Introduction to Acts
The book of Acts, summarizing the growth of the Christian church in the first century, is universally acknowledged to have been written by Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke, beloved physician and companion of the Apostle Paul. Like his gospel, Luke addressed the book of Acts to “the most excellent Theophilus,” and it is essentially a continuing record of the things that “Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) in the days of His flesh. Although Jesus had returned to heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell, guide and empower His disciples as they were to scatter around the world preaching His saving gospel.
Since Acts ends on a positive note, with no hint of the intense persecution and eventual execution which Paul would encounter just a few years afterward, it is evident that Luke must have written Acts soon after the events of the last chapter, probably about A.D. 62 (the great fire of Rome, which Nero used as an excuse to initiate his intense persecution of Christians, occurred in A.D. 64).
Luke himself was present during a portion of Paul’s travels as described in Acts. This is indicated by his intermittent use of the “we” pronoun in his accounts—first in Acts 16:10, later in 20:5 and again in 27:1, three verses which mark the beginning of his three periods of association with Paul. Thus he traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey from Troas to Philippi, then again on Paul’s third missionary journey from Philippi to Jerusalem and finally from Caesarea to Rome. He was later able to be with Paul during his final imprisonment just before Paul’s death (II Timothy 4:11), but presumably had no opportunity to incorporate these later experiences into his book of Acts.
The book of Acts is, of course, a book of history as well as a book of missions and evangelism. Its numerous references to cities of the first-century Roman world, to customs of the day, to political officials at various levels, often by name, and to various dates and events, leave the book open to detailed investigation and criticism in respect to accuracy. Contrary to expectations of the higher critics, archaeological research by Sir William Ramsay and others has confirmed its accuracy at every turn and in full detail. There is no longer any legitimate doubt as to its historical accuracy.
The book of Acts does, indeed, record numerous miracles, and these are hard for critics to accept. To the believer in God, however, recognizing the critical importance of this particular period in history, it is only to be expected that God would confirm the beginning of this new dispensation with unique signs. Immediately after the miraculous resurrection and ascension of God the Son, it is not surprising that the miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit would quickly follow.
Then, throughout the book of Acts, the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit is frequently noted. As some have pointed out, a better title for the “Acts of the Apostles” might well have been the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
1:1 Theophilus. The “former treatise” is clearly the gospel of Luke, both books being addressed to “Theophilus” (a name meaning “lover of God”). If Theophilus is not a generic name for anyone who is a lover of God, then the reference is evidently to a Roman official (as indicated by the adjective “most excellent” in Luke 1:3) in whom Luke had special interest, either seeking to lead him to Christ or to build him up in his newfound Christian faith.
1:1 Jesus began. Luke’s gospel contains the record of what Jesus began to do and teach. The implication is that Luke’s supplementary treatise tells what He continued to do and teach through the apostles by the enabling power of His Spirit, whom He sent to indwell and guide them at Pentecost.
1:3 infallible proofs. “Infallible proofs” is one word in the Greek (tekmerion) and occurs only this one time in the New Testament. It emphasizes that the evidences for Christ’s resurrection were not philosophical speculations but certain facts! It is appropriate that the word occurs only once, for no other event of Biblical history has been confirmed more certainly than His bodily resurrection. Not only His ten or more appearances to the disciples, but also the otherwise inexplicable evidence of the empty tomb, the remarkable change in the disciples, the development and spread of the church as a result of its preaching, the change to worship on the first day of the week, the age-long observance of Easter and the Lord’s supper, all in addition to the testimonies of the writers of the New Testament, as led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. These all combine to make it certain that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification.
1:3 forty days. As Jesus was victorious over His forty-day temptation by Satan (Luke 4:2), so He witnessed to His disciples for forty days of His greater victory over Satan through His death and resurrection (Hebrews 2:14-15).
1:5 baptized with the Holy Ghost. As John had “immersed” (literal meaning of baptizo) the disciples in water, they were shortly to be immersed in the Holy Spirit, in accordance with John’s prophecy (Mark 1:8) and Christ’s promise (John 14:16-17). He would henceforth immerse all future believers into the spiritual body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13), to indwell them, guide them and be with them always.
