Acts 1: Just Wait
Luke’s first work was written to Theophilus. Acts completes what Luke started in his gospel account. Luke picks up here with Jesus meeting with His disciples shortly before His ascension. They wonder if this was the time for the coming of His kingdom. He tells them it was not theirs to know just yet, but to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit. From there they would preach the gospel and spread it from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Then He is taken up before them and the disciples are promised by angels that He would come again. Now their work was ahead of them. One hundred and twenty disciples met together (including Jesus’ mother and brothers). Because of what Judas did, they needed a replacement, so they cast lots to see who it would be. The lot fell to Matthias, one of those who had been with them from the beginning. Now they were ready to do the work they were commissioned to do. Acts tells us how important it is to keep the work of the Lord going even today.
Acts 2: The Promise Fulfilled
The apostles were together in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Suddenly from heaven came the sound of a rushing wind and it filled the house. What appeared to be divided tongues of fire rested on each of them and they began speaking in tongues (languages). The Spirit had come upon them as Jesus promised. Because it was a special feast day, many Jews from all over had come. Though they spoke differing dialects, the apostles were given the power to communicate to them in there respective languages. As people wondered what it meant, Peter stood up with the rest and began preaching, starting with the prophet Joel and working his way through David to Jesus Christ. He showed that this is what God was talking about through the prophets and that Jesus had been raised from the dead to sit on David’s throne. Many of the Jews were convicted enough to ask what they must do, and Peter told them they needed to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Three thousand did just that and the church at Jerusalem was started. The fellowship of the first believers was strong and serves as a great example to us even now as we seek to follow this same example.
Acts 3: It Was God’s Plan
As Peter and John went up to the temple, they encountered a lame man begging for help. Rather then give money, Peter healed the man. This brought the attention to Peter and John, who then proceeded to use the opportunity to preach about Jesus Christ. Peter said it was not really they who healed the man, but rather God — the same God they had denied when they demanded that Jesus Christ be crucified. Even so, God was still wiling to grant them an opportunity to repent and turn to Him. Rather than just condemn them, God wanted to provide for them the times of refreshing found in Christ. After all, Peter preached, all of this was the result of what the prophets had all preached. Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises, and specifically that given to Abraham, that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Praise God that even now we are able to participate in these same promises through Christ!
Acts 4: No Other Name
The Sadducees were upset at the disciples because they were preaching the resurrection of Jesus (and they didn’t believe in resurrection). The council arrested Peter and John to bring them before the high priest and demand they tell by what power and name they were doing these things. The apostles assured them it was through Jesus, and it would only be through Jesus that salvation could be found. There is no other name under heaven given by which all must be saved. The council knew Peter and John had been with Jesus and wondered what to do with them. They also could not deny that a notable miracle had occurred. Peter and John stood resolute: they could only speak what they had seen and heard. The council threatened them and sent them out, so the disciples went to the rest of their companions and prayed together. They praised God, prayed for boldness, and continued right on doing what they needed to do. The disciples were so close that they made sure no one among them was in need. Acts is showing us how true discipleship is lived and how Jesus is preached as the only One for salvation.
Acts 5: Nothing Can Stop it
After we see the generosity of the early Christians giving to meet the needs of others, Ananias and Sapphira sold some property and left the impression that they gave all when they kept back some. They lied to God and the brethren, and for this they were punished with death (cf. Lev 10). The people got the point. At this time, signs and wonders were being done and many believers were being added to the Lord. The high priest and Sadducees (who didn’t believe in resurrection) were jealous, so they arrested the apostles and put them in jail. To the surprise of the officials, the apostles were soon back out at the temple preaching (though the jail was still completely locked up). They were again taken into custody and brought before the council. When the apostles were told not to preach in the name of Jesus, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men…” The response enraged them, and they wanted to kill the apostles until Gamaliel spoke up proposing that they be let go. If what they are doing is from man, they will fail; if from God, nothing can stop them (a great theme of Acts). They beat the apostles and let them go. The apostles rejoiced over these events and kept right on teaching that the Christ is Jesus. The truth is seen: nothing can stop God’s plans and purposes in Christ.
Acts 6: Stephen’s Arrest
Due to the rise in numbers of early disciples and the fact that there were both hellenistic Jews (from outside Jerusalem) and the native Hebrews (from Jerusalem area), a problem arose surrounding care for the hellenistic widows. The apostles had the church choose seven men who could look after the matter, and this helped to resolve the issue. The word of God kept increasing, and the text then focuses on two of the seven men: Stephen (6-7) and Philip (8). “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” Some of the Jews, disputing with Stephen, could not withstand the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking, so they conspired to charge him with blasphemy. They seized him and took him before the council, even brining false witnesses with them. Stephen was truly following in the steps of his Lord. This passage reminds us how important faithfulness is in the face of persecution.
