THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Frank E. Allen
Author of “Practical Lectures on the Book of Job” “Evolution in the Balances”, etc.
The exact title of this book, commonly called, “The Acts of the Apostles,” is difficult if not impossible to determine. When it was first sent by its author to Theophilus it probably had no title. It appears in different forms in ancient manuscripts – but all agree that it was “The Acts.”
There can be no reasonable doubt that Luke is the author of the Acts. It is the second book dedicated to Theophilus and follows the history as recorded in the Third Gospel. It continues the history of early Christianity from the ascension of Christ through a part of the imprisonment of Paul at Rome. The early church regarded Luke alone as the author of the book. Irenaeus, Clemens, Alexandrinus, Tertullian and others speak of Luke as the author, and so confident do they appear that they do not even pause to discuss the fact.
Dr. J.H. Kerr, in his Introduction to New Testament Study – commended by Prof. B.B. Warfield – (p. 78) gives the following reasons to show that Luke was the author:
(1) It was the unhesitating and unanimous belief of the early church.
(2) The similarity of the inscription, character and style of this book to the Third Gospel.
(3) The similarity of the language between the two books, over fifty words being common to them that are not used elsewhere in the New Testament.
(4) The manifest connection between the two books, this being the continuation of the history given in the Third Gospel.
Even literary critics, like Renan, admit the absurdity of asserting that a compiler of the second century would have been so careless as to have left the “we passages” unaltered. These passages begin with the sixteenth chapter and the tenth verse when Luke became a member of the missionary party at Troas. Luke used the pronoun of personal participation, always remain a strong testimony in favor of a companion of the Apostle as the author of the whole book, of which that narrative is a part; to separate the subject of that narrative from the author of the whole, is a procedure of skeptical caprice.
Prof. J. Gresham Machen, in his elaborate argument on, “The Origin of Paul’s Religion,” declares that, “Literary criticism establishes Luke-Acts as the work of a companion of Paul” (p. 36). This companion was undoubtedly Luke.
To regard Timothy as the author is, upon the very surface of the Book, incorrect. He is clearly distinguished from the author in Chap. 20:4-5: “And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. These going before tarried for us at Troas.” If Timothy had been the writer, the “we-passages” would have begun at Chapter 16:4: “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.” The writer of the Acts is far too intelligent to have written or compiled a book so carelessly. For similar reasons Silas could not have been the author. Luke clearly indicates by the use of the first person when he was with Paul: “And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (16:10), but the use of the third person when they were separated: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews” (17:1), and by the use of the first when they were together again in their work (20:5 above).
Sir William Ramsay says that those who attempt to show that the author was a second century writer have “displayed a misapprehension of the real character of ancient life and Roman history which is often astonishing, and which has been decisively disproved in the progress of Roman historical investigation. All such theories belong to the pre-Mommsenian epoch of Roman history: they are now impossible for a rational and educated critic; and they hardly survive except in popular magazines and novels of the semi-religious order.” (St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, p. 10).
Concerning the effort made by Dr. Clemen to show that three Redactors, or editors, making use of three older documents, have compiled the Book of Acts, each inserting some of his own views, Ramsay declares: “A dissection of this elaborate kind cannot be carried out. Style is seen in the whole rather than in single sentences, still less in parts of sentences; and a partition between six authors, clause by clause, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, of a work that seemed even to bold and revolutionary critics like Zeller and Baur in Germany and Renan in France to be a model of unity and individuality in style, is simply impossible” (Ibid. pp. 12-13).
In view of the fact that The Acts is an historical book, it was not likely to be quoted as often as the Epistles, yet there are a number of ancient writers who quote it and others who make reference to it. Polycarp quotes it about the year 116 A.D. The Muratori Canon names it, 170 A.D. The Syriac (160 A.D.) and Old Latin Versions (170 A.D.) quote it. Irenaeus (175 A.D.), Tertullian (190 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (195 A.D.) quote it by name.
Those who rejected it as the Manicheans, Marcionites and Ebionites, did so because they held certain preconceived heretical views, and could not continue to hold these heresies with the semblance of consistency if they accepted the teaching of the Acts.
