Acts: Introduction – Acts 1

Read the Passage: Acts 1

Authorship & Date – While this book is technically an anonymous work, nearly all scholars agree that Luke is the author of the book of Acts. If Luke did write Acts, this book can be viewed as a follow-up volume to the Gospel of Luke, which is also technically anonymous. Evidence for Luke’s authorship of this book include: (1) The nearly unanimous testimony of the early church; (2) the fact that both Luke and Acts are written to “Theophilus,” who was likely a royal official—cf. Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1; (3) the obscurity of Luke, who is only mentioned in Scripture at Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; and Philemon 24 argues against false attribution, and (4) an analysis of the “we” and “us” sections of the book leave only Luke as a possible author—cf. Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–21; 21:1–18; 27:1–29; 28:1–16. While there is some debate as to the date of the book of Acts, the most logical date for writing of this volume was shortly after the events described in the book itself. This would mean that Acts was likely written around 60 AD, from the city of Rome. Evidence for such an early date includes: (1) the abrupt ending of the book, which leaves Paul on trial during his first Roman imprisonment; (2) no mentioning of the death of James, which occurred in ~62 AD; (3) no mentioning of the persecution of Nero that began in ~64 AD; (4) no mentioning of the martyrdom of Paul in ~67 AD; and (5) no mentioning of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Purpose & Theme – By his own testimony in the Gospel that bears his name, Luke wrote “to give an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke gives an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the book of Acts details the spread of the Kingdom of God in the world after Jesus’ ascension (cf. the term “kingdom” at Acts 1:3, 6; 28:31). Indeed, the book of Acts is the first church history book, and it contains much unique material. Canonically, the purpose of the book of Acts is to bridge the gap between the Gospels and the Epistles. Note that while some have suggested that the book of Acts contains an account of the acts of the apostles, since most of the apostles are not mentioned apart from their listing in Acts 1:13, it seems better to view this book as the acts of the Holy Spirit, who is directly or indirectly mentioned more the fifty times in the book itself. Further, it is important to remember that the book of Acts is primarily a history book, not a book of doctrinal prescription. The book covers roughly 30 years of time.

Structure & Outline – Biographically speaking, the book of Acts can be divided up into two broad sections: The Acts of Peter (Acts 1–12) and The Acts of Paul (Acts 13–28). Geographically speaking, and following Jesus’ command at Acts 1:8, the book of Acts can be divided up into three sections: The Gospel in Jerusalem (Acts 1:1–8:3), The Gospel in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:4–12:25), and the Gospel in the Ends of the Earth (Acts 13:1–28:31).

Luke’s Prologue (1:1–8)

In the last chapter of his earlier account, Luke had described portions of Jesus’ “forty days” (Acts 1:3) of ministry to and with his apostles after his resurrection (cf. Luke 24:1–53). In Acts 1:1–8, Luke provides additional details about this time, especially in regard to Jesus’ ascension. As Luke had recorded earlier (cf. Luke 24:49), so in Acts 1:4 Jesus commanded the apostles “not to depart from Jerusalem,” which is possibly a reference to Bethany, the place of Jesus’ ascension (cf. Luke 24:50). The reason for this command was they the disciples were to “wait for the Promise of the Father.” This is surely a reference to the promised Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 11:13; 24:49; John 7:39; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In response, and possibly in light of Acts 1:3, the disciples asked about Jesus’ restoration of the political kingdom of Israel. Jesus then spoke of true power in Acts 1:8.

Jesus’ Ascension (1:9–11)

Luke had earlier referred to the ascension of Jesus at Luke 24:51, writing, “Now it came to pass while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” Here in Acts 1:9–11 Luke gives some additional details about this event. Indeed, Christ’s ascension is an important event, as it seems designed to show that Jesus went to a specific place, where He now resides in His material body. Indeed, Jesus did not cease to exist after His resurrection. Elsewhere Scripture speaks of Christ ascending to heaven, receiving glory (cf. John 17:5; Acts 2:33; Phil. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16), and sitting at the Father’s right hand (cf. Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:20–21; Heb. 1:3). For believers, the ascension foreshadows our future ascension (cf. 1 Thess. 4:17), assures us that our future home is with Jesus in heaven (cf. John 14:2–3), and reminds us of our present spiritual authority under Christ (cf. Eph. 2:6; Rev. 3:21).

Disciples’ Meeting (1:12–26)

In obedience to Jesus’ instructions (cf. Acts 1:4, 8) the disciples returned to Jerusalem to fellowship and to pray. This passage gives an account of this first meeting of Christ’s followers, after His ascension, without His bodily presence. The main practical issue that the disciples sought to address at this time was the replacement of Judas. The narrative of Judas’ death in Acts 1:18 is interesting in that it describes his death as if by falling from a great height. Earlier, Matt. 27:5 had described Judas’ death as being by hanging. These accounts can be reconciled if the tree on which Judas hung himself overlooked a cliff. The replacement of Judas ended up being Matthias, who was chosen by the casting of lots. This event is interesting in that it is the only use of lots in decision-making in the church era. Earlier lots has been used to divide land, to choose a king, to determine guilt, and to determine priestly service, among other uses.

Application Questions:

  1. Is it acceptable to construct biblical doctrines solely from narratives contained in the historical books of Scripture?
  2. In his introductory verses, Luke refers to “many infallible proofs of Jesus’ resurrection. What are these proofs (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1–11)?
  3. What is the significance of Jesus’ ascension? Why didn’t Christ just disappear or depart via some other methodology?
  4. Where does Jesus presently dwell? Does Christ currently have a fleshly, material body? Will our glorified bodies resemble Christ’s?
  5. Like the disciples, ought Christians to use the casting of lots in the process of making decisions?