As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading. The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding. It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book. I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read. I hope it’s helpful. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!
All In Study Notes: Acts
Acts is the story of the movement Jesus began—the Church—recording the years from Jesus’ ascension (around 28-33 AD) to around 62 AD. It was written by Luke as a sequel to His Gospel (He mentions his friend Theophilus as the recipient at the beginning of both books). Luke was a doctor, probably a Gentile, and a travel companion of Paul. He does not mention himself in Acts, but beginning in 16:11, he uses the pronoun “we,” which probably means that is when he joined Paul’s group.
There is a theory that Luke wrote this as a defense for Paul in his trial in Rome. We know from 2 Timothy (Paul’s last letter) that Luke was with Paul at the end. The ending of Acts is abrupt, which makes us think it is a story in progress. And some think that Theophilus, because Luke calls him “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3) may have been a Roman official or Paul’s legal counsel. A more widely held theory is that Theophilus was a Gentile believer or a “God-fearer,” and that Luke wrote to his friend to help build up his newfound faith. At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he gives his purpose (Luke 1:4): That you may know the certainty of the things that you have been taught.
Themes of Acts
To the ends of the earth: This is a book about missions: the mission of God in the world and our part in it. The story starts in Jerusalem, but shows how a mix of missionary work and persecution brought the Gospel ultimately to Rome (the most important city in the ancient world).
The risen Christ: For the apostles, the resurrection was the key event in history. They didn’t preach a new morality or new religious rituals. Their main message was that God had sent His Son into the world to save us, and that this was proven by the resurrection. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it (2:32). It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed (4:10). If anyone had offered evidence that the tomb was not empty, or that someone had stolen Jesus’ body, the Christian movement would have died. But no one could contradict this revolutionary message.
The Holy Spirit: Some say the name of the book should be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” He shows up in chapter two, and the apostles are never the same. He empowers the previously timid men to preach powerfully and work miracles. He calls new men and women to do amazing things in His name. He pushes the first Christians to take the message outside the Jewish world. He calls Saul and Barnabas to the mission field.
The Church: In Acts, we see the Church at its best. In spite of challenges from outside and within, the people of God love each other and represent Christ boldly in a hostile world.
Unhindered: The last word in Acts is appropriate (28:31). Throughout the book, people try to stop the Gospel from spreading through legal maneuvers, riots, torture, imprisonment, and murder, but nothing works. The Gospel is unstoppable.