The Acts of the Apostles, or Acts, is a historical account of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the early church and the expansion of the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.
The book was written by Luke, the physician who traveled with the apostle Paul, and is a follow-up to his Gospel account.
The book begins right where Luke’s Gospel left off: Jesus has risen from the dead and is continuing to teach His disciples about what it means to live in His kingdom.
In the opening chapter of Acts, Jesus ascends to heaven, but before He does, He promises to send His own Spirit to fill those who believe He is the risen Son of God and Savior of the world.
Jesus last words to the disciples are this: “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 1:8).
Shortly after on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples, who are then empowered to fulfill Jesus’ commission to preach the Good News to all on earth who will listen.
Acts 1:8 sets up the structure for the book, which can be broken into three main sections. In chapters 1-7, the Gospel is preached in Jerusalem. In chapters 8 and 9, the Gospel is preached in Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 10-28, the Gospel message is taken “to the ends of the earth.”
After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples and other followers of Jesus form a community, which we know as the church. They live generously, prayerfully and worshipfully—serving the poor, selling their possessions for the benefit of others, sharing meals and meeting together regularly.
In the same way the life of Jesus in the Gospels is a model for Christians to mirror their lives after, the church in Acts is a model for future churches to mirror.
But though the church flourished by the power of the Holy Spirit, it didn’t grow without opposition. Jesus’ disciples are persecuted by Jewish religious leaders, just as Jesus was. By the power and grace of God, the Gospel message continued to spread and gain momentum, despite intense, often violent persecution.
Many of Jesus’ followers, like Stephen in chapter 7, were killed for their faith in Christ. But they believed the Gospel was worth the cost.
While the book highlights the work of several of Jesus’ followers, it focuses mostly on the ministries of Peter and Paul. The first half focuses on Peter’s ministry, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.
In chapter 9, Saul is introduced. He is a Jewish religious leader who persecutes Christians until he has a miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
The Lord renames Saul, Paul, and Paul goes on to become a missionary, preacher and church planter who takes the Gospel message all the way to Rome.
The latter half of Acts focuses mostly on the missionary journeys of Paul and his coworkers Silas, Barnabas, Timothy and even Luke.
The book ends with Paul’s arrival in Rome, where “he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
The Holy Spirit: The most unifying character in the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to perform miracles and preach the Gospel with boldness; those who believe in the Gospel receive the Holy Spirit and form a community of believers known as the church; and the Holy Spirit fills believers and equips them to carry the Gospel message from Jerusalem into all the world. Many Bible scholars argue that a more fitting name for the book would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 1:8 • Acts 2
Acts 8-9:31 • Acts 10
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Acts describes the birth and growth of the church of Jesus Christ, and it provides a message of courage, faith and hope to its readers.
Acts displays the incredible power that the Holy Spirit has in the lives of obedient, committed believers, the strength of a unified body of believers and the life-transforming power of the Gospel message.
Though following Jesus is costly, Acts provides examples time and again that He is worth following, no matter the cost.