The Book of Acts was written by Luke, the author of the third gospel. Originally both books formed one volume, and the opening verses of Luke’s gospel actually serve as a preface to Acts, his second book. Luke’s purpose in writing was that Theophilus (“One dear to God”) might have an accurate account of the progress of Christianity from its earliest days. It seems that Luke’s volume was completed about 62 AD. The title “Acts of the Apostles” did not appear until the second century. As only three of the original apostles (Peter, James, John) are mentioned, and most of the recorded “acts” were performed by Peter and Paul, a more apt title might be “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” He is mentioned over 50 times by Luke. Acts has been likened to both a window and a bridge. As a window, it gives insight into the early Church. We can see how local companies of believers met and how they engaged in evangelism. As a bridge, it connects the gospels with the epistles and also shows the transition from Judaism to Christianity. We see the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, its reception by the Gentiles, and the Romans’ reaction to it.
A large portion of the book is devoted to Paul’s arrest and appearances before various courts. By going into such detail in the closing chapters, Luke confirms what he has already demonstrated. Christianity had posed no threat to Roman law and order – whether in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, or Ephesus. Indeed, as far as the Romans were concerned, Paul could have remained free if he had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:32). The main enemies of the gospel clearly were not the Gentiles, but the Jews.
Three very significant statements in Acts deserve our attention. Near the beginning are recorded the Lord’s words before His ascension. Prior to leaving His disciples, He outlined their task. The coming Holy Spirit would empower them, and they would be His “witnesses … both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8 KJV). At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given, and the remainder of Acts shows how the gospel was preached in His power in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and through Paul’s journeys spread to “the uttermost part of the earth.” By the end of Acts it had reached Rome – the most influential Gentile city at that time.
A second significant statement occurs near the middle of Acts. On his first missionary journey, Paul preached in the synagogue in Pisidian, Antioch. His Gentile listeners were interested to learn more, and pleaded with him to return. The next Sabbath the synagogue was packed, but the Jews, filled with envy, began to contradict Paul. Hearing this, Paul and Barnabas boldly faced their antagonists and declared: “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). Paul and Barnabas had obeyed the Lord in taking the message to the Jews first. Their decisive rejection of the gospel opened the door to the next stage: it would now be taken to the Gentiles. The rest of the book describes how that was done. Increasingly the Gentiles, not the Jews, were brought into blessing.
The final verse of Acts is also significant. Having reached Rome, we find Paul “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). The ending seems unusual, and we are left wondering why Luke brought his volume to such an abrupt conclusion. Two reasons may be considered. First, there was no more history to record at that point. Luke was up-to-date with events. But there is another reason. Acts also appears “unfinished” because Church history remains unfinished. The work of evangelism must go on. Until Christ returns our responsibility is, with confidence, to make Him known to all.
By Martin Girard