The Book of Acts has been called The Acts of the Apostles. This title was not given by the author Luke and is less than appropriate, for the book speaks of only a few of the apostles and their ministries--Peter, John, James (only in that Herod killed him) and Paul. None of the other apostles are mentioned. The Book of Acts is clearly not about the acts of the apostles, for if it were, it has the wrong ending. It ends without revealing how Pauls trial before Caesars tribunal turned out, a certain necessity if the theme of the book was about the apostles, their ministries, and what happened to them.
The Book of Acts is more properly a continuation of the Gospel of Luke and could be considered volume 2 of that gospel. Compare the opening verses of Lukes gospel to the opening verses of the Book of Acts.
Luke 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to draw up a narrative of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
Luke 1:2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and servants of the word handed them down to us,
Luke 1:3 it also seemed best to me after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning to write it in order for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Luke 1:4 in order that you may know exactly the certainty of the matters that you have been taught.
Acts 1:1 The earlier written narrative I made, O Theophilus, was of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach
Acts 1:2 until that day he was taken up after giving orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles, whom he had chosen.
In comparing the opening verses of the Gospel of Luke to the opening verses of the Book of Acts, note that Luke wrote the Book of Acts originally for the same man, a Greek named Theophilus, for whom he had also written his gospel. Note also that Luke referred to his gospel as his earlier narrative. The Book of Acts, then, is his second book. Thus we might consider Luke’s gospel Volume 1 and his Book of Acts Volume 2. The Book of Acts picks up where the Gospel of Luke left off with the account of Jesus and continues the account of Jesus from that point. Note, too, that Luke wrote in Acts 1:1 that in his gospel he had written about all that Jesus “began” to do and to teach. The word “began” implies that there is still more to be reported about what Jesus was then continuing to do and to teach.
The theme of Lukes gospel is that Jesus is the universal Savior. The Book of Acts continues this theme. It has been said that as the gospels present Jesus going about preaching the gospel and calling people to repent, so the Book of Acts presents Jesus continuing his preaching ministry through his witnesses whom he sent out into the world. The Book of Acts reports how the gospel of Jesus through his witnesses was spread in ever widening circles to Jews and Gentiles alike. Thus the theme of the Book of Acts can well be stated as: The Word of Jesus progressed from Jerusalem to Rome and the New Israel, the Christian church, grew.
The Book of Acts could also be considered a documentation on the work of the Holy Spirit to gather the New Israel, the Christian church, through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus. See below how many verses of Acts speak of the Holy Spirit and his activities.
Acts 1:2 giving orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles
Acts 1:5 you indeed will be baptized with the Holy Spirit
Acts 1:8 you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
Acts 1:16 the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold
Acts 2:4 they all were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak
Acts 2:4 in other tongues as the Spirit was enabling them to speak
Acts 2:17 I WILL POUR OUT FROM MY SPIRIT UPON ALL FLESH
Acts 2:18 IN THOSE DAYS I WILL POUR OUT FROM MY SPIRIT
Acts 2:33 having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit
Acts 2:38 you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
Acts 4:8 Peter, having been filled with the Holy Spirit
Acts 4:25 said by the Holy Spirit from the mouth of your servant David
Acts 4:31 they all were filled with the Holy Spirit
Acts 5:3 why has Satan filled your heart that you lied to the Holy Spirit
Acts 5:9 Why was it agreed with you to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?
Acts 5:32 the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.
Acts 6:3 filled with the Spirit and wisdom
Acts 6:5 Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit
Acts 6:10 they were unable to stand up to the wisdom and the Spirit
Acts 7:51 you always indeed resist the Holy Spirit!
Acts 7:55 But being filled with the Holy Spirit
Acts 8:15 prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit
Acts 8:17 they were receiving the Holy Spirit.
Acts 8:18 the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands,
Acts 8:19 the one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.
Acts 8:29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join this chariot.”
Acts 8:39 the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away
Acts 9:17 you should regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 9:31 proceeding in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,
Acts 10:19 the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.”
Acts 10:38 God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power,
Acts 10:44 the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were hearing the message.
Acts 10:45 the gift of the Holy Spirit had also been poured out upon the Gentiles.
Acts 10:47 who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did
Acts 11:12 the Spirit told me to go with them without hesitating
Acts 11:15 when I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them
Acts 11:16 you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 11:24 he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith.