Acts 7: A History Lesson
As Stephen faced the council, and they saw his face as that of an angel, he began to address the people by giving them a history lesson. He starts with Abraham, the promise given to him, and the covenant God made. He briefly deals with the patriarchs and their going into Egypt. He works his way to Moses, Mt. Sinai, and the wilderness. Then he moves to David, then Solomon who built the temple. These are all stories the people would have known well. Why does Stephen brings them up? He shows a history that contrasts both faith and rebellion. Sadly, as with most who rebelled, so the people continued to rebel: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you…” This charge angered them enough that they took Stephen out of the city to stone him to death. Stephen, however, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (at His throne). “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” What a grand example of faithfulness and forgiveness!
Acts 8: To Samaria
At the murder of Stephen, a full scale persecution began against the Christians. One who was complicit and pursued them was Saul (later, Paul). The apostles stayed in Jerusalem at this point, but the Christians were being scattered. The irony of this will be that the gospel will spread even more. The text picks up with Philip, one of the seven (from ch. 6). He went to the city of Samaria where he was working signs and preaching Christ. Simon, a sorcerer, saw this and soon was baptized along with many others. With this success, the apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria. They would lay their hands on the Christians to receive the Holy Spirit (miraculous), and Simon saw this and offered money to be given that same power as the apostles. After being rebuked for this, Simon asked them to pray for him, and they returned to Jerusalem. Philip was then called away to preach to the eunuch from Ethiopia. The Eunuch had been reading from Isaiah (53), but indicated he needed help understanding. Philip took up from there and told him the good news about Jesus. Upon seeing water, the eunuch was baptized and went on his way rejoicing while Philip continued his preaching travels. The gospel had now gone out of Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria, where it would continue to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Acts 9: Saul sees the Light
Saul helped in the persecution of Christians as he was “to every nation and tribe and language and people.” With permission of the high priest, he was on his way to Damascus to round up more Christians. As he got closer, “suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” He fell to the ground and heard the voice of Christ asking why he was persecuting Him. Saul was blinded by this and led into Damascus where Ananias, by the Lord’s commission, would tell Saul the truth. After Saul was baptized, scales fell off of his eyes and he could see. He immediately began to preach Christ, first in the synagogues. Some wanted Saul dead now. He went back to Jerusalem where he tried to identify with the reluctant brethren. Barnabas came to Saul’s aid to tell the brethren of Saul’s conversion to Christ. The church was then built up. The chapter ends with Peter healing the bedridden Aeneas followed by restoring the life of Tabitha. People were turning to the Lord and God was being glorified. Saul’s path was also now set. These examples of commitment are there to be emulated by all.
Acts 10: A Message for Gentiles
Cornelius, a centurion and a Gentile who prayed to God was given an answer when God told him to send for Peter. Peter had seen a vision indicating that no man should be considered common or unclean. Peter went with Cornelius’ men and he was able to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household. The message included the fact that Peter now new that God would accept those from any nation who did what was right. God was not partial in terms of offering salvation. As Peter was preaching, and to show that the Gentiles were to be taught, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his family. Peter, knowing the implications of this, said he could not refuse water for them to be baptized in the Lord. They were, and these Gentile converts demonstrated once and for all that God’s message was meant for all people of all nations.
Acts 11: Repentance to Life
The word was getting out about the Gentile converts. Some of the Jews criticized Peter for going to the Gentiles, so Peter gave a defense of what happened. He told them of the vision he had and how messengers were sent to him. He told them how the Spirit fell on these Gentiles as Peter was speaking to them. He asked, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” They responded favorably, glorifying God for the fact He also granted to the Gentiles “repentance that leads to life.” The chapter broadens out to show how the Christians had been scattered because of the persecution. Yet this led to even more conversions to Christ as the gospel was going out from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and further parts of the earth. Attention is turned to the church at Antioch, where Barnabas brought Saul and where the disciples were first called Christians. We also see the generosity of these early Christians as they gave generously to meet the needs of other saints.
Acts 12: But How?
Now Herod Agrippa sought to lay hands violently on Christians. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, the first apostle to be martyred. He put Peter in prison thinking to do the same to him after Passover. However, disciples were earnestly praying for Peter. As Peter slept between two soldiers, an angel woke him up and freed him from the chains. They escaped past the guards with obvious divine help. Peter went to the house of Mary where many were gathered together praying. A servant girl, Rhoda, answered the door but thought she was seeing a ghost. They finally opened the door for Peter and were amazed. Herod and the soldiers had no idea how Peter escaped. Herod even ordered the keepers to be put to death. The chapter ends with Herod, being angry at the people of Tyre and Sidon, delivering a message to the people. The people shouted, ““The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Herod was struck down and died because he did not give God the glory. Yet the word of God increased and multiplied.