The internal evidence is conclusive in favor of its authenticity, as is shown by Paley in his “Horae Pauline.” He has compared the historical references with the Epistles and has shown that the undesigned coincidences form an unanswerable argument concerning the genuineness of The Acts.
In his Introduction (Vol. II, p. 51), Dr. Samuel Davidson writes, “We hesitate not to assert that the idea of the book being fabricated by a later unknown writer, with whatever motive he set about the task, involves the improbably, not to say the impossible at every step. – We are confident that the credibility of the Acts will be universally acknowledged long after the negative criticism has vanished away like every temporary extravagance of unbridled reason, or rather of unbridled skepticism.”
After first-hand investigation, Sir William Ramsay came to regard the author of the Acts as an “historian of the first rank.” He had at one time been convinced that the Tubingen theory was correct, namely, that the Acts was a second century work. “It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.” After a “dispassionate historical criticism,” he decided that he could speak “confidently and uncompromisingly,” and “Place this great writer on the high pedestal that belongs to him” (Ibid. pp. 4, 8-10).
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Luke, in all probability, when writing the Acts, followed a similar plan to that which he informs us he used in writing the Gospel which bears his name. In writing the Gospel he received much information from eye witnesses. In writing the Acts he was an eye witness of much which he records. Most of the remainder of the Book he could learn from fellow disciples who were eye witnesses of the events. A part of it he no doubt learned from documents to which he had access. He was undoubtedly guided and taught of the Holy Spirit so that he wrote accurately all the facts recorded.
The Book of Acts contains 1007 verses. Luke evidently witnessed the facts recorded in the “wepassages”, which include 318 verses. He could have learned from Paul and Philip that which is recorded in 402 verses. Therefore, from his own observation and conversation with intimate friends, Paul and Philip, he would be able to write 720 verses.
This comprises more than seven-tenths of the entire book, and the information could be secured without reference to any documents. There are 287 verses left to be accounted for, a few of which are introductory, while the remainder mainly relate to messages and actions of Peter. These were probably preserved in written form. Many of the facts would be vividly remembered by a number of the disciples still living at that time. Luke then could secure his information from personal experience and written records.
TIME AND PLACE
The date of the composition of the Book of Acts has been generally thought to have been during the year 63 A.D. The place was apparently at Rome. The year when Paul was brought to Rome has been given as 61 A.D. At the time of the completion of this Book he had been a prisoner for two years. From the wording of the last chapter it is evident that Luke was with Paul at Rome, therefore, it seems reasonably certain that the Acts was written at Rome in the year 63 A.D.
OBJECT OF BOOK
The first Book, or Gospel of Luke, was written originally to instruct Theophilus, a lover of God, and to confirm his faith. The second book, The Acts, was written for further instruction of the same person and for all lovers of God. Luke desired to tell the world authoritatively, under the guidance of the Spirit, what the Lord Jesus continued to do after his ascension, by the power of the Spirit, through the instrumentality of his disciples.
“The historian who is to give a brief history of a great period,” writes Ramsay, “need not reproduce on a reduced uniform scale all the facts which he would mention in a long history, like a picture reduced by a photographic process. If a brief history is to be a work of art, it must omit great deal, and concentrate the reader’s attention on a certain number of critical points in the development of events, elaborating these sufficiently to present them in life-like and clearly intelligible form.
True historical genius lies in selecting the great crises, the great agents, and the great movements, in making these clear to the reader in their real nature, in passing over with the lightest and slightest touch numerous events and many persons, but always keeping clear before the reader the plan of composition. The historian may dismiss years with a word, and devote considerable space to a single incident. In such a work, the omission of an event does not constitute a gap, but is merely a proof that the event had not sufficient importance to enter in the plan” (Ibid. p. 7). Luke, manifestly, did not set out to tell all the history of the main characters, Peter and Paul. He selected great crises, great agents and great movements, passing over or touching lightly upon many others.
