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).