Survey of the Book of Acts-Part I (Chapters 1 through 12)
It is believed by some scholars that Luke finished the books of Acts shortly before A.D. 62. Paul's trial in Rome was in A. D. 62, and that would have seemed to be an important feature in a book that spent two-thirds of its text on Paul's life, so why wouldn't Luke mention it if the book had been written later?
The book of Acts is just that-a chronology of the things or acts that the apostles did in the early day of the church. The book begins almost seamlessly from the end of Luke's gospel to the last words of Christ upon the earth before ascending into heaven. Much of what is practiced today in the name of Christianity comes from the examples if not the direct teaching of the first century church.
There are at least two plausible ways that the book of Acts could be divided. One is to take the theme of Witness and apply it to three divisions of the book:
This division is a plausible one and could well have been applied to the present study. However, the book can also be analyzed around two of its most colorful characters, Simon Peter (Acts 1: 1 - 12: 25) and Saul (Paul) from Tarsus (13: 1 - 28: 31). For the sake of brevity, these two internet pages will approach it that way.Organization, re-organization, and rapid growth of the church.
Jesus's ascension is portrayed in the first chapter of the book of Acts. The angels who heralded his departure spoke prophetically of Jesus's second coming. A careful readying of 1: 11 along with Revelation 1: 7 and II Thessalonians 1: 6- 10 would lead most to the realization that far from Jesus living and reigning on David's throne for a thousand years on earth, Jesus very likely will never set foot on earth again. I Thessalonians 4: 13-18 further promotes the teaching that the righteous will be caught up with Jesus in the clouds and will be taken home with Him in the heavens. All of these passages make the pre-millennial hypothesis very suspect.
The second chapter of the book of Acts sets the tone and character for the church which was established and still exists to this day. Jesus Christ is the center-piece of the teaching. Jesus Christ was re-affirmed on the day of Pentecost as the Son of God who had come to redeem man from their sins, but whom they in their ignorance and obstinance had killed. Entrance to the church, as established in Acts 2: 37-47, is controlled only by God and is accomplished when the person has heard the Gospel (Acts 2: 37), believed it (Acts 2: 37; Acts 2: 41), repented of his sins (Acts 2: 38), confessed his faith in Jesus (made more plain in Acts 8: 37), and had been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to receive the remission of sins (Acts 2: 38). Members were always added by God (Acts 2: 41, 47) rather than being voted in or ordained by man.
The three-fold mission of the church was evident from the day of Pentecost onward. The church was engaged in evangelism (Acts 2: 40), edification (2: 42), and benevolence (2: 44, 45), the same three-fold mission of the church today.
In Acts the third and fourth chapters we see the first organized resistance to the church. Simon Peter and John by the power of the Holy Spirit healed a lame man who was at the gate of the temple. When people in the temple reacted with surprise, Peter turns the attention to the Jesus whom he served (3: 12-26) and gave the commandment to them that they should repent, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (3: 19).
In chapter 4 Peter and John are put into custody and warned about their teaching activities by the Sanhedrin. Peter solemnly affirmed that they could not stop teaching what they had seen and heard (4: 20) and that they should obey God rather than me (5: 29). The benevolence of the church was shown again in 4: 32-37. In the fifth chapter we read about Ananias and Sapphira his wife, who lied about the amount of money gained from the sale of some land in order to appear more generous to their fellowmen than they actually had been. They were stricken dead on the spot. Fear came upon the church, and they learned from this that details are important and that people should never lie to God.
Chapter 6 tells about some servants that were appointed to the church, and these fit the job descriptions of deacons-they may well have been the first deacons. Never in the scriptures do deacons serve a congregation except under the direction of either apostles (Acts 6) or elders (I Timothy 3). In chapter 7, one of those deacons, Stephen, was taken to task for his teaching by the Sanhedrin. His trial and stoning are recorded in this chapter. Our first introduction to Saul of Tarsus, who would later be named Paul, is in 8: 1 where Saul was in agreement to the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
In chapter 8 we read of wide-spread persecution leveled against the church. This persecution had the effect of spreading Christian everywhere, and everywhere they went, they preached the Gospel, accomplishing exactly what was needed to effect the growth of the church. In Acts 8 we meet the young preacher and deacon Philip, who taught and baptized many. In Acts 8 we read from the sin of Simon the Sorcerer what a Christian should do when he discovers that he has sinned: he is no longer obligated to be baptized, but is to repent and pray for forgiveness. See also James 5: 16 and I John 1: 9. In Acts 8 we meet the Ethiopian eunuch and read of his conversion (8: 26-40). Verse 37 models the confession of faith that should be made before one is baptized; see also Matthew 10: 32, 33 and Romans 10: 9, 10 about confession of faith.
In Acts chapter 9 we read of the conversion of Saul; chapters 22 and 26 include re-tellings of the same incident. Whereas Simon Peter is the main figure of the early part of Acts, in the space of a few (probably three) years, Saul will be. Chapter 10 tells of the conversion of the first Gentiles in the baptisms of Cornelius and his household.
In chapter 11 Simon Peter is taken to task by the believers in Jerusalem who did not understand the preaching of the word to Gentiles. In verse 26 we read of the name for those who followed Christ: Christians. In chapter 12 the imprisoned Simon Peter is miraculously released and returned to his brethren. Throughout all of the events of the first twelve chapters of Acts, the church grows rapidly.
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