Dr. Philip Schaff writes concerning the Acts: It “represents the origin and progress of Christianity from the capital of Judaism to the capital of heathenism. It is the history of the planting of the Church among the Jews by Peter, and among the Gentiles by Paul. Its theme is expressed in the promise of the risen Christ to His disciples in Acts 1:8: “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (chap. 2); “and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem” (chaps. 3-7); “and in all Judaea, and in Samaria” (chaps. 8-12); “and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (chaps. 13-18)” (History, Vol. I, p. 726).
“In the Gospels we see Christ purchasing the church with His own blood:” writes Dr. David Brown, “here we see the church so purchased rising into actual existence; first among the Jews in Palestine, next among the Gentiles, until it gains a foothold in the great capital of the ancient world – sweeping majestically from Jerusalem to Rome.”
The early triumphs of Christianity are recorded for the benefit of men of every age. It is a remarkable testimony to the power of the Gospel, that, within thirty years it made a deep impression upon all parts of the civilized world. It had not failed to transform men and communities in the most powerful and corrupt cities. Churches were established in Jerusalem, Antioch, Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, Italy and Africa. Its success cannot be accounted for by any view, other than that it was God’s message, and His Almighty power made it effective.
WAS IT COMPLETED?
Many writers upon the Acts think that it was not completed. They believe that it ends abruptly and attempt to account for this by supposed that Luke was called away from the city to some other part of the church, or that political changes compelled is withdrawal from Rome. Others, with Ramsay, suppose that the author suffered martyrdom under Domitian, and that for this reason the Book was left uncompleted.
My own view, as stated more fully in the last chapter, is that the Book was completed in an admirable manner. It closes leaving the apostle Paul in the place where he had longed to go, and while preaching Christ, whom he loved to preach. For years it had been his ambition to go to Rome. He earnestly desired to preach the Gospel unhindered by Jewish mob or heathen priests. As the Book closes he was at the great world-center of that day, “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:31).
That was his chief desire. I can imagine no more appropriate ending. It is the picture of the great apostle which I like to keep in mind. His chains were incidental. To preach the Gospel unhindered, where it would reach the largest number, and go out to the ends of the earth, was the fulfillment of his highest ambition. It is the hope of this writer that such an ambition may be aroused in the hearts of many of God’s servants who read this expression.
THREE OUTLINES OF THE CONTENTS
- The promise of the Holy Spirit (chap. 1).
- The out-pouring of the Holy Spirit and revival (chap. 2).
- The development of the church in Jerusalem in the midst of opposition (chaps. 3-7).
- The growth of the church through Judea and Samaria (chaps. 8-12).
- The growth of the church among the Gentiles (chaps. 13-28).
OUTLINE BY CHAPTERS
Outline by chapters, with key verses, to enable the student to keep the main points and choice verses of the Book in mind.
Writer – Luke
Written at Rome, 63 A.D.
Theme – The continuation of the work of the Christ, by His Spirit, through His disciples.
Chapter 1 – The ascension – promise of the Holy Spirit – reorganization.
Key verse: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (1:8).
Chapter 2 – The first revival – Pentecost.
Key verse: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (2:38-39)
Chapter 3 – The first miracle of healing – the lame man healed.
Key verse: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (3:19)
Chapter 10 – The first mission to the Gentiles – Peter sent to Cornelius.
Key verse: “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (10:34-35).
Chapter 11 – The first dispute about missions – The Jews convinced.
Key verse: “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).
Chapter 12 – The first persecution by the state – James killed – Peter arrested – his miraculous escape.
Key verse: “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (12:5).
JOURNEYS OF PAUL
Chapter 13 – Paul and Barnabas go to Cyprus and Asia Minor – Paul’s sermon at Antioch.
Key verse: “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (13:47).
Chapter 14 – At Iconium, Lystra and Derbe – the disciples praised – Paul stoned – return and report to home church.
Key verse: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (14:22).
Chapter 15 – Dispute about circumcision – send letter to Gentiles – Paul and Barnabas separate.
Key verse: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved even as they” (15:11).
SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Chapter 16 – Paul and Silas go through Syria and Cilicia – At Lystra Timothy joins the company – to Neapolis and Philippi.
Key verse: “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (16:31).
Chapter 17 – To Thessalonica, Berea, Athens – The Unknown God
Key verse: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (17:23).
Chapter 18 – To Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch
Key verse: “For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (18:28).
THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Chapter 18:23 – 19:41. To Galatia, Phrygia – at Ephesus 3 years
Key verse: “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (19:4).
Chapter 20 – To Macedonia, Achaia, Philippi, Troas, Miletus
Key verse: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (20:24).
Chapter 21:1-17. Returned to Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea to Jerusalem.
Key verse: “Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (21:13).
IMPRISONMENT OF PAUL
Chapter 21:17 – 22:30. Paul mobbed – rescued – addressed the people.
Key verse: “For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (22:15).
Chapter 23 – Tried before the Sanhedrin – a conspiracy – sent to Caesarea.
Key verse: “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou has testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (23:11).
Chapter 24 – Defense before Felix – Governor moved – left two years.
Key verse: “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (24:25).
Chapter 25-26. Paul’s hearing before Festus – appeal to Caesar – address before Agrippa.
Key verse: “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (26:28-29).
ON THE SEA
Chapter 27 – Paul’s voyage and shipwreck
Key verse: “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee” (27:23-24).
Chapter 28 – Paul at Melita, Puteoli and Rome – preached at his lodging and hired house, unhindered.
Key verse: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (28:28).
OUTLINE TO ENCOURAGE CHRISTIAN WORKERS
It is encouraging to note that notwithstanding persecution, hypocrisy, dissention, or mob violence, the church continued to grow.
- The disciples were terrified by the crucifixion of Jesus – the Holy Spirit came in power – Peter preached – 3000 added – 2:41.
- Jewish leaders arrested the apostles – apostles proclaimed Jesus – Number came to be 5000 – 4:4.
- The disciples were threatened – they prayed – were filled with the Spirit – spoke with boldness – a multitude believed – 4:32.
- Hypocrites came in – Divine discipline was exercised – wonders wrought – multitudes of men and women were added – 5:14.
- Persecution arose – disciples imprisoned – miraculously released – the disciples were multiplied – 6:1.
- Dissention arose – deacons chosen – number of disciples multiplied exceedingly – company of priests obedient to faith – 6:7.
- The disciples driven from Jerusalem – Philip preached in Samaria – the multitudes gave heed with one accord – 8:6.
- Personal work with an Ethiopian – he believed – 8:37.
- Paul converted – churches had rest – were multiplied – 9:31.
- Peter cured AEneas – all who saw him turned to the LORD – 9:35.
- Peter raised Dorcas from the dead – many believed on the LORD – 9:31.
- The Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles – many believe – 10:44-45.
- Persecuted disciples driven to Antioch – preach to Greeks – a great number believed – 11:21.
- Barnabas sent to help with the work at Antioch – much people was added unto the LORD – 11:24.
- Herod persecuted the church – killed James – arrested Peter – Herod smitten by an angel – the word grew and multiplied – 12:24.
- Paul preached in Cyprus – was opposed by a false prophet – the Pro-consul believed – 13:12.
- Paul preached in Antioch in Pisidia – the Jews opposed him – many Gentiles believed – the Word was spread throughout all the region – 13:49.
- Paul driven to Iconium by a persecuting mob – preached – a great multitude of Jews and Greeks believed – 14:1.
- Paul stoned – driven to Derbe – preached – made many disciples – 14:21.
This outline takes us half way through the Book, through the first missionary journey of Paul. The story is ever the same. Nothing can stop the growth of a Spirit-filled church. Such a church will pray earnestly, study the Bible diligently, give liberally of her wealth, and continue in constant personal work for Christ.
The shout that rang out of the darkness of Calvary, “It is finished,” resounds through the centuries to tell of the completed atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. The declaration, “Jesus began both to do and teach” (1:1), as it appears in the opening sentence of The Acts, impresses upon us the great message that Christ in saving a lost world had but begun His work. There is no intimation that Jesus “began” in the sense that other great thinkers were to complete plans, discover new truths, or perfect an incomplete beginning; but rather that he was to continue to do, through his disciples, by His Spirit, that which he had initiated, designed and exhorted them to fulfill.
