-Introduction: This fascinating historical book chronicles the period of time from Christ’s ascension back to Heaven in the mid-30s A.D. until about the mid-60s A.D. shortly before the martyrdom of the Apostle Paul. Luke, the physician, is the well-educated author of this work, and he is a Gentile, which is abnormal but shows the inclusive nature of God’s newly formed church in this new covenant age. The area covered in the narrative stretches from Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives from where Christ ascended all the way to the seat of the Roman Empire in Rome, where the work concludes (Acts 28:11-31). The key verse that would summarize this book can be found in Acts 1:8, where Luke states the words of Jesus Christ, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This verse lays out the structure basically for the book. The apostles start in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit, which comes upon them in mighty power and miraculous signs to establish the church with the authority of Christ. The church then expands as Peter takes a leading role, along with James and John, there in Jerusalem. But the church expands outward to Judea and Samaria with the diaspora created by persecution in the church by the religious establishment. The Gentiles encounter the Holy Spirit at His leading the Apostle Peter on the west coast of the land of Israel by chapter 10. In the meantime, and even before this happened, Saul, who had persecuted the church, has a dramatic conversion to Jesus and is called specifically to the Gentiles as a minister of God’s reconciliation. As the gospel spreads and the work begins to focus on the Apostle Paul’s (Gentile name for Saul), we are treated to many early accounts of the victories and challenges of Christianity as it spread into Asia and Europe. As we read through this journey, notice the themes of church (ekklēsia- the assembly) beginnings, the Holy Spirit’s work, church growth principles, Evangelistic fervor, the nuances of spiritual warfare with the demonic by mighty people of God filled with His Holy Spirit. This book is sometimes called “The Acts of the Apostles,” but I prefer “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” in early church formation.
-Chapter 1: Luke continues his historical narrative into the accounts of the early church to Theophilus and all lovers of God everywhere (Acts 1:1). He ties the work together in brilliant fashion and brings up an important theological point by verse six where the disciples ask Christ if this is the time when the Kingdom of Israel will be restored. They had been under foreign domination and subjection for many hundreds of years (back to approximately 586 BC). This is the time of the Gentiles, and we are still living in it to a degree. The interesting modern day fact in regards to this is that the modern state of Israel became a sovereign nation once again in 1948. Although, it can be argued that the United Nations, and in particular America, have had a major voice in how Israel has conducted her affairs. This is the first step in the literal fulfillment of Israel becoming the eternal Kingdom under Christ Jesus’ rule (2 Samuel 7, Revelation 19:11-16; 20:1-6).
-The disciples rightly recognized that some incredible prophetic events were taking place in their time and wondered what would be happening next in God’s timetable. Jesus reminded them that it is not for us humans to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts 1:7). Then Jesus gives them a contrasting statement that will set the course, for them and the church, for the present age in which we live. He tells them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them to be witnesses of Him in their locale of Jerusalem spreading out to Judea and Samaria (the local region near them), and even to the furthest and most remote parts of the world. Much could be said about this verse. In fact many sermons could be preached from it, but for the purpose of this work it is suffice to say that this is the clarion call to go and make disciples in His strength (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).
-The ascension takes place now as Jesus goes back to His Heavenly realm from the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. The promise of His return is given by two angelic men robbed in white standing beside them as they watched Him depart (Acts 1:9-11).
-The command for the disciples was to go back to Jerusalem and wait until they were endowed with power from on high by the Holy Spirit. While they were there praying and continually devoting themselves to the work of the Lord, Peter stood up in a role of leadership and summoned them to select another apostle to add to the office of the eleven since Judas had become the apostate. Matthias was selected by prayer and finally the drawing of lots (Acts 1:12-26). *Application* This is evidence that sometimes decisions are simply too difficult to make in our own strength and power. They turned the matter over to God who knows all hearts of men (Acts 1:24). Providential devices (such as the lots here or maybe a coin toss in our age) should become the governing guide only after all thinking and prayer based on the Word of God has been done. Don’t be flippant in making decisions, seek God and His answers. This is what the apostles did.