Acts 11:28 he foretold by the Spirit that a great famine would take place
Acts 13:2 the Holy Spirit said, “Now then set aside for me Barnabas and Saul
Acts 13:4 these two having been sent by the Holy Spirit went down to Seleucia,
Acts 13:9 Saul, the one also called Paul, being filled with the Holy Spirit
Acts 13:52 the disciples were continually filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
Acts 15:8 bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit
Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us
Acts 16:6 they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit
Acts 16:7 the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them to do so.
Acts 19:2 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
Acts 19:2 ”But we have not even heard there is a Holy Spirit.”
Acts 19:6 the Holy Spirit came upon them,
Acts 20:22 having been bound by the Spirit I am going to Jerusalem,
Acts 20:23 the Holy Spirit is testifying to me in every city,
Acts 20:28 over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
Acts 21:4 They kept telling Paul by the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.
Acts 21:11 The Holy Spirit says this:
Acts 28:25 Well did the Holy Spirit speak through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers
The book is structured around 2 key figures or apostles. Acts 1 to Acts 12:24 key on the person and ministry of the apostle Peter. Acts 12:25 to Acts 28:31 key on the person and ministry of the apostle Paul. These 2 figures divide the book.
Luke indicated the structure of the Book of Acts at six points, all of which proclaim the word or the church grew. See below Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31. Thus, as stated above, the theme and purpose of the book could be stated as tracing the progress of the Word of Jesus and the growth of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.
Acts 6:7: And the word of God kept growing, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem continued to multiply very much, and a large number of the priests began to obey the faith. (This notes the preaching and the growth of the church in Jerusalem.)
Acts 9:31 Therefore the church throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria was having peace, was being built up and proceeding in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and was being multiplied in numbers. (This notes the preaching and the growth of the church throughout Judea and Samaria.)
Acts 12:24 But the word of God kept growing and was being multiplyied.
Acts 16:5 Therefore the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day.
Acts 19:20 In this manner the word of the Lord kept growing mightily and was wielding power.
Acts 28:31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, without hindrance. (These last verses note that the preaching of the word had by Paul reached the ends of the earth, to Rome, the capital of the Gentile world in Europe.)
The structure of the Book of Acts is organized around Jesus commission and mission strategy stated in Acts 1:8:
“You will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even as far as the end of the earth.”
Accordingly the book is structured as follows:
Part 1: Jesus witnesses spread his gospel in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jews, Acts 1:1-6:7.
Part 2: Jesus witnesses spread his gospel throughout Judea and Samaria, Acts 6:8-12:24.
Part 3: Jesus witnesses carry his gospel to the ends of the earth, to Rome, the capital of the Gentiles, Acts 12:25-28-31.
Outline of the Book of Acts:
(This outline is based on the above three part structure and on Lukes six divisional verses shown above.)
Part 1: Jesus witnesses spread his gospel in Jerusalem, Acts 1:1-6:7
Acts 1:1-11: Jesus commissions his apostles to be his witnesses. He conveys to them his mission strategy in verse 8. He then ascends into heaven.
Acts 1:12-26: After Jesus ascension the disciples gather in Jerusalem, at which time Peter as the leading spokesman urges them to elect an apostle to succeed Judas. The number is about 120 disciples.
Acts 2:1-42: On Pentecost, in fulfillment of Jesus promise that his disciples would receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is miraculously poured out on them. They then speak of the wonderful works of God in the foreign languages of the multitude of Jews who had gathered. Peter preaches a powerful sermon to the multitude of the Jews, which concludes by urging them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus. What the Holy Spirit did on Pentecost is the opposite of what the Lord did at Babel in Genesis 11. At Babel the Lord confused the language of the people who were set on glorifying themselves, not God. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to speak in many foreign languages to proclaim the glory of God. As a result the church grows and 3.000 souls are added to the New Israel, the Christian church. Pentecost marks the birth of the New Testament Church.
Note: Acts 2:42 states: “And they were continuing to busily engage themselves in the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.” Note on what the model Christian church concentrated its attention. Taking what is stated in this verse in the context of the preaching of Jesus’ gospel in Jerusalem, you will note that the model church concentrated on what has been called the formal goals of the church: fellowship, nurture, and service. The church did not concentrate on what many churches concentrate on today--the maintenance and survival goals: membership, numbers, buildings, and budgets.