Acts 13: Joy and Opposition
The church at Antioch comes into view as the brethren send out, by the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas on what we often call the first missionary journey. They sailed from Seleucia to Cypress, proclaiming the word of God across the island from Salamis to Paphos. At Paphos they met opposition from a Jewish sorcerer named Elymas, who tried to prevent them from teaching the proconsul. Paul struck Elymas blind; the proconsul believed and was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. Paul and Barnabas sailed to Perga where John Mark left them. They came to Antioch of Pisidia where they were given an opportunity to teach in the synagogue. Paul briefly reviewed Israelite history and showed how Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Davidic promise, having been raised from the dead. The people begged to hear more, and by the next Sabbath most of the city gathered to hear the gospel. When some of the Jews opposed the message, Paul and Barnabas told them that they would turn to the Gentiles, who would rejoice at the message. Persecutions began, but those who believed were still “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 14: A Door of Faith
Paul and Barnabas traveled to Iconium where they met further Jewish opposition, though some did side with the truth. They fled there and went to Lystra and Derbe, where further opportunity awaited. At Lystra, they healed a lame man. The people were so impressed that they began calling Paul and Barnabas gods (Hermes and Zeus). Paul and Barnabas put a stop to this, telling them they were just men. Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium to cause more trouble; they stone Paul and left him for dead. Yet Paul got up and kept on preaching. They preached in Derbe, then went back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” They were able to appoint elders in these churches, then finally could return back to Antioch of Syria where they recounted what happened on this trip. A door of faith was opened to the Gentiles, and the spread of the gospel would not be stopped.
Acts 15: Controversy and Solution
Because some were teaching that Gentiles could not turn to the Lord without first being circumcised, the apostles, elders at Jerusalem, and disciples gathered at Jerusalem. First, Peter testified about his experience with Cornelius. Then Barnabas and Paul gave their account of what happened in their first preaching trip. Then James (the Lord’s brother) testified from Scripture. Together, they demonstrated that the Gentiles did not first need to go through the Law or be circumcised in order to follow Christ. Those who taught this were wrong and creating great unrest. A letter, with the Holy Spirit, was written to Gentile believers and sent by Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. While there were restrictions (basically, the Gentiles could not continue in pagan ways), the Gentiles rejoiced over its encouragement. Paul and Barnabas stayed there and taught for a time, but then were ready to go again on second journey. This time, because of some disagreement over John Mark, they agreed to go to different locations. Barnabas took Mark, while Paul took Silas. They started off through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Acts 16: The Macedonian Call
Paul and Silas traveled back through Derbe and Lystra, where Timothy joined them (his father was Greek, his mother Jewish). Though Paul had Timothy circumcised so as not to create stumbling blocks, they were delivering the message from Jerusalem about the Gentiles. Churches were being strengthened by this. The Spirit forbade them at this time from going to Asia Minor, so they went more north to Troas where Paul saw a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for help. They concluded they need to go to Macedonia (north of Greece). By now it appears that Luke is also with them. They came to Philippi in Macedonia where they met a woman name Lydda, and she obeyed the gospel. In Philippi a girl with a spirit of divination was causing them trouble. Paul cast out the spirit, but since her owners gained profit through her, they had Paul and Silas arrested and thrown in jail. They continued to praise God, even singing while in the stocks while others were listening. A great earthquake shook the prison and freed the prisoners. Paul stopped the jailer from killing himself, and he, in turn, asked what to do to be saved. Paul taught him and household, and they, too, were baptized. The gospel had now spread into Macedonia. After Roman magistrates apologized to Paul, as he was a Roman citizen, they were able to leave in peace.
Acts 17: Old, New, and True
In Thessalonica, Paul was able to preach Christ in the synagogue for three Sabbaths. Some jealous Jews there, with some other wicked men, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. Paul and the Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with their new teachings. However, some did believe. Paul and Silas were then sent to Berea. Luke tells us that the Jews here more noble minded because they received the word with eagerness and searched the Scriptures daily to see that what they were taught was true. Paul then went on to Athens where he was able to preach at Mars Hill (the Areopagus) to pagan idolaters. There were many who were eager to hear something new, but even when they heard about the resurrection, some mocked while others wanted to hear more. This chapter gives us a good overview of varying attitudes: those who only want to hear what they have always heard, those who only want to hear what is new, and those who want to hear what is true and are willing to check what they hear with Scripture. Paul’s recorded sermon in Athens is also a great example of starting where people are and telling them about God and judgment to come.