Luke, who is evidently the writer of The Acts, had told in the Gospel which bears his name of the work of Christ on earth before His ascension. The record in The Acts continues the work of Jesus, by his Spirit, through His disciples, after His ascension. Luke tells of the supernatural birth of Christ. He speaks of the supernatural ascension twice, first in the Gospel and again in The Acts. He emphasizes the supernatural power bestowed upon the church shortly after His ascension. He records the marvelous results of the bestowal of Christ’s power by opening to our vision glimpses of the church during the first generation of men who were living after the ascension.
The Acts is the only authentic history of the first generation of the Christian Church. Its record is supplemented to some extent by statements in the Epistles. It does not pretend to be a complete record of the work of the Apostles during that period which it covers. It tells us more of Peter and Paul than of any others. John is mentioned near the first of the Book as he worked along with Peter. Other important leaders in the church, as Philip, Stephen, James, Barnabas, Mark, Silas and Timothy, are spoken of briefly. Many other prominent disciples, prophets and missionaries are named.
The title by which the Book has been known, “The Acts of the Apostles,” is an enlargement upon the actual title which is, “Acts of Apostles,” or “The Acts.”
As it tells us merely of some of the acts of some of the apostles, we may rather think of it as “The Acts of Jesus,” which he had begun on earth to do and which he continued to do through his apostles and disciples. Prominent workers in the early church are mentioned. In the midst of their work the account suddenly turns to others and perhaps we hear nothing more of them. This striking manner of dealing with men makes evident the fact that the Acts is not written primarily to record the acts of the apostles, but rather the work of our Lord as he began to use men, and continues to use them in the work of his church.
This book tells us enough about three or four of the Apostles that we may know how they worked and the results of their testimony, and that we may have some indication of what others probably did in the service of their Lord. It tells us enough that we may know the power and comfort which the Holy Spirit can give to His disciples; that the church is actually founded upon The Rock and nothing can prevail against it; that the progress of the church does not depend upon any man or group of men, and that Christ has a definite plan for the organization and promotion of the work of the church. Volumes might have been written and yet the story of the early church would not have been complete. The history of the period covered in The Acts during one generation furnishes an example for all following generations.
We have the same problems, the same trials, the same skepticism, the same willingness on the part of some to accept the Gospel and give their lives for him whom they have learned to love, and the same bitter opposition on the part of many who oppose its progress.
THE ONE ADDRESSED
The Book is addressed to Theophilus. The name means, lover of God. Nothing is known of Theophilus except that the Gospel of Luke is also addressed to him “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3).
He was evidently, what his name indicates, a lover of God. We have sufficient reason for this conclusion from the fact that Luke addresses two books to him, and also that he speaks of him as “most excellent” or most noble. Inasmuch as the Greek letters of the New Testament were all capitalized it is possible that Theophilus, which we translate as a proper name, Theophilus, was not a proper name, but directed to all lovers of God. Although, it is probably addressed to a single individual, according to the usual interpretation, it is intended as a message to all lovers of God.
That the writer of The Acts was Luke seems evident. He had written a former book to the same person and on the same general subject. It was the unanimous belief of the early church, and still is generally agreed, that the author of the Gospel which bears the name of Luke is the author of The Acts.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
There are 1007 verses in this book. The “we-passages” include 318, those know to Paul 366, and those to Philip 66. “We can readily see,” says J.H. Kerr, “that Luke from his own experience, and from what he could learn from Paul and Philip, could write 724 verses, or over seven-tenths of the whole book, without having recourse to any documents. There remain but 283 verses to be accounted for, and these relate to the words of Peter, all of which may have been preserved in some written form to which the historian had access. From this, it is evident that the sources of information contained in the book were written records, oral testimony and personal knowledge” (Introduction to New Testament Study).
