Today we begin the book of Acts. This is the second part of Luke’s history, which continues what Jesus began to do in the Gospel according to Luke (1:1), which ended with the ascension (v. 2). Note already Luke’s continued focus on the Holy Spirit. In verse 4, we see the importance of the church’s mission beginning in Jerusalem. That is where God would again make His presence with man by the Holy Spirit, which is the promise of the Father (see Luke 24:49).
Luke now fills in some details of the ascension. Jesus gave some final instructions to His Apostles, who still didn’t understand fully what was about to happen (v. 6). In Jesus’s answer to their question, note that He echoes language He used about His Second Coming (v. 7 – see Matt 24:36). Jesus’s answer about restoring the kingdom to Israel is about His coming to reign over the whole earth.
Jesus then tells them explicitly that the Holy Spirit will come upon them, and they will receive power (v. 8). With that power, they (and this includes the whole church) are to be witnesses (see Luke 24:48) starting in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Samaria, and then to the end of the earth. It is a faulty application (which I have heard a million times) to say that our mission wherever we are is to evangelize our town, then expanding to our country and then other countries, until we evangelize the whole world. This is not what Jesus is saying. He is talking about reclaiming the world for God. He is going to regain what man has lost!
As we saw, God’s presence last dwelt in Jerusalem (see our discussion of Luke 24). The mission will start there because God’s presence will return to where He last dwelt with man, this time by His Holy Spirit. Then, He will reclaim the last nation He rejected. Which nation is that? Judah (see 2 Kings 23:27). The returned Jews from Babylon now resided in Judea. Then He will reclaim the next to last nation He rejected. Which nation is that? Israel (see 2 Kings 17:7-18), which after the return from Assyrian captivity became Samaria. God is working in reverse order here.
Next, He will reclaim what He rejected before that. And what is that? The whole world! At Babel, God disinherited the nations and dispersed them all over the world (see Gen 11:9) and gave them over to the other “gods” (Deut 32:8-9). Now, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the church would overcome those “gods” (the powers of darkness) and reclaim the world for Jesus. Remember, the Apostles had authority in Israel over demons, but not outside of Israel (see Mark 9:18). Only Christ did (see Mark 9:25). Now, through the power of His Holy Spirit, the church would have that authority, and the gates of hell would not prevail.
And when exactly was this “promise of the Father” (v. 4) given? When did He say the Holy Spirit would come upon them? Isaiah 32:15 and Joel 2:28-29 (see below for more on that). When did He promise that through the Spirit the church would be His witnesses starting in Israel and extending to the end of the earth? Isaiah 43:10-12 and 49:5-6.
In verse 9 we see that Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight. This is how He will return (vv. 10-11 – see Matt 26:64, Rev 1:7). The disciples then return to Jerusalem to devote themselves to prayer (v. 14 – see Mark 9:29). Among the disciples are the 11, the women that followed Jesus (see Luke 8:2-3), Jesus’s mother, and His brothers (could also be brothers and sisters). We re not told when the siblings of Jesus came to faith, but by the ascension, they believed. We see that altogether, there were about 120 disciples of Jesus (v. 15). That was the whole church!
In verse 16, we get the first of Peter’s discourses. Peter is very big on the sovereignty of God, rightly so. Here, he tells the church that the Holy Spirit predicted Judas’s betrayal of Jesus through David in Psalms 69:25 and 109:8 (vv. 16-20). Judas acquiring a field is a reference to the blood money being used to buy the potter’s field (Matt 27:5-8). Peter concludes that there must be 12 Apostles, so Judas needs to be replaced. After praying and casting lots, Matthias is chosen (vv. 24-26). While this is not a hill I will die on, I do not believe Matthias to be the twelfth Apostle. I understand that he meets the requirements Peter set out, but I don’t think he meets the requirements Jesus set out. That requirement is that He chooses the Twelve (see Luke 6:13). I believe Jesus chooses Paul as the twelfth Apostle. He is the Apostle to the disinherited nations.
