection was the ultimate proof that Jesus was who he said he was, the Messiah. If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then, as Paul says, our faith is in vain and Christianity is a giant hoax (I Cor 15). The word apostle means, “one who is sent.” It is used in the strict sense to apply to someone who actually saw Jesus, but in a looser sense as one who is sent as a missionary. Barnabas is called an apostle, as are others.
Acts 2 describes the Day of Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks. This is one of several holy days listed in Lev. 23 and is the beginning of the Church, when the Holy Spirit came as predicted by Jesus. We celebrate the birth of our nation on July 4th. Do you know the date of Pentecost when the church started? Apparently one scholar had too much time on his hands and calculated it to have been on May 24, 33 A.D. Should we do something special to celebrate?
On the Day of Pentecost the population of Jerusalem was swollen because according to Deut 16:16, this was one of the holy days, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles, where all men were required to come. I imagine it is much like the little town of Sturgis, South Dakota when the annual motorcycle rally comes along each summer. There must have been people everywhere in and around Jerusalem. Wouldn't this be a good time for the Gospel to be preached so that all of the visitors, when they head back home, can spread the message? Peter gives a sermon which was heard by everyone “in his own language.” Imagine how the Gospel spread when all of these men returned to their towns and villages and they told others what Peter had said.
Peter gave them a message concerning Jesus and his resurrection (v 32). Many accepted the Gospel and asked, “Brother, what shall we do?” (verse 37). Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This passage has been used to prove that baptism is necessary for salvation. Not so. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works (Eph 2:8, Rom 5:1). The phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” can be better translated, “because of the forgiveness of sins.” Besides the many passages which teach that salvation is by faith, not works, in Acts 10:45 we see Gentiles who had received the Holy Spirit (evidence of salvation) before they were baptized. Baptism simply commemorates our spiritual renewal, it doesn’t cause it. Paul downplayed the importance of baptism (I Cor 1:1-17) and focused on preaching the Gospel.
Acts 4:16 “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle and we cannot deny it.”
The Sanhedrin was upset that Peter and John were preaching about the resurrection. The Sanhedrin was made up mostly of Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection. But one thing they could not deny was the miracle performed.
Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira sold some land and donated some of the proceeds to the church, but claimed that they gave all of it. They wanted to appear more generous than they were, like Barnabas did in Acts 4:36. Ananias and Sapphira were stuck dead, not for holding back their contribution, but for lying about it. They were not under any obligation give any or all of the proceeds from the sale of land to the church. But when they did, they lied about it. This might seem harsh, much like when God struck down Achan in (Joshua 7:22). Perhaps as God was starting the church, he wasn’t about to let it become corrupted from the very beginning, so he had to set an example here. In verse 11 it says that “great fear seized the whole church.”
Acts 5:15 describes an extrordinary healing done when Peter's shadow passed over some people. This is as extraordinary as the miracle of healing done through Paul in Acts 19:11 when pieces of cloth that had touched Paul was taken to the sick. Now today we have some on television promises people healing through prayer cloths. Why don't they try to sell "miracle lightbulbs" that cast a shadow for the sick to under and be healed? Can we expect the same healing today? Take a look at the article in the Frequently Asked Questions section entitled, Does God Heal?
Acts 5:27-29 “Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the others replied; “We must obey God rather than men!”
We are under obligation to obey the laws of the land, but if they conflict with those of God, we have to obey God, rather than man.
Acts 6:2-3 “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Here we have leaders of the church who were being distracted by chores unrelated to the ministry of the word and prayer. So they appointed what we might call deacons, to handle these activities. The qualification for a deacon are similar to those of an elder (I Tim 3), they are to be mature Christians “full of the Spirit” except they are not required to be able to “teach.” The elders were to meet the spiritual needs of the church while the deacons were to meet the physical needs.
Acts 7:57-58 “At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him (Stephen) and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Stephen was the first Christian martyr and here we see the first appearance of Saul, also known as Paul, giving “approval to his death” (Acts 8:1). The fact that Paul was a witness may indicate that he was a member of the Sanhedrin.