The theme of The Acts is, that which Jesus continued to do, by His Spirit, through His disciples. This book is closely linked to, and virtually a continuation of, the Gospel by Luke. In it the author had told “of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up” (Acts 1:1-2). That was the end of Jesus’ teaching as man upon earth, but it was not the end of His teaching by His Spirit. Peter, Paul and others continued to preach Jesus Christ. When Peter was asked of the men of the various nations at Pentecost how it was that they heard every man in his own tongue, he told them that Jesus through the Holy Ghost, “hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). When great numbers were brought into the church it was said that “the Lord added” them to it. Peter declared that Jesus cured the lame man at the gate of the temple. It was the Lord who appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. It was the Lord Jesus who appeared to Paul in Corinth and said: “I have much people in this city.” Thus all through the Book the Lord continued to work by miracles, by signs, by wonders and by testimony through His disciples.
THE FORMER TREATISE
“The former treatise” is evidently that of the Gospel of Luke. In the first five verses we have a brief summary of the Gospel by Luke. This forms a connecting link with the Acts. In that which Jesus began to do and we are taken back to the:
(1) Incarnation. Luke tells in as plain language as it is possible to tell of the birth of Jesus. From his “perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3), and from that which had been revealed to him by the Spirit, he told clearly and explicitly that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. The only way that one may doubt or deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is to deny that the Gospel of Luke is the true Word of God. Luke also told of
(2) the life and teaching of Jesus. To state it in his own words, he wrote concerning “all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” Luke emphasized the humanity of Jesus but he did not neglect his divinity. He told of the miracles as a part of what He did, which should prove to Theophilus and lovers of God throughout the world that Jesus was God as well as man. He recorded that unparalled miracle, the cure of the paralytic (Luke 5:18-26), when Jesus proved to a crowded assembly that he had power on earth to forgive sins.
In the Gospel, Luke had also told of the:
(3) atonement or “passion” of Jesus (v. 3). The voluntary death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin was the great theme which Luke in the former Book, and in this one, dwelt upon as the most important of all facts for a sinful world. Before Peter called upon the multitudes at Jerusalem to believe in Christ and repent of their sins he presented to them Christ crucified as the Son of God (Acts 2:36-38). Even when in jeopardy of their lives, the disciples always held before their hearers Jesus Christ, the crucified One, as the only Saviour (3:13-18; 4:10-12; 7:51-56; 26:2223). Even in this brief summary of his former treatise, Luke is not satisfied merely to state the fact that he had told of Christ’s
(4) resurrection, but he makes reference to the many proofs which He had given to prove that He had risen. “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days” (Acts 1:3). The subject of the resurrection was the storm center of discussion in those days, and is still the fact which is most bitterly attacked by many. Some tried to pass over it with a laugh, as did the Athenians; but where the Gospel had taken hold of many, as at Corinth and Ephesus, so mild a form of opposition would not turn men away from faith in the risen Lord. No one could deny, in those days, that Jesus died, but the Pharisees and Sadducees were unwilling to give up the theory that He had died as a blasphemer. The Sadducees were in power at that time. They denied the resurrection and forbade Christ’s followers to teach it. If they admitted that Jesus arose from the dead they knew that they must also admit that He was divine and all of His claims were true. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).
It has been repeatedly asserted by careful scholars that there is no better authenticated fact in history than that of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. He was seen four times according to the record of Luke.
He was seen at least twelve times, as recorded by the four Gospels and by Paul in I Corinthians 15:5-8. Paul was a witness to the fact that Christ had risen, and he mentions five other witnesses or groups of witnesses. He was seen by the apostles, under the most scrutinizing circumstances, more than once. He was seen of five hundred brethren at one time. Christ invited a close and careful examination of the identity of His person after His resurrection; consequently His disciples, who were themselves given to doubt, could not have been deceived. His disciples saw Him, heard Him talk, felt His body for marks of identification and ate with Him. No impersonator or apparition could have possibly deceived them. They had been His intimate friends and were the best judges. Luke also tells of:
(5) the ascension. Mark mentions it, but Luke is the only one of the four evangelists who describes the ascension of Christ (Luke 24:50-51). He refers to his record here in the second verse, “until the day in which he was taken up.” The ascension is described later in the chapter; it is mentioned here merely to connect the records of the two books. Moreover, in the Gospel, Luke had recorded the charge of Jesus that:
(6) the disciples were to wait for the Spirit (vv. 4-5).