Acts 2:43-4:4: Peter with John preach the Word of the Lord in Jerusalem and are opposed by the ruling council of the Jews. But many more Jews who hear Peters preaching are added to the church and the church grows to about 5,000 souls.
Acts 4:5-5:16: Peter and John are tried by the ruling council of the Jews and afterwards the apostles pray for power to preach the Word boldly. In answer to their prayer the Holy Spirit fills them and they speak the Word boldly. After the incident involving Ananias and his wife, the apostles perform miracles and teach in the temple. Multitudes of men and women are added to the church.
Acts 5:17-6:7: The apostles are arrested by the ruling council of the Jews but are released by an angel to speak in the temple. They are again taken into custody for trial and are released after being flogged. Each day afterwards they continue teaching in the temple and from house to house. To assist the apostles in their ministry the church elects its first deacons, or church leaders, to wait on the tables.
Acts 6:7 ends Part 1 by stating: “And the word of God kept growing, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem continued to multiply very much, and a large number of the priests began to obey the faith.”
Part 2: Jesus witnesses spread his gospel throughout Judea and Samaria, Acts 6:8-12:24.
Part 2.A: Jesus witnesses spread his gospel in Judea and Samaria, Acts 6:8-9:31
Acts 6:8-7:60: The persecution, trial, and murder of Stephen set the stage for an all out persecution of the church in Jerusalem by the ruling council of the Jews.
Acts 8:1-4: The persecution scatters Jesus disciples and spreads the church into Judea and Samaria, where they preach the Word. The Lord uses the persecution for the good purpose of spreading his church and the preaching of his Word. The fact that the Jewish disciples go into Samaria and preach the Word to the Samaritans is a significant act. It shows the Jewish disciples have overcome their hatred of the Samaritans and that the Word will not be bound by such hatreds and prejudices.
Acts 8:5-40: The ministry of Philip in Samaria, where the Samaritans rejoice in the gospel in their city (8:8). They believe and are baptized (8:12). The gospel is preached to many Samaritan villages. Philip shares the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, a Gentile proselyte to the Jewish faith, who is baptized. Philip takes the gospel as far as Caesarea in northern Samaria.
Acts 9:1-31: The conversion of Saul (Paul) who preaches the word of Jesus to the Jews in Damascus, Syria.
Acts 9:31 ends Part 2.A by stating: “Therefore the church throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria was having peace, was being built up and proceeding in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and was being multiplied in numbers.”
Part 2.B: Jesus witness Peter spreads his gospel in Judea and Samaria, Acts 9:32-12:24
Acts 9:32-35: Peters ministry in Lydda and Sharon of Judea/Samaria where their residents believe and turn to the Lord.
Acts 9:36-43: Peters ministry in Joppa of Judea/Samaria where many believe in the Lord.
Acts 10:1-48: Peters ministry to the Gentiles of Cornelius household in Caesarea of Samaria, who receive the baptism of the Spirit like the disciples did on Pentecost. The Spirit plainly shows that in the church of Jesus there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.
Acts 11:1-18: Peter defends his ministering to the Gentiles, which he did by the Spirits direction.
Acts 11:19: The disciples who were persecuted in Jerusalem at the time Stephen was killed also scattered to Phoenicia, the island of Cyprus, and to Antioch in Syria. They bring the Word to the Jews in those places.
Acts 11:20-30: Some disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene preach the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria. A large number there believe in Jesus. The church of Antioch is established of both Jews and Gentiles.
Acts 12:1-24: Herod kills Johns brother James and persecutes Peter.
Acts 12:24 ends Part 2 by stating: “But the word of God kept growing and was being multiplied.”
Part 3: Jesus witnesses carry his gospel to the ends of the earth, to Rome, the capital of the Gentiles, Acts 12:25-28-31.
Part 3.A: Jesus witness Paul makes his first missionary journey to Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Galatia, Acts 12:25-16:5. (The Word of the Lord spreads and Jewish and Gentile disciples are united into one free church. Confer Jesus prayer for his church of believers in John 17:20-23).
Acts 12:25-13:3: Paul and Barnabas are commissioned at Antioch, Syria, by the Spirit to be missionaries to the Gentiles.
Note: The church of Antioch, which was not a huge congregation with unlimited resources, becomes the headquarters for foreign mission work to the Gentiles. The church is motivated by conviction and commitment to be such a mission oriented congregation.
