The book of Acts has often been called “The Acts of the Apostles,” which is certainly what the book describes, primarily beginning with Peter in Jerusalem and then following Paul’s missionary journeys all the way to where the book ends in Rome. But many commentators have pointed out that it is particularly the Holy Spirit who empowers and drives the ministry of the Apostles, and so others have suggested a revised title “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” which is also good and helpful. But if we read the first sentence of Acts, Luke seems to have yet another layer in mind: these are the Acts and Words of Jesus continued.
The opening line of Acts also highlights the nature of the book: it’s a book of action and words, adventures and messages: from jailbreaks to shipwrecks to sermons, miracles, baptisms in the middle of the night, mobs, beatings, and conspiracies, it ranks among the most fast-paced adventure stories of the Bible. And Luke is teaching us that these adventures are what Jesus does through His Spirit, working through His people.
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…” (Acts 1:1-3)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This is the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) Luke’s second book on the acts and teaching of Jesus (Acts 1:1, Lk. 1:1-4). As in that first account, Luke is particularly concerned with eye-witness testimony that confirms the certainty of the Christian message (cf. Lk. 1:2-3). “Theophilus” means “lover of God” or “beloved of God,” and therefore, it works as a generic title for any believer, but the formal address of “most excellent” suggests that Luke may have had a particular man in mind as well (Acts 1:1, Lk. 1:4).
Luke’s first volume recounted what Jesus began to do and teach until He was taken up (Acts 1:2). But He wasn’t taken up into Heaven until He had given commandments by the Holy Spirit to His apostles, whom He had personally chosen previously (Acts 1:2, cf. Lk. 6:13-16). It was to those apostles in particular that He proved Himself alive after His death by many signs (Acts 1:3). In fact, He showed Himself alive for forty days between His resurrection and ascension, giving signs and teaching them the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
John Calvin says that during these forty days, Jesus “briefly set down the end of the doctrine of the gospel; namely, that God may reign in us. Regeneration is the beginning of this kingdom, and the end thereof is blessed immortality; the middle proceedings are in a more ample going forward and increase of regeneration.” The reign of God begins in the capture of the capital city of a man and its complete surrender, and it proceeds until the whole country is subdued to His righteousness and holiness. He who begins that kind of work always completes it (Phil. 1:6). This is the central adventure of Christian faith: submitting to Jesus wherever He leads.
The book of Acts begins and ends with this message of the “kingdom.” The book closes: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). Closely related to the “kingdom” theme are the last two words of the book in Greek: parresia and akolutos. The word parresia means “boldness,” and akolutos means “unhindered.” We will return to these words throughout our study of the book of Acts, but suffice it to say for now: these are the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God. Citizens of the Kingdom are bold and unstoppable, and this is because Jesus reigns in them. We will see throughout our study that every attempt to stop the gospel failed: prisons, stoning, persecution, mockery, mobs, lies, even the sins of God’s people. At every point, King Jesus broke through, and the mission continued boldly and unhindered.
WORD & DEED
The other thing Acts emphasizes and Luke underlines here in the opening is the unity of word and deed. Jesus is our Savior and Lord by His actions and His teaching (Acts 1:1). He proclaimed the gospel with all authority, and then He accomplished the gospel with all authority. He proclaimed the authority to forgive of sins, to cast out demons, and to raise the dead, and then He suffered for our sins, destroyed the power of the Devil on the cross, and rose from the dead. This is also the mark of all faithful Christian leaders. Jesus warned against the scribes and Pharisees, telling His disciples that they ought to do what they teach but not what they do (Mt. 23:3). “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Mt. 23:3). Faithful leaders, like Jesus, lead by action and prove their teaching by their lives.
The Christian faith is not merely a religion of words; nor is it merely a religion of deeds. It is a religion of word and deed, faith and action, doctrine and signs. This begins with faith and obedience: we are justified by faith alone, but we are justified by a living and fruitful faith that always works by love (Gal. 5:6, Js. 2:17-26). As Jesus says, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46) Is Jesus Lord? Is He King? Has He purchased you with His precious blood? Isn’t He worthy? Obedience to King Jesus is the greatest adventure.
The book of Acts is addressed to the “lover of God” or the “beloved of God.” And there’s no one who loves God, except those who are loved by God first (1 Jn. 4:10). But the love of God is no tame, inanimate thing. It was Augustine who put into words what seems implied everywhere in Scripture: the Holy Spirit is the love of God, the love of the Father and the Son. This love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).
But the Holy Spirit is the creativity of God, the power of God, the wisdom of God, the fierce loyalty and kindness of God: think of Creation, Noah, Bezalel, Samson, Ezekiel, Mary, Pentecost. This is no tame Spirit, no tame love. This Love is full of life, adventure, joy, and action. Acts is a record of the bold and unhindered Spirit-Love of Christ driving, compelling, pressing His people forward into the Kingdom, compelling the whole world to come with us.