The record in Luke is, “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high . . . And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:49, 52-53). The statement in the Acts is: “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:4-5). At the beginning of Christ’s ministry John had foreseen these days. He said: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).
Luke alone preserved a very striking prophecy of Jesus: “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12:49-50). We are not accustomed to think of Jesus being “straitened” or held in, but He Himself tells us that it was true at that time and would be true until after His baptism should be accomplished, in other words, until after He had washed away sin in His blood upon the Cross. After the work of atonement was completed he would be ready to “cast fire upon the earth,” or to send the Holy Spirit upon His disciples with power. He had said: “Greater works than these shall ye do.” This would not be because there were any of the disciples greater than Jesus but because He would send His Spirit to work through them in mighty power, and enable them to do the work on the basis of His finished atonement.
Why then did not Jesus pour out His Spirit upon the disciples immediately after the resurrection, or at least immediately after the ascension? We may not be able to answer this question fully, but there are reasons which seem obvious. The plan which Jesus followed was according to prophecy. The presentation of the two wave-loaves, upon the Feast of Pentecost, typified the presentation unto God of the first-fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. The fulfillment of prophecy would have been a sufficient reason for the charge to wait at Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost, but there were other reasons. An important reason was that the disciples might have the opportunity to re-study the Scripture in the light of what had just taken place. Before Christ’s ascension “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scripture” (Luke 24:45). They had much to reinterpret and fix in their minds before they culd be the best witnesses for Christ. Moreover, as the disciples compared notes concerning the evidences of Christ’s resurrection and meditated and prayed concerning what He had told them beforehand, and became more deeply convinced that He was indeed the Messiah they would be the better prepared for the reception of the Spirit and the earnest work which was to follow.
THE FINAL COMMISSION OF JESUS
- Misconceptions corrected: “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (1:6-7).
This question may have been asked by the disciples before Christ had opened their mind, that they might understand the Scriptures. But it is quite possible that even after their minds were opened there were some things in Scripture which they did not understand. There is still a great difference of opinion concerning the answer to this question and we, therefore, need not be surprised if they did not understand it. It is well that we shall study the signs of the times in the light of prophecy and in the light of all Scripture, but there are times and seasons of God’s working which will be withheld from us. It is best that this is God’s plan. It is well that the future of our own lives and the hour of our own death is withheld from us. That which is withheld from us would not benefit it; if it were known to us it might tend to hinder us in the great work of witnessing to which we are called.
- The assurance of power: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (1:8a)
Knowledge of future events in the world will not give men power in the service of Christ but the presence of the Holy Spirit will give mighty power. The Holy Spirit could not be neglected then, and cannot be neglected now, if the witnesses for Christ are to have power. There was a definite time set for which they must wait in order to fulfill the plan of God. It is not necessary today that days of time shall elapse while we wait upon God before we may receive the Holy Spirit.
If we are waiting until we feel some ecstasy, some remarkable movement within us, we may displease God. The Spirit of Christ will not come into an empty vessel, nor will He come into a vessel that is to remain useless. He will come at once into the hearts of His people if they will manifest His power, if they are willing to present their bodies a living sacrifice and witness for Him. But He will not come into men’s hearts merely that they may satisfy a curiosity or experience some mighty thrill within them.
- The charge to the witnesses: “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (1:8b)
A witness must know, not merely by hear-say, whereof he speaks. Those who are to be witnesses for Christ must know Christ. They must know Christ so well that no amount of crossexamination can pervert their testimony. The world is constantly cross-examining the Christian. Men of the world are watching us at our work, in our trading, in our buying, in our selling, in our homes, at our worship, in our prayers, in our teaching, in our preaching, in our giving and in all our ways of living. If our testimony breaks down in any part it may lose its entire effect.
