The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN ACTS 1
- The book of Acts picks up where the Gospels leave off.
- The four Gospels end with the resurrection of Christ. Acts 1:3 refers to our Lord's resurrection -- "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days..."
- The four Gospels end with the Great Commission (cf. Acts 1:8).
- The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke end with our Lord's ascension, and we have that here in Acts 1:2 and 9.
- The Gospel of Luke ends with our Lord promising to send the Holy Spirit, and that is the great theme of the book of Acts (1:4-8).
- The Gospel of John ends with our Lord telling Peter He will return, and the two angels affirm this in Acts 1:11.
- In fact, the whole life of Christ is referred to here in our text this evening.
THE LIFE OF CHRIST (1:1, 2)
- The great expositor Matthew Henry says, "The inspired historian begins his narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, with a brief...history of the life of Christ."
- In verse 1, Theophilus is told that the book of Acts is a continuation of Luke's "former treatise," i.e., the Gospel of Luke (cf. Luke 1:3).
- The gospel of Luke records "all that which Jesus began both to do and teach, Until the day in which he was taken up" (Acts 1:1, 2).
- When Luke says his former treatise records "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach," he does not mean "all" the particulars and all the details, for John 21:25 tells us, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us samples of our Lord's teachings and miracles.
- Christ continued teaching His apostles, "till he was taken up" to heaven (1:2). After that, our Lord continued to teach them and guide them "through the Holy Ghost" (1:2).
- The epistles tell us that our Lord is still teaching us and guiding us "through the Holy Ghost" (1:2). W. Graham Scroggie says, "The risen Lord is continuing to do and teach, and as this record is only the first chapter of Church history, it is clear that Christ is still doing and teaching. The difference between the beginning and the continuing is that then He wrought in person here on earth, and now He is working from heaven by His Spirit, in and through His Church. Christ's departure was not a sunset, but a sunrise" (The Acts of the Apostles).
THE SUFFERING AND DEATH OF CHRIST (1:3)
- Acts 1:3 says, "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs..."
- Acts 1:3 is the only time we see the word "passion" in the Bible. The Greek word translated "passion" refers to our Lord's sufferings on the cross. The same word is usually translated "suffering."
- Matthew 16:21 says, "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed , and be raised again the third day."
- Mark 9:12 says, "And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought."
- Luke 17:25 says, "But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation."
- Luke 22:15 says, "And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."
- Acts 3:18 says, "But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled."
- Acts 17:2 and 3 says Paul "reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ."
- Hebrews 2:18 says, "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted."
- Hebrews 9:26 says, "For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world..."
- Hebrews 13:12 says, "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate."
- First Peter 1:21-23 says, "For even hereunto were ye called : because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously."
- First Peter 3:18 says, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit."
- First Peter 4:1 says, "Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh."
THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST (1:3)
- Acts 1:3 says, "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days..."
- The forty days were the days between our Lord's resurrection and ascension. Thomas skipped the Sunday night service and he missed some of these "infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3; cf. John 20:19-31).
- See what happens when you miss the Sunday night service!
- A number of years ago, Dr. Henry Morris wrote a book on apologetics entitled, Many Infallible Proofs (from Acts 1:3), and certainly the resurrection is an infallible proof that Jesus is the sinless Son of God.
- The apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15, "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain... And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (15:14, 17-19).
THE KINGDOM OF GOD (1:3, 6, 7)
- During the forty days between our Lord's resurrection and His ascension, He spoke to His apostles "of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (1:3).
- Our Lord had taught much about the kingdom of God during His earthly ministry. He said to Nicodemus in John 3:3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
- Our Lord said in Matthew 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
- These Scriptures refer to the kingdom of God as a spiritual kingdom. But the apostles, being Jews, were very much interested in the visible, physical kingdom.
- This visible, physical kingdom, foretold by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many of the other Old Testament prophets, will not be established until the second coming of Christ.
- Micah 4:3 says, "And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
- This is the kingdom the Jews were eagerly anticipating.
- It is referred to as "the millennial kingdom" because Revelation 20 tells us it will go on for one thousand years.
- The millennial kingdom is future. God's program for this dispensation is the local church. Now we are to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (cf. Acts 1:8).
- The Jewish people were oppressed by the Roman government and many were hoping our Lord would establish His kingdom at that time (Acts 1:6).
- Our Lord did not rebuke the apostles for asking Him about the kingdom, but explained that it was not for them "to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (1:7).
- God's program at this time is for you and me to proclaim the Gospel and win souls in the power of the Holy Spirit (1:8).
THE HOLY SPIRIT (1:2, 4, 5, 8)
- Last week I quoted A.T. Pierson who said, "it is in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit's fire is first seen to burn and shine in latter-day glory," and in the book of Acts we can "trace the active ministry of the Holy Spirit as the abiding presence in the church."
- "The promise of the Father" (1:4) was the promise that the Holy Spirit would come to endue believers with power from on high (Luke 24:49).
- There is no other way to explain how this small group of apostles were able to go forth and win souls and establish churches all over the Roman Empire.
- Referring to the Christians, the Jews in Thessalonica said, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17:6).
- Of course the Jews were wrong. Sinners had turned the world upside down, and now the Christians were trying to turn it back the right way.
- John Phillips says the apostles had "no idea of the impossibility of the task, of the stubborn unbelief of men, of the entrenched, vested interests of government, commerce, and religion that would oppose them, or the cruel persecution that awaited them" (Exploring Acts).
- But by faith they faced these challenges head on, preaching the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3-5; 7:55; 9:31; etc.).
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST (1:9-11)
- Our Lord predicted His ascension back in John 6:62, when He said to His disciples, "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?"
- Luke 9:51 also refers to our Lord's ascension. "And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem."
- Our Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection, and He said to her in John 20:17, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
- Our Lord's ascension is referred to four times in Acts 1:9-11 -- "He was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up...this same Jesus which is taken up from you."
- Charles Ryrie says the ascension of Christ is significant because "it marked the conclusion of the period of His humiliation and limitation on earth. It marked the beginning of the period of His exaltation at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:20-23)...and it marked the beginning of His present ministries of being our High Priest and of preparing a place for our future abode (Heb 4:14-16; Jn 14:2)" (A Survey of Bible Doctrine).
- And if Christ did not ascend into heaven, the Holy Spirit would not come to indwell believers, because our Lord said in John 16:7, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."
- P.P. Bliss said:
Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
- And then his next stanza:
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
- This brings us to my seventh, and final, point.
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST (1:11)
- The second coming of Christ is mentioned many times in the book of Acts, and the first reference is in Acts 1:11.
- As our Lord ascended into heaven, there appeared two angels who announced His return -- "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (1:11).
- "In like manner."
- His ascension was literal; His second coming will be literal.
- His ascension was visible; His second coming will be visible.
- His ascension was glorious; His second coming will be glorious.
- His ascension was from the Mount of Olives; and His second coming will be at the Mount of Olives (cf. Zechariah 14:1-4).
W. Graham Scroggie gave a good outline for Acts 1:8.
- The Central Subject of Christian Witness -- Christ.
- The Widening Sphere -- from Jerusalem to the "uttermost part of the earth."
- The Exclusive Source -- "ye" (the Church).
- The Unfailing Secret -- the Holy Ghost.