Acts 13:4-12: Pauls ministry on Cyprus starts at Salamis, where he brings the Word to the Jews, and ends in Paphos, where the Gentile proconsul Sergius Paulus hears the Word and believes.
Acts 13:13: Pauls ministry in Pamphylia
Acts 13:14-50: Pauls ministry at Pisidian Antioch in Galatia, where he brings the Word of the Lord to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Verses 48,49 state that many Gentiles believe and the Word is spread throughout the whole region. Unbelieving Jews there instigate a persecution and drive out Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 13:51-14:6: Paul brings the Word to Jews and Gentiles in Iconium, Galatia, where a great multitude of Jews and Gentiles believe. But again unbelieving Jews arouse the Gentiles, incite a persecution, and drive out Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 14:6-19: Pauls ministry in the cities of Lystra and Derbe of Lycaonia and that surrounding area of Galatia, where he preaches the gospel. Unbelieving Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium track Paul down in Lystra, stir up the crowds of Lystra, and stone him. They leave him for dead.
Acts 14:20-28: Paul retraces his steps from Derbe back through Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, strengthening the converts and having elders and pastors elected in the local churches. Then he proceeds back through Pamphylia and returns to Antioch, Syria, which is where he had begun his first missionary journey.
Acts 15:1-31: The First Ecumenical Council of the Church is held at Jerusalem to settle the Judaistic Controversy. Jewish converts called Judaizers contend that the Law of Moses, especially circumcision, must be followed by Gentile believers for them to be saved. The council agrees that all are saved by the grace of Jesus alone without observing the law of Moses. Jewish disciples extend a greeting and welcome to the Gentile disciples by means of a letter, which brings joy and unity in the gospel to the church. The freedom of the gospel that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus is preserved.
Acts 16:5 ends Part 3.A, Paul’s first missionary journey, and notes what takes place at the outset of his second missionary journey in Part 3.B by stating: “Therefore the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day.”
Part 3.B: Jesus witness Paul makes his second missionary journey to Macedonia and Achaia in Greece, Acts 15:35-18:22.
Acts 15:35-16:5: Paul and Barnabas preach and teach in Antioch, Syria, the mother church, until they part company to strengthen the churches. Barnabas takes John Mark with him to Cyprus. Paul takes Silas to the churches in Syria, Cilicia, and then to Derbe and Lystra in Galatia.
Acts 16:6-10: The Spirit prevents Paul speaking the Word in Asia and Bithynia, but leads him to Troas where the Spirit directs Paul by means of a vision to proceed to Macedonia, the northern province of Greece.
Acts 16:11-40: Pauls ministry in Philippi of Macedonia in northern Greece, where he with Silas brought the Word to the Jewish women, including Lydias household, and to the Gentile jailers household. There the church of Philippi is established and the Word of the Lord takes a foothold on the continent of Europe.
Acts 17:1-9: Pauls ministry in Thessalonica of Macedonia, where he first brings the Word to the Jews. Some Jews believe, as do a number of Greek proselytes (converts) to the Jewish faith. The unbelieving Jews there form a mob and persecute the newly formed congregation of disciples who met at Jasons house.
Acts 17:10-13: Pauls ministry in Berea of Macedonia, where the Jews believe the Word as well as a number of leading Greek citizens, both men and women. The unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica come to Berea and stir up a persecution of Paul and the church in Berea.
Acts 17:14-34: Pauls ministry in Athens of Achaia, the southern province of Greece, where he preaches to the leading citizens and philosophers of the Areopagus, among whom some believe.
Acts 18:1-17: Pauls ministry in Corinth of Achaia, where he works with Aquila and Priscilla, a husband and wife, as a tentmaker and teaches the Word on the Sabbath to the Jews and Greek proselytes. Then he begins a full time ministry of preaching to the Jews. When the unbelieving Jews resist the Word, Paul starts a church in the house of Titius Justus, which is next door to the Jewish synagogue. Many Jews and Gentile Corinthians believe. Paul teaches there for more than 1 and 1/2 years.
Acts 18:18-22: Paul leaves Corinth, travels by sea to Ephesus in Asia where he makes a brief visit and speaks the Word to the Jews. He promises to return if it should be Gods will for him to do so. He then returns to Antioch, Syria, which completes his second missionary journey.
Part 3.C: Jesus witness Paul makes his third missionary journey, Acts 18:23-21:14.
Acts 18:23-28: Paul revisits the churches in Galatia while Apollos is preaching in Ephesus.