The disciples were to be witnesses first in Jerusalem, or at home. The warm-hearted disciple of Christ today will begin to witness wherever he is, he will not wait for a golden opportunity, he will make one. It may not be easy to witness at home, nor is it easy to witness away from home. The witness should make up his mind from the very outset that he will have to bear his cross. It was not long after the early disciples began to witness at Jerusalem until they were scattered everywhere through persecution, but they did not stop witnessing on that account. They went everywhere preaching the Word. They went to other parts of Judaea, so Samaria to Cyprus, Asia Minor, Africa, Greece, Rome, Spain and India.
It is important that the homeland shall be Christianized for the benefit of other lands. When the missionary goes out to a foreign field, and from his own land there follow him vessels loaded with intoxicating liquor, when that liquor is adulterated and sold at an exorbitant price to the heathen, the effect is tremendously adverse upon the testimony of the missionary. When the representatives of the land from which the missionary comes desecrate the Lord’s day the natives are much harder to convince that Christians should keep the Sabbath. When the natives learn to publish their own newspapers and when those papers tell of lynchings and murders in the land from which the missionary comes his testimony is greatly hindered.
This is said to be a missionary age. The book that has made it so, more than any other, is the Book of Acts for it is the great missionary book of the Bible. It tells us of the beginning of missionary work in the Christian church and of the rapid extension of that work until it progressed so widely that, though written nineteen centuries ago, it is still the greatest challenge of all books to the enlargement of the missionary enterprise throughout the world.
“Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (Isa. 54:2)
The missionary work had so languished that in the early days of William Carey, a little over a century ago, he could not stir his congregation to take an interest in missions, nor could he even arouse an interest among the ministers of the Gospel in his community in this great work. When he preached his great sermon on the second verse of the fifty fourth chapter of Isaiah the people were not moved. One who writes of that memorable occasion says, he would have thought the congregation would have wept. But they did not weep, they did not even wait after the sermon. They started to go out as usual.
But Mr. Carey stepping down from the pulpit grasped Andrew Fuller by the hand and said, “Fuller, call them back! Are we going to do nothing today?” The result was that some of them did come back, they were interested and the foreign missionary society was organized which sent Carey out as pioneer missionary. Does it not seem pathetic that seventeen centuries after the Book of Acts was written there should still be the need of pioneer work in the foreign missionary enterprise? We pride ourselves on our interest in missions and in the world today. But pick up the Book of Acts and read again the final commission of Jesus; read again almost any place in the Book of the fire of the early church, and you will surely conclude that their energy, their sacrifice and their successes puts us to shame.
We should read again the final commission of Jesus! We should hear again the call that beginning at home we should carry the Gospel message to the uttermost parts of the earth! We should awaken to a sense of our responsibility and in consecration, in work, in prayer, in giving and in witnessing give ourselves into the hands of the Holy Spirit to be used of the Lord when He will and where He will!
QUESTIONS (ACTS 1:1-8)
- Who was the writer of the Acts? Why?
- Of what had Luke told in “the former treatise?”
- Of what does the Acts tell?
- Who are the two principal characters in The Acts?
- Name some other leading characters in The Acts?
- Why was it not important that many volumes should have been written about the apostles?
- How is the record of The Acts a miniature history of the whole church?
- Give the significance of the name, Theophilus?
- About what proportion of The Acts could Luke write from his own experience or what he might have learned from Paul or Philip?
- Give evidence to show that the Lord Jesus continued to do and teach?
- Give some of the proofs that Jesus arose from the dead?
- Why had not the disciples been baptized with the Holy Spirit while Jesus was with them?
- Why were the apostles to wait at Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension?
- How do we know that the disciples could understand the Scriptures better after the ascension of Jesus?
- What was the answer which Jesus gave to those who wanted to know when the kingdom would be restored to Israel?
- What was essential for the disciples to receive before they should begin to witness?
- What were the fields in which the early disciples were to witness?
- How did their commission compare with ours?
- How did their field compare with ours?
- Is it a matter of indifference whether or not we shall witness?