Acts 8:3 “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
It is no surprise that when the converted Paul came to the Jerusalem church to join them no one wanted anything to do with him (Acts 9:26). Barnabas, the encourager, who offered practical assistance to the new Christians in Acts 4:36, offered encouragement to Paul by accepting him into the fellowship. A third way that Barnabas encouraged people was by giving them a second chance, as he did with Mark in Acts 15:36-40.
Acts 8:9-24 Here we have a strange person by the name of Simon, a sorcerer. Of course, all forms of sorcery were condemned in Deut 18. Simon was able to "amaze" a large number of people. He "believed and was baptized" (v 13). Simon later saw the Spirit being given by the laying on of the apostles' hands and so he offered them money. Peter calls on him to repent of this attitude. A question that has been hotly debated is: "Was Simon a real Christian?" Well, we know from Matt 7:22 that people can profess a faith in Christ and even attend seminary, become ordained and lead a church, but still be unsaved. It appears to me that Simon saw the work of the Holy Spirit and thought that it would be a good tool for him to expand his work as a sorcerer.
Simon is not mentioned again in the Bible, but early church leaders, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus refer to him as an antichrist who continued with his sorcery.
Do you recall someone in the Old Testament who went to a sorcerer to make contact with a dead person? King Saul went to the witch at Endor to make contact with Samuel's spirit. The spirit of the dead comes from a Hebrew word Ob. Some scholars refer to a passage in Isa. 8 where it refers to those who consult with the dead as those that "chirp and mutter." This, they suggest, refers to these sorcerers deceiving their clients with ventriloquism. The ventriloquist would impersonate the dead as speaking in a faint voice from the ground.
Acts 8:14-17 “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus said (Acts 1:8) that they were to be his witness in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth). This is an account of the first conversion of the Gentiles. The laying on of hands was a way of breaking down the barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans, who had no contact with one another. This is why Philip was sent to them first, he was a Greek. He would have been accepted. Jews, would not. You might recall that Jesus and his disciples were rejected by the Samaritans when they traveled through their community in Luke 9:51-56. It appears that God withheld the Holy Spirit until the two groups accepted each other and all of those ancient cultural barriers were removed. This was done when Peter and John came to lay hands on them.
Acts 9 gives the account of Paul’s conversion while on the road to Damascus, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.”
Acts 9:27 “After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan.”
Situations can change rather quickly. One day Saul is persecuting the Christians on behalf of the Jews; the next thing you know the Jews are trying to kill him.
Acts 10:45-47 “The circumcised believers (Jewish believers or Messianic Jews) who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’”
Here we see that they had received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Baptism didn’t bring upon them the Holy Spirit, nor did it save them, it only symbolized what had already taken place in their lives.
Acts 11:26 “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
Antioch was a chief center of the church. Paul and Barnabas went there on their first missionary journey. Tradition says that John and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, lived there, also.
Acts 12:2,6 Here we see the first of the apostles to be killed, James. Who was the last? The last to die was John, the brother of James. If you recall, John was the one who wrote the Book of Revelation many years later.
After James was killed, they arrested Peter and put him in prison. In verse 6 we find Peter sleeping in prison. Now if you were Peter, could you sleep at a time like this? Your colleague James has been killed, you are in prison and perhaps you were going to be killed, also. Well, perhaps he rememberd what he was told in John 21:18 where Jesus says, "when you (Peter) are old." Peter knew that he was going to live to be old. The only question I would have is, "How old is old?" Wasn't Paul given a similar promise in Acts 23:11 when it says, "The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." So when Paul was sailing to Rome and the ship was breaking apart, he knew that he would survive because the Lord had promised him that he would "testify in Rome."
Acts 12:21 “On the appointed day, Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’ Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”
This sounds much like what happened to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 when he refused to acknowledge God and says, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty” (Dan 4:30).
Acts 14:23 “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”
It appears that the leaders chosen were from the churches themselves. They were a people who were well known by the church, not unknowns from out of town appointed by outsiders.
Acts 15: 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from fool polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
As the church expanded and consisted of fewer Jews and more Gentiles, the controversy arose as to whether or not the Gentiles had to obey the Laws of Moses (dietary laws, circumcision, etc). During the conference in Acts 15 it was decided that the Gentiles did not have to adopt the Jewish laws. Some commentaries suggest that the Gentiles were to adhere to the laws that all mankind had to adhere, referred to the Seven Laws of Noah. These laws consisted of: 1. the establishment of law courts, 2. the prohibitions against idolatry, 3. murder, 4. theft, 5. sexual immorality, 6. blasphemy, and 7. eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. Any non-Jew who lived according to these laws was regarded as “the righteous among the gentiles” and would have a place in the world to come.
