The Book of Acts: Bridging the Gap
"...but you shall receive power when the
Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth."
These are some of the words of Jesus following His resurrection from the grave. They were spoken to His apostles just prior to His ascension into heaven. These eleven men had been with Him from the beginning of His ministry. They had seen and heard it all. For the previous forty days, they had also been witnesses to His resurrection. God's plan to save man was about ready to enter into its final phase.
Have you ever considered what a puzzle the New Testament would be without the Book of Acts? This book is vitally important in understanding the rest of the New Testament; the gospels that precede it as well as the epistles that follow it. It functions as a bridge which join the gospels and the epistles together. It covers a thirty year transitional period as the "great commission" is carried out: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19).
How Did This Happen?
"...if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister." (Colossians 1:23).
How does one go from the eleven apostles plus about 120 other disciples at Jerusalem to churches existing all over the known world in just about three decades? This is what Book of Acts tells us.
"I will build My church." (Matthew 16:18). As the gospels end, this promise was as yet unfulfilled. By the time of the epistles, we find the church located throughout the known world; at Corinth and Ephesus and Philippi and Rome, and many, many others cities and towns.
"I will send the Helper; the Spirit of Truth." (John 15:27). Neither is this promise fulfilled as the gospels come to a close. However, we see in the epistles that the Holy Spirit had already come as they are being written (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19). At the conclusion of the gospels, this commission had not been accomplished, with the exception that Mark does briefly supplement the commission by informing the reader that "they went out and preached everywhere..." but gives no details at all. But by the time the epistles are written, the gospel had been preached "in all the world" (Colossians 1:6).
Eleven apostles. (Luke 24:33). At the conclusion of the gospels, there are eleven apostles. Judas is no longer among them, having committed suicide over his remorse at having "betrayed innocent blood." But by the time of the epistles, there are, in addition to these eleven, a certain apostle named Paul, unknown in the gospels. Not only that, but the majority of the epistles were written by him. Apart from the book of Acts, we would know very little about how it came to be that this former persecutor of the church became such a dynamo in its behalf (1 Corinthians 1:1).
"... make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19). There's much said about the Lord's disciples in the gospels, but never once are they referred to as "Christians". But they are known as "Christians" in the epistles (1 Peter 4:16). Where did that name come from. We learn this only in the book of Acts (Acts 11:26).
No local church government. There was nothing said about local church government. How would a local church operate as an organization? It was only later that God revealed what He wanted, and men were appointed to be elders and oversee the work of the local church of which they were a part (Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1).
Redemption (Matthew 26:28). As the gospels close, Jesus has paid the price of human redemption with His blood shed on the cross. However, the gospels close before either the first gospel message is proclaimed to sinners or the first sinner is baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
However, in the epistles, we have disciples who have been "buried with Christ in baptism" and have been "freed from sins". (Romans 6:3,4;7). It is in the book of Acts that we find the first gospel sermon preached, and the first invitation offered to "repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).
Some Key Facts in the Book of
"The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach..." (Acts 1:1) Luke is the historian who wrote the book of Acts, himself being a witness to much of what is recorded there. The "first account" he mentions above is the gospel which he wrote and which also bears his name. He did careful research, interviewing the eyewitnesses and recording, by inspiration, the facts he had compiled (Luke 1:1-4).
The book of Acts ends abruptly, speaking of Paul as a prisoner in Rome and continuing, even as a prisoner, carrying out the 'great commission" that had been given to the apostles by Jesus three decades earlier; "...preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." (Acts 28:31). Perhaps the abruptness of the ending is due to the fact that Luke wrote of events up to what was the present for him. Another possibility is that the point was that the "story" of the carrying out of the Lord's commission has no "end" , or at least we have not reached it as yet. Disciples are still, even today, preaching and teaching "concerning the Lord Jesus Christ..."
The attitude of the apostles help to understand why they were so successful at carrying out the commission. This attitude is seen, for example, in the answer of Peter and John to the rulers who had just forbade them to teach anymore about Jesus, They answered: "...for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20).
The book of Acts is also a record of many of the conversions that took place during the first thirty years of the gospel. Over and over again people are brought to the point of faith in Jesus. When they ask what must be done, they are told to obey the gospel of Christ. Believers are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. This response is repeated throughout the book. "And now, why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, washing away your sins calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16).
So, that is the book of Acts in a nutshell. It is important to be familiar with it in order that our understanding of the gospels which precede it as well as the epistles which follow it may be enhanced. The book is certainly well placed in our New Testaments: functioning as a bridge between the gospels and the epistles, and showing us the Lord's church in action, blessed by God, and committed to His word.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 6.3; March 1999