Acts is another very interesting book in the New Testament that is just after the four gospels. The book starts in a similar way to the gospel of Luke, and therefore on that basis we can conclude that this book was written by Luke, who also wrote his gospel. We get some sections in Acts that have ‘we’ in them, suggesting that Luke was with the apostle Paul or others as they were travelling to preach the gospel to the nations. This is another hint that Luke was accompanying them and was the one who write Acts. Luke wrote to the most excellent Theophilus in the introduction of his gospel (Luke 1:3), yet here in Acts he only refers to him as Theophilus (Acts 1:1). It has been remarked that Theophilus was a gentile person (not Jewish) and had some sort of great position in the world. When he read the gospel of Luke, it has been suggested that Theophilus was converted and became a believer in Christ, and therefore Luke drops the title ‘most excellent’ in Acts and just calls him by his name. It seems that Theophilus had become a close friend of Luke, but more importantly, a brother.
The gospels introduce us to the Lord Jesus Christ and His ministry, proclaiming the gospel, healing, loving mankind. We are also introduced to the Lord’s Supper, as He instituted this for His disciples to remember Him. Acts shows us the practice of these things – the preaching of the gospel, people being saved, and the practice of remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread as He asked His disciples to do.
After the introduction, Acts commences with the risen Lord Jesus Christ with His disciples, talking to them about the kingdom of God and the promise of the Father (the descent of the Holy Spirit). The disciples still thought that He would restore the kingdom to Israel again, but the Lord Jesus brought them into a far greater privilege and position – that they would be part of the Church, the body and bride of Christ, and so He gently told them that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons. He was introducing them to a far greater promise and heavenly things and blessings.
The key to the book of Acts is in chapter 1:8 where the risen Lord told His disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth. Here we can divide Acts into three sections in connection with these places in verse 8. It has been noted that the title ‘Acts of the Apostles’ should be called ‘the Acts of the Holy Spirit’ because throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is working in the apostles.
I can write many pages about Acts, but this is not the purpose here. The purpose is to provide an outline and suggest a division that is helpful for personal study. The book of Acts is notable for describing many scenes of persecution of Christians and conversions to Christ. It is in Acts that the disciples became known as Christians in Antioch (a city in what is known today as Turkey)! See Acts 11:26.
The persecutions commenced in the early parts of Acts from the Jewish leaders, and then later gentiles and nations who did not want to repent, persecuted the disciples and anyone who went to preach the gospel to them. Is this not like what is happening today? The disciples in Acts were staying in Jerusalem, obviously forgetting the words of the Lord Jesus Christ that they must also be witnesses outside of Jerusalem, so the persecutions commenced in Jerusalem to get the disciples out of the city and going to all parts of the world. Stephen was notably the first character who was heavily persecuted and martyred for the name of the Lord, and a young man named Saul was present and consenting to Stephen being killed (Acts 7:58; 8:1).
Some remarkable conversions of people to the Lord are found in Acts and they present an interesting sequence, especially in chapters 8, 9 and 10. In chapter 8 we see the first conversion of a gentile person, someone who even did not live close to Israel. The start of the chapter shows Philip preaching in Samaria and the ministry flourishing, but Philip was led to speak to a eunuch from Ethiopia about Christ. The story itself is remarkable but there is no time to describe it here. In the eunuch, we see perhaps a descendant of Ham (one of the sons of Noah back in the book of Genesis), representing people from Africa – Ham’s sons perhaps ventured into Africa after the flood, converted to the Lord Jesus. He was reading the prophet Isaiah and the Holy Spirit was already working in him so he could receive the gospel and receive salvation.
In chapter 9 we have the well-known conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle. Saul was persecuting the Church and even wanted to go as far as Damascus (a city in Syria) to bring Christians as prisoners. But the Lord stopped him, and in the conversation, the Lord said that Saul was persecuting Him (Acts 9:4-5). Saul had to learn the truth about the Lord Jesus as the Head of His Church, and it was much later that Paul wrote this truth in his epistles. Saul, or Paul, was a descendant of Shem (one of the sons of Noah), representing the Jewish people, who stayed in and around Israel after the flood.
In chapter 10 we find another remarkable conversion of someone who was a high-ranking person but feared God and gave to the poor. Cornelius was a gentile, perhaps a descendant of Japheth (one of Noah’s sons) whose sons perhaps ventured into Europe after the flood. God had already been working in the heart of Cornelius and it was Peter who preached to him and his house. Peter had to learn that God does not differentiate between people and what God has cleansed, no one should call common or unclean (Acts 10:15).
In these three chapters it is remarkable how the Holy Spirit works in hearts of the people from different backgrounds, different positions, different levels of understanding, and opens their eyes and hearts to receive the gospel and be saved. Again, much can be written about these chapters. With God there is no differentiation and there is nothing impossible.
The division of Acts is as follows:
- Chapter 1 to 7 – the witness and ministry in Jerusalem – the formation, beginning, and establishment of the Church (all believers in Christ) in Jerusalem.
- Chapters 8 to 12 – the witness in Samaria and among neighbouring nations.
- Chapters 13 to 28 – the witness and ministry to the gentiles and to the uttermost part of the earth. Paul’s three missionary journeys are described here. He established local Churches in places he went to and the sufferings and what he went through are described here and in 2 Corinthians 6 and 11.
We can look at this in another way, the Peter is the main character in chapters 1 to 12 and Paul is the main character in chapters 13 to the end.