Over the coming months, we will be studying the book of Acts chapter by chapter, but as an introduction to the book, here are some of the common themes we find within that book.
- Jesus, who was crucified, is alive! (Acts 2:32-33) The apostles were astonished by the news of the resurrection and took every opportunity to speak about this Christ, crucified by the authorities, but raised to life by God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus stand at the centre of the preaching in Acts.
- Jesus is the Messiah and Lord, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. (Acts 2:16-39, Acts 17:2-3) It’s impossible to understand the book of Acts without an understanding of the Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s Messiah. The apostles use prophetic names and apply these to Jesus (e.g. Messiah, Lord, Saviour, Lamb of God, Son of David), being convinced that Christianity is the fulfilment of pure Judaism (see Acts 7:2-53 and Acts 21:9-28:28).
- The Holy Spirit does the miraculous as the message of Jesus goes forward. Truly, this is a book dominated by the Holy Spirit (He is mentioned over fifty times in the 28 chapters). Keith Ferguson says, ‘the narrative of Acts makes the case that both the witness of the church and the miraculous power of the Spirit are required for gospel to spread’, noting that miraculous signs accompany the preaching of the Word (see Mark 16:20). Miracles abound in this book – healings (e.g. Acts 3:6-9), deliverances (e.g. Acts 19:12), even the raising from the dead (e.g. Acts 20:7-10), and it is noteworthy that Luke records these miracles happening to both Peter and Paul:
- Peter heals a lame man (Acts 3:2-8), so does Paul (Acts 14:8-10)
- Peter’s shadow has healing power (Acts 5:15); Paul’s handkerchiefs do too! (Acts 19:12)
- Peter exorcises demons (Acts 5:16); so does Paul (Acts 16:18)
- Peter has a victorious encounter with a sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24); so has Paul (Acts 13:6-11).
- The Holy Spirit comes on believers when Peter lays hands on them (Acts 8:17); the same happens with Paul (Acts 19:6)
- Peter raises the dead to life (Acts 9:36-41); so does Paul (Acts 20:9-12)
- Peter has a miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:6-11); so has Paul. (Acts 16:25f)
- The apostles boldly proclaim the truth about Jesus to all regardless of consequences. The power of the Holy Spirit turned cowards to crusaders, ‘wimps’ to witnesses! There was much persecution and opposition to be faced (Acts 4:2-3, Acts 5:17-18, Acts 9:1, Acts 12:1-2, Acts 13:50, Acts 14:5, 19, Acts 16:16-40, Acts 17:5, Acts 18:12), but the apostles spoke out fearlessly, astonishing those in authority. (Acts 4:13)
- God’s power can turn the most unlikely of sinners to Him. The story of the conversion of Saul to Paul (see Acts 9) is a reminder that no one is beyond the reach of God. Paul was God’s ‘chosen instrument’ to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), but this story of how the one who persecuted the early church became its most powerful advocate reminds us that with God, nothing is impossible. (Matt 19:26)
- The gospel is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religious background or moral values. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the story of salvation is one of the great themes of Acts, showing us ‘that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ (Acts 10:34-35) Salvation is seen as part of God’s sovereign plan (Acts 2:23-24), bestowed by Christ (Acts 13:38-39) and offered to all people, not just Jews (see Acts 2:17, 39).
- God has chosen to and will build His church through His people. (Matt 16:18, Eph 1:22-23) We may despair at times over the state of the church in our nation, but God remains committed to the church and so should we.
Luke undoubtedly wrote as a historian and as a Christian apologist, defending the Christian faith against accusations of sedition. He reminds us that history is not random, but is directed by God Himself, His acts being witnessed by people who can give an eyewitness account to others. As John was later to put it, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’ (1 John 1:1-3)