At a Glance
Author: Luke, beloved physician, friend, and companion to Paul
Audience: Theophilus, and all “lovers of God”
Date: mid- to late-AD 60s, though possibly 70–85
Type of Literature: Ancient historical biography
Major Themes: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the church, mission, persecution, discipleship, and social dimensions
The Church is Born — 1:1–6:7
The Church is Persecuted and Expands — 6:8–9:31
The Church and Mission to the Gentiles — 9:32–12:25
First Missionary Journey and Full Gentile Inclusion — 13:1–15:35
Second and Third Missionary Journeys — 15:36–21:16
Paul’s Arrest and Journey to Rome — 21:17–28:31
The book of Acts provides us with the startling details of how the church of Jesus Christ began. We see the pillar of fire that led Israel through her wilderness years appearing in the upper room and splitting into 120 personal pillars of fire over the heads of the lovers of God. This inspired account of church history will awaken your soul with transforming power and give you courage to be a witness for Christ wherever he sends you!
Although many consider this book to be the “Acts of the Apostles,” only two apostles are predominantly mentioned in Acts: Peter and Paul. It would be more accurate to call it the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” God indeed uses men and women to fulfill his purpose—those who are empowered, filled, anointed, and overflowing with the Holy Spirit.
Acts takes up the story where Luke left off. We begin with 120 disciples who had been in a ten-day prayer meeting. It explains the explosive beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that resulted in tongues, prophecy, miracles, salvations, and the birthing of countless churches. Acts provides us with the story of Paul’s three missionary journeys, with many gentile nations hearing the gospel and believers being added to the church. Acts demonstrates the healing miracles of Peter, Paul, and the apostles. We see miracles in answer to prayers, including signs and wonders, and many deliverances. God will do what only God can do—and he is still working in power today through his yielded lovers.
We learn much about the Spirit of God in Acts. Without him there would be no church, no evangelistic impact, no miracles, and no expression of the power of God. For it is not by human means, human power, or human might, but by the limitless power of the Holy Spirit that God’s kingdom realm advances on the earth. Jesus builds his church through the Holy Spirit.
Like the book of Luke, Acts is a quick trip through history—this time the history of Christ’s body, the church. His purpose for writing was to offer a vivid portrait of the church’s birth by cataloging the historical events in the movement of those who carried the good news about Jesus far and wide throughout the Mediterranean world.
The book of Acts confirms and further defines the identity of the church as the community of people who follow Jesus. Luke paints this picture with the Holy Spirit at the foreground, not background, of the church through the impartation of gifts and the miraculous signs and wonders that are present at every turn. He wants to make crystal clear that the life and work of Jesus continues on in the life and work of the church—which means it continues on in and through you and me!
Author and Audience
Both Luke and Acts were written by a physician named Luke. The material in Luke and Acts covers a period of about sixty years, from the birth of Christ to the birth of the church and the early years of the expansion of God’s kingdom realm on the earth. You could consider Acts to be “Luke, Volume 2,” since he wrote them both for the lovers of God.
Luke wrote both of his books to someone named Theophilus, which means “lover of God.” You are also meant to be the recipient of Luke and Acts, for Luke wrote them to you, the lover of God. You are the most excellent and favored one. He wrote his books for you!
Jesus, the Exalted, Exclusive Lord of Salvation. Acts opens the way Luke closes: with the ascension and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father. In essence, the disciples pick up where Jesus left off in seeing the salvation of the world realized. Not only is he the object of the church’s affection, Jesus is the content of their message! Luke makes it clear that salvation is found in no one and nothing else but Jesus and his name. Over fifty times the word name appears in Acts, signifying that Jesus is the exalted, exclusive Lord of salvation. Through him and him alone we are saved!
The Holy Spirit of Power. There are almost four times as many references to the Holy Spirit in Acts as there are in the book of Luke. If Jesus was front and center in Luke, the Holy Spirit takes center stage in the book of Acts! He is the promised gift dispensed to Christ’s disciples and unleashed through them on the world in full power. He enables the church to carry out its mission, empowers them to bear witness to the gospel, and anoints God’s people to perform mighty wonders. The Spirit isn’t reserved for the select, holy few; he is the promised gift given to all whom God has called and who believe in his Son.
Salvation for the World. The book of Acts makes it clear that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:21). One of the most moving episodes is when Simon Peter is given a vivid dream from heaven. In this dream God essentially says the non-Jewish people Peter thought were unclean are now clean and also invited to partake of the same salvation he and the Jews enjoyed. Later the full council of church leaders realized the same thing: Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus was available to the entire world!
The Church, Mission, and Persecution. In a book about the birth of the church, you’d think you’d find more references to “church” than the twenty-three times the term appears in Acts. That’s because Luke has a unique word for the church, that of a community called “the Way.” His point is that the church of Jesus is a distinct community who are on a love-mission by the One who loves the world with fiery passion! For Luke, the church isn’t merely a “gathering” or “assembly” (the English definitions of the Greek word); she’s a movement—a Spirit-fueled movement led by leaders who articulate and apply the power of the gospel. And like most movements, the church faces opposition and persecution, yet triumphs and expands through the Holy Spirit’s power.
Discipleship and Ethics in the Church. Discipleship is transformed in Acts because after Pentecost believers are able to follow Jesus in ways they couldn’t before they received the Spirit. Because of the Spirit, this community is an active community on an intentional mission to bear witness to the risen Christ in both word and deed. Proclamation is a central focus of this community in Acts. So too is their care for one another and the world around them in the name of Jesus. Such a commitment to the mission and message of Christ finds its expression in all their lifestyle. Through their love for neighbors and God, prayer, perseverance in suffering, watchfulness, faith, joy, and commitment to the lost, we find on-fire disciples of Jesus at every turn!
Women and the Poor. Luke continues the tone set in his Gospel here in Acts, insisting women are fully included in Jesus’ work through his community of followers. They receive the Spirit of power in full measure, empowered as witnesses of who Christ is and what he did. In some contexts women teach and prophesy. Luke makes it clear that unlike many social contexts, women aren’t dismissed and aren’t forgotten. Neither are the poor! While the term poor doesn’t appear in Acts, we see the church rising up to provide for and care for them. Not only do they pool their resources together to care for the poor in their city, they send food along to other cities in need. They are gospel people who give out of the abundance of grace and mercy they’ve received from their heavenly Father!