A Summary of Acts Lesson 1
If the Book of Acts underscores any truth, it is that of the sovereignty of God, who works all things in accordance with His will, whether or not men believe or obey. Much of what the Spirit of God accomplished in the Book of Acts was in spite of men. God can just as easily use the “wrath of man” to accomplish His will as He can the obedience of man. The Gentiles will hear the gospel, and many will come to faith on account of the Jews. First, we shall see the sovereignty of God in the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles and not just to the Jews alone. Second, we shall see the sovereignty of God in the salvation of Paul and in God’s use of him as a chosen vessel.
According to early church tradition, the book of Acts was written by Luke the physician, a companion of Paul on his second and third missionary journeys and on the voyage to Rome. It covers a timespan of approximately 32 years –from the ascension of Jesus Christ (ca. AD 30) to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (ca. AD 68). Certainly it has an historical form and its historical information is accurate, but its real purpose was theological.
Originally the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were one book in two volumes. Since the book of Acts is the continuation of the gospel account of all Jesus “began to do and teach,” it catalogs what Jesus continued to do and teach through the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. In fact, the principle theme of Acts is outlined by Jesus Himself: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Essentially, the theme of Acts focuses on the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and eventually the world of that day – or from a gospel given to the “Jews first” (chapters 2–9) and then to “the Gentiles” (chapters 10–26). Acts fills in the gap between the Gospels and the Epistles.
The Book of Acts provides us with a historical background for many of the churches which are dealt with in the Epistles of the New Testament. Although Luke-Acts is addressed to Theophilus, something must be said for the probability that Luke intended to have this work published and consequently envisioned an audience broader in scope than one man. His prologue to both the gospel and Acts emulates so much the ancient historians’ prefaces that it is quite evident that he wanted the work published. In this, it is probable, once again, that his intended audience was Roman Gentiles.
A Kingdom Question
So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will 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 part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8).
This is the last question that the disciples would ever have opportunity to ask of Jesus. It is a question regarding the kingdom. The question posed to Jesus by His apostles concerning the coming of the kingdom (Acts 1:6-8) showed they simply did not understand the nature of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom (Luke 17:20-21; John 18:36). Like all Jews of that day, the apostles labored under the same misconceptions. They initially believed the Lord came to establish a physical kingdom in Israel like in the days of David and Solomon over which He would reign as King from Jerusalem. The apostles were confused until their understanding was eventually clarified by the Holy Spirit. And the gospel is not a gospel for the Jews only; it’s not a gospel that says that the center of God’s purpose and activity is Israel. The middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has now been broken down, and this gospel of Jesus Christ, this kingdom of God was no longer to be thought of purely in terms of the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
A Promise of Power
“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
They are presently powerless. The Holy Spirit will come upon them in a way in which He has not previously come. It will be a coming with power. And it will be a coming to seal them into a permanent covenant relationship with God. As a result of the Spirit’s coming, they will be witnesses.
Notice that Jesus did not tell the disciples that they were all going to be evangelists or missionaries. They were not all called to be teachers or deacons. In the body of Christ there are many functions to which Christians are called. There is one office, however, to which all Christians are called, and that is witnessing.
Today, witnessing and evangelism are often regarded as the same thing, and this is not correct. There are all kinds of ways in which the church and Christians bear witness to Christ and to His kingdom. Evangelism— explaining the Gospel—is but one of these. Not everyone is called and gifted to explain the Gospel, but everyone is called to bear witness. Everyone is to call attention to the Gospel by his or her life, behavior, and words. We are to make visible the invisible reign of Christ as King. (https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-ascension-of-christ-2)
King of Kings
And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. (Acts 1:9).
What did the disciples see? They saw Jesus go up. And then they saw a cloud. Some of these disciples had seen this cloud before (Luke 9:28-36). The New Testament idea of ascension means something far more weighty than merely going up into the sky or even to the abode of the heavenlies. In His ascension, Jesus was going to a specific place for a specific reason. He was ascending into heaven for the purpose of His investiture and coronation as the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The King is already in place. He has already received all authority on heaven and on earth. That means that at this very moment the supreme authority over the kingdoms of this world and over the entire cosmos is in the hands of King Jesus. Everything is under His ownership and His rule at this very moment.
Return to Jerusalem
Act 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. Act 1:13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. Act 1:14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
The disciples did not spend all of their time in the upper room. Luke 24:53 adds that they were continually in the Temple, praising God.
The Choosing of the Replacement
Act 1:23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. Act 1:24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen Act 1:25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” Act 1:26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Acts 1 reminds us that it is not about us; it is about God. Acts is not the account of God choosing the best and most talented and godly people on the face of the earth, so that He can accomplish the Great Commission. Acts is the record of how our Lord is fulfilling the Great Commission by using weak and fallible men and women.
1Co 1:26-31 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”