The writer is undoubtedly Luke. He also wrote Luke’s Gospel. Compare Acts 1:1 with Luke 1:1-4. He was known as “the beloved physician” (see Colossians 4:14).
The Title of the Book
To many, the present title is quite inadequate because the content of the book deals chiefly with the work of only two apostles, namely Peter and Paul. The title, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” seems more appropriate. In the twenty-eight chapters, the Holy Spirit is mentioned seventy times. The Holy Spirit’s coming, filling, empowering, and guiding are all enumerated in this book.
The first purpose is vital to the message in Acts 1:1—“of all that Jesus began to do and to teach…” The Lord Jesus began His work on earth and continues to work from heaven, through the Holy Spirit. The second purpose is key to the analysis provided in Acts 1:8—“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” We learn four things from this verse:
(1) The central subject of Christian witness is Christ.
(2) The exclusive source of Christian witness is the Church.
(3) The widening sphere of Christian witness embraces the world.
(4) The unfailing secret of Christian witness is the Holy Spirit.
Note how the thought “ye shall be witnesses of Me” is developed in the book.
Chapters 1-7: Witness in Jerusalem, the city. The witness at Jerusalem was chiefly to the Jews.
Chapters 8-12: Witness in Judea-Samaria and beyond, into the provinces. The witness in Judea-Samaria was the transition period between the first and the third.
Chapters 13-28: Witness to the uttermost parts of the earth, into the world. The witness to the uttermost parts was chiefly to the Gentiles.
In each of these ministries, Christ is the theme, the Church is the means and the Spirit is the power.
The relationship of Acts, both to the Gospels and the Epistles, is unique. Acts is supplementary to the Gospels. For instance:
(1) It shows how the keys of the kingdom of heaven, given to Peter (see Matthew 16:19) were used by him in admitting the Jews, in Acts 2, and the Gentiles, in Acts 10, into the church through the Gospel.
(2) The prediction regarding the Church (see Matthew 10:18), “I will build my church” is fulfilled in Acts.
(3) The promise of the Spirit in John 14:26 is fulfilled in Acts.
(4) The commission given in Matthew 28:19-20 and Luke 24:46-47, was implemented in Acts. Thus, this book supplements the Gospels.
Let us now consider the values of the book.
1. The Historical value: Luke touches secular history, geography, and biography. Luke gives us the history of the first 60-65 years of Christianity (30 years in Luke and 30 more in Acts). It begins in a manger in Bethlehem and extends to the center of the Roman Empire.
2. The Biographical value: Almost eighty people are listed on the record and they are drawn from every walk of life - kings, judges, and governors. Peter and Paul could be said to be the main characters in the unfolding drama. Other notable individuals were Stephen, Philip “the evangelist,” Barnabas, Timothy, Apollos, Aquila and Priscilla, John Mark, and Silas. Most of these we hear of again in Paul’s Epistles.
3. The Doctrinal value: The observant reader will discover some of the fundamentals of the faith, such as the Deity and Manhood of Christ, His vicarious death and particularly His resurrection, His ascension, His coming again, the forgiveness of sins and the judgment that is to come. These vital truths are fearlessly proclaimed by the apostles. Many seed thoughts are found in the book, which are later developed in the Epistles.
4. The Dispensational value: This value lies in the record of the transition from Judaism to Christianity. It is the bridge between the Old and the New Covenant. Hebrews is the break between the two. It also draws the distinction between the Church and the Messianic Kingdom.
5. The Spiritual value: The Acts is a record of the Spirit-begotten, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-guided Church. Please note the intimate relationship between the Holy Spirit and the various churches. Also note His relationship with various individuals. We would do well to cultivate this relationship today.
Acts 1:8 provides us with a basis for the outline of the Book.
A - Ye shall be my witnesses (Persons)
B - In Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts (Places)
(1) The Apostolic Commission (Acts 1:1-11)
(2) The Gospel in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12-8:3)
(3) The Gospel in Samaria (Acts 8:4-11:18)
(4) The Gospel in the Uttermost Part (Acts 11:19-21:14)
(5) The Gospel in Caesarea and Rome (Acts 21:15-28:29)
Much of this book revolves around Peter and Paul. Peter is prominent in the first twelve chapters where the church’s center is at Jerusalem. From chapter 13, Paul takes over as he reaches out to the Gentiles. The church’s center is moved to Antioch.
One could not give an outline of the Acts without mentioning the three missionary journeys of Paul. The first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 13-14, the second missionary journey takes place in Acts 15:36-18:22, and the third missionary journey is recorded in Acts 18:23-21:14.
Highlights of the Book
- The overall working of the Holy Spirit. Through Him we have:
Power (Chapter 1),
Utterance (Chapter 2),
Boldness (Chapters 3-4)
Wisdom (Chapter 6)
- The Lord’s ascension
- The advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
- The establishment of the Church
- The stoning of Stephen
- The conversion of Saul of Tarsus
- The bringing in of the Gentiles
- Paul’s three missionary journeys
- Paul’s imprisonment, which ends in Rome