Acts chapter 2 is a turning point in the history of redemption. What this is, is the undoing of Babel. Whereas God confused the languages of the nations as part of their disinheritance (see Gen 11:9), here He reverses that by removing the confusion through the miracle of tongues (2:4, 8). What’s more, the word for “bewildered” in verse 6 is the same word used in the Septuagint for “confuse” in Genesis 11:7. God is now bewildering with salvation instead of judgment! The list of nations in verses 9-11 are a representation of the known world at the time, which is a parallel to the table of nations that result from the Babel incident (see Genesis 10).
The Holy Spirit coming as fire is the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy in Luke 3:16. But that the Spirit comes as “divided” tongues of fire is significant. In Deuteronomy 32:8, the Septuagint uses the same word to tell of God “dividing” mankind. Here, the Spirit comes to reunite what has been divided (spiritually speaking). This can actually be translated “tongues of fire appeared and were distributed…”
Peter then preaches to the crowd. The Gospel of repentance and the forgiveness of sins is being preached (to all nations! – v. 5) first in Jerusalem (see Luke 24:47). He tells them that this is the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. The Spirit being poured out (v. 18) is an indication that they are in the last days (v. 17). This is when judgment is near (vv. 19-20), and salvation is nearer than ever before (v. 21). Now Peter preaches the Gospel. God proved that Jesus was the Messiah through His works (v. 22 – see John 10:25, 38). Yet it was God’s sovereign plan that Jesus would be crucified by the Romans (v. 23). Note that God ordained it, but they did it. God’s sovereignty does not remove human responsibility.
God then fulfilled the Scriptures by raising Jesus from the dead (vv. 24-28 – see Ps 16:8-11). Peter explains that David pointed forward to his greater Son, Jesus (vv. 30-31). Because David stayed dead (v. 29), but Jesus did not (v. 32). David didn’t ascend (v. 34) but Christ did (vv. 34-35 – see Ps 110:1). Note that Jesus is the One Who received the promise of the Holy Spirit (see above), and is the One Who poured the Spirit out (v. 33).
In response, the people are convicted and ask what they need to do (v. 37). Peter’s answer is not that they need to repent and be baptized (v. 38). His answer is that they need the Holy Spirit. They need the free gift that brings regeneration and faith. They need the promise that Jesus received and pours out on His church (v. 39). Their repentance and outward act of baptism is an act of faith – it is the response to the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Peter is clear that the instrument of salvation is the Spirit, Who is only for those “the Lord our God calls to Himself.” God is sovereign over salvation!
And yet, Peter tells them to “save themselves” (v. 40 – see v. 21). The Word still needs to be received to be saved (v. 41). Man is still responsible to be baptized. There is that interplay between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. And note that the church grows from 120 to 3,120 after the first sermon preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (1:8)!
We then get a picture of what the earliest church looked like. All were devoted (the Greek word means literally “to persevere in devotion”) to the Apostles teaching, which would have been an exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures and their eyewitness testimony and application of Christ’s work and teaching. In other words, the Bible we have and the preaching of the Bible. They were devoted to fellowship with each other. They were devoted to the breaking of bread, which in the Bible refers both to the Lord’s Supper and to fellowship meals. They were devoted to prayer. The modern church needs no more than this.
Note also that the church had “all things in common” (v. 44). This is not an endorsement of socialism any more than Peter’s assertion in 5:4 is an endorsement of capitalism. The point (in both passages) is that Christians willingly provided for the needs of each other (v. 45). And as they daily worshipped, fellowshipped, and praised God together, the church grew daily (vv. 46-47).