Others suggest that James is saying, in effect, "For the sake of amicable fellowship, let's not do anything that might offend our guests." James was not setting new dietary laws when he included "abstain from food polluted by idols," because we know Paul later would say that meats offered to or polluted by idols was acceptable to eat (I Cor 8:10). Paul later said, "eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience sake" (I Cor 10:27). The bottom line is that food is a matter of choice, not law; just don't offend anyone with your choices because relationships are more important than your freedom to eat what you want.
Acts 16:1-3 “He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
In Galatians 2:3 Titus would not allow himself to be circumcised, while in Acts Paul has Timothy circumcised. The difference is in Galatians some thought that it was necessary for salvation, whereas here it is done for expediency. Paul tried to be “all things to all people” and didn’t want anything to hinder the Gospel. The circumcision of Timothy was voluntary so as not to hinder the Gospel, not as a condition of salvation as the Judaizers claimed in Galatians.
Paul, although he was a Christian, always considered himself to be a Pharisee. He does notsay, "I used to be a Pharisee, until I became a Christian." He continued to observed many of the Jewish customs, such as holy days, etc. But, he did not impose these customs onto Gentiles. Some call these people "completed Jews" or "Messianic Jews."
Acts 17:11 “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
A couple of points that I take away from this passage are:
- They received the message with eagerness. Not like some who attend church, become upset if the sermon is a bit longer than usual and won’t walk thirty feet down the hall to attend a Bible study.
- They examined the Scriptures every day. I had heard that nowhere in the Bible does it say for us to read the Bible. The word is always stronger than “read,” such as “meditate” or “study.” These members studied the Bible every day.
Acts 18:24-28 “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos . . . he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately . . . He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila head him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. Apollos vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
- To see if what Paul said was true. They did not accept whatever was said from the leaders, the Scriptures were their ultimate source of authority.
Here we see Apollos, a favorite of some Corinthians (I Cor 3), who spoke with great power about Jesus. But, his theological training must have had some gaps in it since he needed to be taught the way of God “more adequately.” He was able to prove from Scripture that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah. He proved it from Scripture, the ultimate source of authority.
Acts 19:11 “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”
This is an extraordinary as what was seen in Acts 5:15. If you go to the Frequently Asked Questions and read the article, “Does God Heal?” there are comments on the use of “prayer cloths.”
Acts 20:16 “Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.”
This passage may indicate that Paul continued to observe the Old Testament holy days. On the other hand, he might have been simply referring to it as a date reference, much as an atheist would refer to Christmas or Easter even though he may not observe either holiday.
Acts 20:28 “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciple after them.”
One of the job descriptions for an elder is to protect the flock from the wolves, some from the ministry itself.
My wife attended a church regularly her first twenty-five years, but the pastor of that church could not protect her from the false teaching of the cult that she joined. Is there such a thing as “pastoral malpractice”?
Acts 23:6b “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and they dominated the Sanhedrin, so they were the group that hounded the early church more than the Pharisees (Acts 24:21: 26:8).
Acts 26:22-23 “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-that the Christ would suffer and as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
There is nothing that the Gospel teaches that is unorthodox or radical. The Jews should have accepted the message as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
Acts 28:23 “. . . From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but other would not believe.”
Notice that some “would not believe,” not “could not believe.” It was not for lack of proof, but a lack of will. These people knowingly and willingly rejected the Gospel.
This book is called, The Acts of the Apostles." Is it still being written? Yes. When will it be finished? I think it will be finished at the rapture, the end of the Church Age. This book ends before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
The main figures in this book are Peter and Paul. Who else will have their names and deeds recorded in the final edition? Do you think it will have Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Billy Graham? How about your name? Will we be pleased with what is recorded about us in the final edition? Or, might our names be along side of Simon the Sorcerer or some other villain?
Do you have a Question on the Book of Acts? Contact Dr. DuCett: email@example.com