Theme: The gospel of the kingdom expands throughout the world as King Jesus had foretold.
The book of Acts is a very special book in the New Testament. It is a historical narrative that supplies us with background information for the epistles. It serves as a bridge, so to speak, from the Gospel accounts (Matthew-John) to the rest of the NT (Romans-Revelation). It is, in essence, a transitional book, providing insight into the redemptive-historical transition from Jesus’ earthly ministry to his heavenly ministry and reign, evidenced in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the spread of the gospel, especially through the ministry of the apostles, and the growth or multiplication of the Church. Additionally, the apostles intricately connect Jesus’ resurrection to his enthronement (2:30-36; 13:30-35). Following is a brief treatise on these themes.
I. The Gospel of the Kingdom
Acts 1:8 is the thematic verse, or thesis, of the book of Acts. The worldwide witness of the apostles in the power of the Holy Spirit is exactly what is evidenced throughout the narrative. Their witness was that of the gospel of the kingdom. In essence, the book of Acts is about the preaching and expansion of the kingdom of Christ. The kingdom is central throughout:
1:3b “…being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
1:6 “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’
8:12 “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” [note relation to 1:3]
14:22 “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
19:8 “And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.”
20:25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.”
28:23 “So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.”
28:30-31 “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.”
So, the kingdom of God, which is centered on the Person, redeeming work, and Lordship of Jesus Christ, was central in the preaching and teaching of the Apostles’ ministry. In the above passages we see the “already/not yet” aspect of the kingdom – the kingdom has come with Christ and expands through the gospel witness of the Church in the power of the Spirit, but we await its final culmination.
II. The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
The point that the apostles would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them is directly associated with vv. 4-5 (the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the promise of God). Jesus here directs the apostles back to their mission after their “slow-to-understand” question in verse 6.
What is the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit in redemptive-history?
What took place on the Day of Pentecost—the outpouring of the Spirit—is essentially tied to Christ’s accomplishment of salvation (see Jn. 16:7). Like Christ’s death and resurrection, this Pentecost event is a one-time event, where the Spirit is in essence deposited to the Church as the fruit of Christ’s obedience and sacrifice. The coming of the Spirit on Pentecost was in direct application to what Christ had accomplished through his crucifixion and exaltation (resurrection and ascension).
John 16:7 “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
Acts 2:33 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” [cf. v. 36]
Further, it ushered in or marked the last days (Acts 2:17).
The pouring out of the Spirit on the Church was delayed until Pentecost for the very purpose of aligning with and fulfilling God’s established purpose/significance of the feasts. The Day of Pentecost is the Feast of Weeks and consisted of a grain offering, the firstfruits to the LORD. It was also known as the day of the firstfruits and feast of harvest (Exod. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:17; Num. 28:26). It was one of the feasts in which all the males were required to appear before the LORD (Exod. 23:14-19), hence the enormous crowd surrounding the temple in Chapter 2 of Acts. Whereas the feast of harvest (Pentecost) was a time of firstfruits unto the LORD under the Law, here in Acts 2 we see the firstfruits unto the LORD under the gospel—the 3000 souls added to God’s people (see 2 Cor. 3:7-11).
How was the power of the Spirit manifested in the ministry of the Apostles?
The apostles manifested the power of the Spirit in their ministry by way of bold witness in their preaching/speeches (4:8-13, 33; 6:8) and miracles (3:6, 12; 4:7; 5:12-16; 19:11-12). In short, the Holy Spirit equips the Church to carry out its mission of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (Jesus crucified, risen, ascended, and reigning) to the whole world. Again, we see this important theme, evident throughout the Scriptures, of redemption accomplished and redemption applied. Christ has accomplished redemption through his earthly ministry, the climax of which is his crucifixion and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit applies redemption by convicting of sin, regenerating hearts, baptizing into the Church, and sealing until the day of glory.
III. Apostolic Witness
Thirteen of the thirty-five NT occurrences of “witness” occur in Acts [Bock; 2007. 64]. The apostles are the authoritative eyewitnesses of Jesus and his ministry—particularly his crucifixion and resurrection. We find this emphasized throughout:
1:21-22 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
2:32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”
3:14-15 “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.”
4:33 “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”
5:32 “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
10:39-41 “And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”
13:31 “He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.
22:15 “For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” [Ananias speaking; Paul recounting His conversion]
23:11 “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.’”
26:22-23 “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
This is why, at least in part, Luke focuses on the Apostles (particularly Peter and Paul). Their authoritative eyewitness accounts evidences the continuity of Christ’s ministry with theirs. It shows the Church to be in line with Christ and the Old Testament, not some new made-up religion of the day.
IV. The Church Multiplied
Acts can be divided in a number of ways. One way we could divide it is according to its main characters. In this regard, Peter is prominent in Chapters 1-12 and Paul is prominent in Chapters 13-28. However, we could also divide Acts according to the expansion of the gospel of the kingdom into the various regions of the world (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth). Judea is the larger region in which Jerusalem resides. Samaria is just north of Judea. A rough outline follows (with obvious overlap/mixture): Chapters 1-9 (Jerusalem and Judea), Chapters 8-11 (Samaria), and Chapters 11-28 (Gentile regions; ends of the earth). This expansion is summed up by key passages that speak about the increase and spread of the word (the gospel of the kingdom):
6:7 “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
9:31 “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”
12:24 “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
16:5 “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.”
19:20 “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
- The book of Acts is left open-ended. There is no real final conclusion, implying the continual witness of God’s people to the world—“the end of the earth.” We are the product of this continual spread of the gospel and we must be a part in carrying on this kingdom expansion.
- It is important that we keep in mind the redemptive-historical significance of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the authoritative ministry of the apostles. Failure to do so will tend to lead to unbiblical perspectives of Acts and the Church today, typically in the ideas that the Church today needs to have its own “Pentecost” and that the office of apostle is perpetual.
- Pray: that the Holy Spirit will work powerfully in each of us and as a whole, that we will be faithful and bold witnesses to those around us, that the nations/people groups of the world will be blessed with the gospel of Christ, and that much fruit will be reaped unto the Lord.