In chapter 3, we see that as the Gospel began to be spread, God worked miracles through the Apostles (3:1-8 – see 2:43). What Peter and John give to the crippled man is what Jesus had given them: the power of the Holy Spirit. This led to the praise of God (vv. 8-9). The point is that God used miracles (like healings) as a means of spreading the Gospel (which is why Jesus did healing miracles!). I see no reason that He can’t and doesn’t do the same today, but nowhere in the Bible is there a “healing ministry” – it is always a sign that points to the truth of the preached Gospel.
And we see here, it serves its purpose. The man is healed, and then people came to Peter to hear his message (v. 11). As they are at the Temple, Peter caters his message to the Jews. Peter explains that what they saw was not done in his and John’s power (v. 12). It was Christ (v. 16). Peter tells them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (a Jewish formulation to speak of YHWH) glorified Jesus Who they denied (vv. 13-14). Again, Peter makes this about the resurrection (v. 15). It is faith in the risen, glorified, righteous and holy Son of God that saves, and this healing is meant to communicate that (v. 16).
In verse 17, we see that Peter almost excuses them for what they did because of ignorance (v. 17). We will see Paul use the same tactic later in the book. The point is that now that Christ has died and risen from the dead according to the Scriptures, there is no more excuse (vv. 18-19)! Note that Peter is again preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins (v. 19 – see Luke 24:47). And note, through repentance and the forgiveness of sins, they would experience the restoration that the Messiah has already brought (v. 20), until He brings the final restoration at His Second Coming (v. 21). Peter is explaining that the prophets actually predicted a two-advent reign of the Messiah.
Peter then ties in the Messiah with the prophet like Moses promised by YHWH (v. 22 – see Deut 18:15-19). They need to heed the words of that Prophet or be destroyed (v. 23). The fulfillment of the promise to Abraham has begun, and the promise is being preached first to Israel, the physical sons of the Abrahamic Covenant (v. 25). Peter is explicit that the salvation in Christ is for the Jew first (v. 26 – see Rom 1:16, 2:9-10). God is still calling them to repentance. His patience still has not reached an end!
In chapter 4, Peter and John are arrested. Note that the Sadducees are annoyed because they were preaching the resurrection from the dead (4:1-2 – see Matt 22:23). But in the face of persecution, the church continued to grow (v. 4). The next day, the whole family of the High Priest questions Peter and John. Note that they ask “by what power or by what name” they preached what they did (v. 7). It is by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 8 – see 1:8) in the name of Jesus (v. 10 – see Luke 24:47), the only name in which there is salvation (v. 12). Peter echoes Jesus in his quote of Psalm 118:22 (see Matt 21:42, 1 Pet 2:4).
In verse 13, we see that “they,” which includes the High Priest Annas and also Caiaphas, see that Peter and John are uneducated and common, and are surprised by their boldness. They realize that these were men who had been with Jesus. This will become relevant when we get to the Gospel according to John. Here, they have witnessed the miracle and could not dispute Peter (v. 14, 16). So they temporarily send Peter and John out of the room, and talk about what to do (v. 15). They want this Jesus talk to stop (v. 17), so they call the two Apostles back and tell them not to preach in His name (v. 18). Peter then pulls a very Jesus-esque move and throws the ball back to the religious leaders (v. 19). There is no way to answer that question! So all the religious leaders can do is make idle threats (v. 21).
Peter and John – and their brothers and sisters in Christ – do the only thing they can do at that point: they pray (vv. 23-24). They pray Scripture back to God (vv. 25-26) and recognize the truth of His Word (v. 27) and His sovereignty (v. 28). In saying that God predestined that Jesus would be killed the way He was, they are surrendering themselves to God’s will. They pray that God would give them boldness to continue their preaching and miracle working (vv. 29-30) no matter what it means for them. And God answers them (v. 31).
We then again get a glimpse of how the early church lived. They were united in heart and soul and provided for each other (v. 32, 34-35). They were empowered to preach the Word (v. 33). We are then introduced to Barnabas (v. 36). He will play a major role in the Gospel spreading throughout the world.