Acts 19:1-19: Pauls ministry in Ephesus. He instructs about 12 disciples of John the Baptist, whom he baptizes with the Trinitarian baptism in Jesus name and on whom the Holy Spirit comes mightily. Paul stays in Ephesus teaching the Word, first to the Jews until some harden their hearts, and then to the Gentiles. Many believe.
Acts 19:20 wraps up the significance of Pauls second and third missionary journeys by stating: In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Acts 19:21-41: Paul is intent on returning to Jerusalem. Paul and the disciples in Ephesus have their lives threatened when the silversmiths there riot because of the success of Pauls preaching in Ephesus.
Acts 20:1-6: Paul spends 3 months revisiting the churches in Macedonia, Greece, and then sails to Troas in Asia, where he spends the day teaching the Word.
Acts 20:7-38: Paul travels enroute to Jerusalem to Miletus in Asia, where he speaks to the elders and pastors from the area of Ephesus and bids them farewell.
Acts 21:1-14: Paul sails from Miletus, past Cyprus, to Tyre in Syria, and arrives in Caesarea of Samaria, which brings his third missionary journey to its end. Along the route Paul is warned not to set foot in Jerusalem.
Part 3.D: Jesus witness Paul takes his gospel to Rome, the Gentile capital of the world, Acts 21:15-28:31.
Acts 21:15-26: Paul reports to James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, and to the leaders of that church, about his missionary journeys. Paul is advised to follow the Jewish custom of purifying himself before going to the temple, lest he antagonize the Jews who had heard Paul was teaching that the law of Moses and circumcision did not have to be followed.
Acts 21:27-23:10: Paul is seized in the temple by the Jews, but rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul defends his ministry by speaking to the Jews, but they react violently and Paul is taken into Roman custody.
Acts 23:11-33: The Lord stands beside Paul to encourage him and to tell him that he must witness the Word in Rome. To thwart the Jews plot to murder Paul, the Roman commander transfers Paul to governor Felix in Caesarea, Samaria.
Acts 23:34-24:27: Felix gives Paul a hearing before the Jewish religious leaders, who bring charges against Paul. Felix holds Paul in custody as a prisoner for 2 years. Felix is succeeded as governor by Porcius Festus.
Acts 25:1-26:32: Festus holds a hearing of Pauls case and favors the Jews trying Paul in Jerusalem on the charges they bring against him. The Jews are planning to ambush Paul on the way to Jerusalem and to kill him. Paul appeals to have his case tried by Caesars tribunal in Rome. Festus agrees to send Paul to Caesar. Later Paul defends himself before Festus and King Herod Agrippa.
Acts 27:1-28:15: Paul is sent under guard with other prisoners to Rome. Enroute his ship sails into a vicious storm and is wrecked off the island of Malta.
Acts 28:16-29: Paul arrives in Rome and is held under house arrest. He has the freedom to have the Jewish leaders in Rome brought to him. Paul speaks the Word to them. Some are persuaded by Pauls teaching, but others refuse to believe. Paul tells those unbelieving Jewish leaders that they were fulfilling the words of Isaiah with their hardened hearts and dull ears, for which reason salvation is being sent to the Gentiles.
Acts 28:30,31: These verses end Part 3 about taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, and they end the Book of Acts, stating: “And he stayed two complete years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all those who were coming to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, without hindrance.”
Outstanding Elements Of The Book Of Acts:
1. The persons and ministries of Peter and Paul.
2. Jesus ascension, Pentecost which marked the birth of the New Israel and Christian Church, the churchs calling its first deacons or lay leaders to assist with the ministry, the conversion of Saul (Paul), the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles of Cornelius household, the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church.
3. The Word of the Lord spread and the church grew from Jerusalem in the middle east, the Jewish capital, to Rome in Europe, the Gentile capital, which would become the center of the western church.
4. The Word of the Lord spreads and the church grows in the face of opposition from without: persecution by Jews and Gentiles, arrests and imprisonments by the ruling authorities.
5. The Word of the Lord and the church prosper in the face of opposition from within: the Judaizers who insist the Law of Moses must be kept to be saved. The gospel of salvation by Gods grace alone through faith alone is preserved and Jewish and Gentile believers are joyfully united in the freedom of this gospel.
6. The power of the Spirit working through the Word brings men and women to faith and gathers the church, Gods New Israel, together into one body in Jesus Christ.