Survey of the Book of Acts-Part II (Chapters 13 through 28)
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 study begins with "The Witness to the Remotest Parts of the Earth" in Acts 13: 1 to the end of the book.
In Acts chapter 13, Saul (to be named Paul in verse 9) and Barnabas begin what will become know as the First Missionary Journey. Barnabas is the only man who directly in scripture was called "a good man" (11: 24) although the goodness of many other characters is recounted as well. By chapter 14 they are in the area of Lystra and Iconium, bastions of idolatry. They teach an number of people and many are baptized. But the people of the region are far from unified in a new-found devotion to Christ, and Paul is stoned (14: 19). Only four verses later-and in a time frame that church historians believe to be anywhere from less than a year to no more than a year and a half-the churches there have grown enough and the leadership had matured enough that the appointment of elders was possible. This gives some reflection to the elder selection process today. Candidates for elder should be qualified (compare to the passages in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but a congregation should not expect flawlessness from any group of men who would serve them as elders.
In Acts 15 we read of what is sometimes called the Jerusalem council. This is significant because this account gives us some idea how the church, complete with apostles to lead and to clarify, worked through scriptural problems in the first century. It is evident that both sides of the argument about keeping the Old Law were heard, and respectfully. The recent teachings of Jesus were incorporated into the decision to identify the core beliefs to be "carried over" to the New Law setting, and that most of the teachings about the Old Testament such as the sacrifices and festival days would not still be binding upon believers in the Christian Age.
Chapter 15 is also instructive about how two apostles worked through a sharp disagreement. Two apostles, Barnabas and Paul? Acts 14: 14 seems to indicate that Barnabas was also by that time considered an apostle. But Barnabas and Paul disagreed about taking John Mark with them on the Second Missionary Journey. Instead of becoming embittered about the issue, they agreed to go their separate ways on missionary work (Acts 15: 39, 40) and after their departure, both teams-Paul and Silas, and Barnabas and Mark-do much good in the Lord's kingdom. The time would come when Paul in his old age would look forward to seeing John Mark again (Colossians 4: 10). Sometimes people who disagree today can be friends and partners in a later time.
Chapter 16 includes the account of the conversion of the Philippian jailer. Paul and Silas had been put into jail because of their teaching. A miraculous earthquake opened the jail just after midnight, and Paul scarcely kept the jailer from taking his own life since the penalty for letting prisoners escape was death. The jailer was taught; he was told to believe in the Lord Jesus; and within a few hours the jailer had shown his repentance of his sins by washing the stripes of Paul and Silas and had been baptized, he and all his house, immediately.
In Acts 17 we read of Paul's journeys to Thessalonica and to Athens. In Acts 17: 30 we read the famous exhortation about repentance and personal responsibility: "The times of ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Ignorance is and will be no excuse before God.
Exiting chapter 18 and into chapter 19 believers are given two examples of what to do if one is led to Christ but not baptized or not baptized for the right reasons, by the right method, or into the right name: Be baptized the right way. A dozen men at Ephesus complied with this teaching.
Paul labored for three month in Macedonia, and those efforts are reported in Acts 20. As Paul left the region he spoke to the elders of the church in Ephesus:
28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Several realizations are evident from Paul's remarks: (1) falling away from grace is possible; (2) it is possible to be led away even by those who seem to be spiritual (3) elders are ordained by the Holy Spirit and not just by man.
In Acts chapter 21 Paul is arrested, and in chapter 22 he is brought before an angry, truculent crowd. He recounts his conversion, in ways that further amplifies the events of Acts 9. In Acts 22: 16 we are reminded that baptism washes away sins. By Acts 23, Paul is defending himself before the Sanhedrin, and makes every effort to speak to any group of people about Jesus Christ that he can. He shrewdly divides the assembly by bringing up the topic of the resurrection, since the Sadducees did not believe in it but the Pharisees did. In Acts 24, the courtroom drama continues. In chapter 25, Festus and in turn Agrippa question Paul. In chapter 26, Paul for the third time in scripture tells of his conversion after the encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul appealed, as his Roman citizenship allowed him to, for a hearing in front of Caeser. This became his boat ticket in chapters 27 and 28. Shipwrecked on his way to Rome, he preaches all the way there, and enjoyed considerable freedom to preach while in Rome (28: 30, 31).
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