The Book of Acts

The book of Acts is the fifth of 27 books in the New Testament. The books in the New Testament are arranged as a “mini-library”: gospels (4), history (1), epistles of Paul (14), general epistles (7), and prophecy (1). “Acts” itself, is an abbreviated form of “Acts of the Apostles”, which is found in many translations. This latter is a better description of the nature of the book. The book does include the deeds of other men than the apostles; i.e. Stephen (6-7), Philip (8), and Barnabas (5, 9, 11, 13-15), but by and large the book deals with the works of the apostles. More specifically, it is a history of the works of two of them: Peter (1-12) and Paul (13-28).

Acts appears in a natural setting, for each of the gospels conclude with Jesus commanding the eleven of their worldwide work in preaching the gospel to all nations, and concluding (with the exception of John) of Jesus’ return back to the Father who sent Him into the world to make possible the forgiveness of sins His apostles were sent to preach about. So it was only natural that the book next in order would be a record of those apostles faithfully fulfilling the Lord’s instructions. And, because the apostles were told to go teach all nations, every creature, into all the world, the work of Peter in preaching to Jews in roughly the first half of the book and Paul preaching to the Gentiles in the second half show the apostles doing exactly what the Lord had commanded them to do.

Acts was written by the same author who wrote the book of Luke. In the first chapter of that book the writer observes, “The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up after that he had given commandment to the apostles through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen, to whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs …” (Acts1:1-3a). One only need turn to Luke 1 to see that same man addressed there as the recipient of that book (vv. 1-4). Now turn to Luke 24 and read of Jesus’ instructions to the eleven of the work they were to do, including His charge to them to go to Jerusalem and wait “until they were clothed with power from on high” (vv. 47-49), and you will understand that Acts continues what Luke began.

While there is almost unanimous agreement that both Luke and Acts came from the same hand, the Holy Spirit did not choose to reveal the name of that writer. Therefore, several names have been suggested. However, early on it was the general consensus of early Christians that that author was indeed Luke, a man who was a dear friend of Paul and who was the only one attending Paul when he faced martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:11). Thus, the book appears in early manuscripts as the writer of the gospel according to Luke.

Acts was not only written by the same hand that had written the gospel of Luke, but it was obviously intended to be a “sequel” to that book. Its intent was to show that as Luke was the history of Christ, Acts was a history of Christ’s disciples faithfully discharging His command to them.

Neither Matthew nor John give any detail about Jesus’ “ascension day”. Mark does mention the day with a few sentences but Luke gave us the greatest details of that significant day. He records that Jesus, after His resurrection, had spent about 40 days giving final instructions to the eleven before that glorious day for Him came. His ascension back to the Father was not something which He did in secret; it was in the presence of His eleven apostles and the details of that ascension are found in Acts 1. The one, burning question in the apostles’ mind was, “Lord, dost thou at this time restore again the kingdom of God to Israel?”

This question was foremost in their mind because the message of both John the Baptist and of Jesus as each began his ministry was, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). The apostles had been assured that some of them would not die until they had seen the kingdom come with power (Mark 9:1), and that among those living would be Peter to whom God would give the keys to that kingdom (Matthew 16:19).

However, Jesus gave them no time for the kingdom’s appearance. To their question whether Jesus would then restore the kingdom of God, Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father hath set within his own authority. But ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you …”  (Acts 1:7). The apostles had to be satisfied that the kingdom would come in their lifetime and that Peter would be given its keys. They must be content with God’s promise and have faith they would see that kingdom come.

As Jesus spoke these words and as His disciples beheld Him, He was taken up into heaven until a cloud obstructed any future sight of Him. Angels who attended Jesus told the apostles, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This Jesus, who was received back into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The apostles were naturally saddened at the departure of their Teacher but heaven received Him with great joy and gladness when He arrived back to His Father. Daniel gives the Spirit’s testimony of that event: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given unto him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should sere him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Jim McDonald

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