1:6 at this time. That the Lord will, at some future time, restore the kingdom to Israel, is clear from the fact that He did not correct this idea (often taught in the Old Testament Scriptures) in the disciples’ understanding. Note, for example, the further confirmation of this teaching in Acts 15:13-18. He did, however, indicate they were not to be concerned about the time of this future kingdom. They had other more immediate responsibilities.
1:7 times or the seasons. This admonition is still appropriate today. No human being, no angel—not even Jesus in the limitations of His human incarnation—can know the date of His return to set up His kingdom (e.g., Mark 13:32).
1:8 power. The “power” associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit on a believer is more than just a dynamic preaching style. It will also involve “boldness” and “great grace” (Acts 4:31,33) in witnessing, centered in the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 2:4-6) and manifestation of “the fruit of the Spirit” in one’s life (see notes on Galatians 5:22-23).
1:8 Samaria. In a sense this also provides an outline of the book of Acts. Acts 1–7 describe the witness in Jerusalem, Acts 8–12 in Judaea and Samaria, Acts 13–28 in the “uttermost parts of the earth;” the account suspended at the point when Paul had reached the distant capital of the Roman Empire. The narrative focuses mainly on the ministries of Peter and Paul, but the others scattered into various other regions (Acts 8:4). Traditions tell of Thomas going to India, for example, and of others preaching in various distant lands. In any case, the principle still stands. The Christian witness is vital both at home and abroad.
1:10 he went up. Jesus “went up” (as Elijah had long ago—II Kings 2:11) in His physical body, ascending into heaven, where He then “sat on the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). Thus heaven must be a real place in this physical universe created by God, not some ethereal dimension of time and space entered through a black hole or something of the sort.
1:10 two men. These “two men” witnessing the ascension may well have been the same “two men” at the empty tomb, and even the “two witnesses” who will prophesy in the last days (Revelation 11:3). See discussion on Luke 24:4.
1:14 one accord in prayer. This is the first of at least thirty occasions of prayer mentioned in the book of Acts. The ministry committed to Christ’s disciples is to bear witness of Him in all the world, but this must always be accompanied by “prayer and supplication.”
1:14 with his brethren. Not only Mary, who had been at the cross, but even “His brethren,” who had not believed on Him during His teaching ministry (e.g., John 7:5), were now among the disciples. Christ’s resurrection had apparently convinced them, as well as the others, to believe on Him as Savior and Lord.
1:15 an hundred and twenty. The 120 disciples could be regarded as members of the very first local church. They had not yet received the promised baptism by the Holy Spirit and were, as Christ had instructed, tarrying in Jerusalem, waiting to “be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). However, most of them (perhaps all) had already been baptized in water, either by John the Baptist or by one of the eleven (note John 1:35-37; 4:1-2), and thus were ready to baptize the three thousand new converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
1:18 purchased a field. By comparison with the account in Matthew 27:3-8, it is evident that Judas “purchased” this field only indirectly. He threw down his “blood money” (the thirty pieces of silver paid him for betraying Jesus) in front of the chief priests, who used it to buy the field called Aceldama (Acts 1:19), or “the field of blood” (Matthew 27:8). He then hanged himself, apparently in the same field, but bungled the attempt, actually dying as described in this verse.
1:20 book of Psalms. The reference is to Psalm 69:25, which contains several other prophetic references to the future sufferings of Messiah (Psalm 69:8-9,21).
1:20 bishoprick. The last clause is a free quote from Psalm 109:8. The word “bishoprick” literally means “overseer” and should be read here as “office.” Judas and his responsibilities needed to be assumed by another qualified disciple.
1:22 witness with us. Another requirement for being a member of the twelve apostles was that he must have witnessed the resurrected Christ. Note also I Corinthians 9:1.
1:25 his own place. Although Judas had walked with Christ and the other apostles for over three years, he was out of place there all the time. He was actually “a devil,” according to Christ Himself (John 6:70) and the “son of perdition” (John 17:12), because he had allowed himself, via his cupidity, actually to become possessed and controlled by Satan (John 13:2,27).
1:26 lots. Casting lots after prayer seems occasionally to have been an accepted way of determining God’s will in Old Testament times. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). With the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide the church, however, He is to be our guide, in accordance with Scripture. There are no further instances recorded of churches making decisions by casting lots.