Introduction to the Book of ActsThe Book of Acts is the second part of Luke's "account of the things that have been fulfilled among us" (Luke 1:1). Again we do not know exactly who Theophilus was, but we know that Luke was a Physician... a scientist of his time whom Paul had met in Troas. (Acts 16:7-10). In his first book he told the story of Jesus' earthly ministry as he was able to determine it from eye- witnesses. His sources would have been Mary, the mother of our Lord, Peter, and other disciples.
In this book, the story centers around two primary figures of the early church... Peter and Paul. Peter is the dominant figure in the first 12 chapters and Paul's ministry is narrated in the last 16 chapters.
Some have suggested that the book would better be titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit, for it is the work of the Holy Spirit through the lives of these Apostles that is recorded. After the day of Pentecost, these men were not the same as they had been when we read about them in the Gospels. They were impowered by the Spirit in astonishing ways. Yet it is the Apostles that were the vessels used in those years immediately after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to "turn the world upside down." (Acts 17:6).
We will find that outstanding features of the book are the several summaries of the Gospel which are recorded here from the preaching of Peter, Stephen and Paul, and information about how the early church functioned. We see examples of how the church was extended from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, then the entire known world (vs.8). And we will read of the "many dangers, toils and snares" that came to the disciples as they stood against the opposition of every culture in order to evangelize the world. These were men made great by the power of God working in them.
Verse 8 provides us with another natural division of the book of acts. Not only can we divide it into 2 parts centering around Peter and then around Paul. We could differently divide it in 3 parts focusing on the ministry first in Jerusalem (Chapters 1-7), in Judea and Samaria (Chapters 8-12) and the entire world (Chapters 13-28). These last chapters could likewise be subdivided into 4 parts according to Paul's 3 missionary Journeys and then his imprisonment and trials.
One outstanding event merits mention in our outline and that is the Jerusalem council which falls between Paul's first and second missionary Journeys. Thus our sketchy outline of the book might look like this:
I. From Ascension to Pentecost (Chapter 1)
Acts Chapter 1
Luke makes reference to the former book which is the book of Luke, which we have just completed in our study. Then he sets the scene for this second book. It will include what he knows about what happened after Jesus was taken up at the time of the ascension.
He recounts the order of events which took place after Jesus suffered.
Two quotations from the risen Jesus are included in this first section of Acts chapter 1. The first:
"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."John had foretold this from the beginning: "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Luke 3:16).
And it had been foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament as well: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Now the time of the fulfillment was eminent. They were to stay in the city and wait for the spirit to descend "in a few days."
The second quote from Jesus is in response to a question about the time when the kingdom would be restored. He had also answered this question before. Now he said:
"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But 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."He redirected the curiosity of the disciples. They wanted to know times and dates. What he told them is what would happen and how they would be empowered. And with that he was taken up from them in a cloud.
Imagine the awesome sight. This was not an ordinary cloud of moisture which received the Lord. This surely must have been the presence of the shekinah cloud of God's glory which received him. This was the cloud of God's presences which had inhabited the tabernacle in the wilderness, and had hovered in the Holy of Holies of the temple.
And so he shall return:
"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."(Acts 1:11)
So they returned to the city and they gathered in an upper room where they remained "constantly in prayer." as they waited for the gift which the Lord had promised. With them were other disciples including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers which would have included James and Jude the writers of 2 of the epistles.
Peter called on the group to elect a 12th Apostle from among the group to take Judas' place and fulfill the scripture. (Psalm 69:25 and 109:8) They set forth a single qualification. It was to be someone who had been with them since John's baptism of Jesus through the time of His ascension to heaven.
Two men were proposed: Joseph Barsabbas who was known as Justus, and Matthias. They prayed and then they cast lots between the 2 and Matthias was chosen.
It is important to note that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. So that even when they prayed they must look to the old testament tradition of casting lots to determine the expression of God's will. The priest's garb contained two stones, the Urium and the Thumium, which were used for casting lots to determine God's will. They surely did not have these stones, but never-the-less they were accustomed to using such means for determining God's will because they were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We, who have experienced the personal leadership of the Holy Spirit may find this unusual or even irreverent, but it does serve to underscore the fundamental difference between having received the gift of the Spirit and not having received it! Without the indwelling presence of Christ's Spirit they were ill equipped to make such a decision.
In fact, it is likely that they were completely off on a tangent here. History gives us the perspective to know that God's 12th man was undoubtedly Paul - not Matthias. We never hear any more about the man they elected before Pentecost. Yet their motive was to do the will of the Lord... and therefore they waited faithfully and prayerfully for the gift to come upon them.
Tomorrows lesson brings us to the Pentecost story. God bless us all!
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© 1998 Susan Kliebenstein