Acts 18: Christ has People in Corinth
Paul left Athens for Corinth where he met with Priscilla and Aquilla to work and teach. Silas and Timothy joined Paul from Macedonia. Paul kept testifying that Jesus is the Christ, and, as Paul had previously experienced, he was opposed and reviled by some of the Jews, so he turned to the Gentiles. The result is that “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” The Lord then told Paul that He had many people in this city, so Paul ended up staying a year and a half. Even with the opposition there, the gospel was successful. Paul concluded this journey back at Antioch before embarking on his third one. The chapter ends with Apollos at Ephesus teaching that Jesus is the Christ. However, he only knew of John’s baptism, so Priscilla and Aquila explained God’s way more accurately. The gospel was making great progress in this region.
Acts 19: Ephesus
Now Paul comes back through Ephesus and learns of those disciples who had only heard of John’s baptism. They were baptized in the name of Jesus and received the Holy Spirit. Paul stayed and preached for a number of years “so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” Yet it was not always smooth. For example, “itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits,” but they were attacked and had to flee. Still, there were many believers. Then, in Ephesus there “arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.” Because Paul had taught about God and against idolatry, the people of Ephesus, whose goddess was Artemis, rose up in a riot against Paul. The town clerk had to settle the people down because it had become unruly. Yet in spite of the strong opposition to Christ in Ephesus, a church was established that had a lasting impact.
Acts 20: Headed Back
Paul departed and went through Macedonia before coming to Troas. When he came to Troas, they stayed a week so they could meet with the disciples there to break bread. After raising up Eutychus, who fell out of a window, Paul was intent on heading back to Jerusalem. First he stopped at Miletus to meet with the elders from Ephesus to commend them to the word of God and warn them of wolves from within who would try to destroy the flock. They prayed and wept together, knowing this was likely the last time they see one another like this. Verse 32 remains memorable: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
Acts 21: Go to Jerusalem?
Paul and those with him are headed back to Jerusalem at this point. Luke describes the trip to Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the evangelist (from chs. 6 and 8). A prophet, Agabus, came from Judea, took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, then said that whoever owned the belt would be taken by Jews and delivered over to Gentiles at Jerusalem. Those with Paul begged him not to go, but his commitment was set: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” At Jerusalem, Paul was advised to go to the temple and help with a vow in order to show that he was not opposing the Law. When he did, he was recognized by Jews from Asia who made their charges against him. Paul was arrested and the city was stirred up. As he was being taken away, he was given permission to address the crowd. Things were turning out exactly as prophesied.
Acts 22: Defense and Accusations
Paul begins his address to the people in the Hebrew language, which caught their attention. He recounted how he was on his way to Damascus when a bright light shone around him and Jesus began talking to him. Paul describes his conversion as he followed the Lord’s instructions. Ananias came to him to tell him what the Lord desired, then told him, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Then Paul described that he was told, after returning to Jerusalem, to get out of there because his testimony would not be received. Jesus told Paul that He would send him to the Gentiles. When Paul said that, the crowd erupted and demanded that he be taken away; he should not be allowed to live. The Roman tribune ordered that he be taken to the barracks. As they were about to beat Paul, he informed them of his Roman citizenship, so they had to stop. The next day they would take Paul to chief priests and counsel to try to determine why he was being accused by the Jews.
Acts 23: Before the Council
Now Paul gives his defense before the Sanhedrin Council. After an initial problem, he perceived that there were both Pharisees and Sadducees present, so he cried out, ““Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” This divided the group, since the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. Some of the Pharisees argued that they saw nothing wrong with Paul and wondered if a spirit or angel had spoken to him. The dissension became violent, forcing the Romans to take Paul away lest he be torn apart. The Lord comforted Paul by telling him that he would testify in Rome. Some of the Jews plotted to kill Paul, but the tribune was informed about it. They brought him to Caesarea and asked for governor, Felix, to come hear the case. Paul was relying on the Lord’s promises throughout the ordeal.
Acts 24: Paul the Ringleader?
Paul stood before Felix while Ananias the high priest came down with others to lay out charges against Paul. They said, “For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.” Paul then gave his defense, arguing that they had no proof of the charges they were making and that he could verify that he was not doing what they charged him with. Felix indicated he would make a decision, but instead he kept Paul in custody hoping he would be bribed in the matter. Paul was able to teach Felix, but, though afraid, there is no indication that he obeyed the Lord. This went on for two years. Festus next became governor of the region and inherited the case. He desired to do the Jews a favor, so he at first left him in prison.
Acts 25: Pomp and Circumstance
Festus heard the case against Paul, then finally went to Caesarea to hear from Paul. Paul denied the charges again, then he appealed to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen. Festus agreed he would go, but first Herod Agrippa came to Caesarea to hear the case as well. Festus explained it, but Agrippa still wanted to hear from Paul. They came together to hear the case; Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and show. They wanted to hear Paul’s defense one more time so they could accurately write to Caesar about it. Now Paul was truly preaching before the rulers of the land, just the Lord indicated.
Acts 26: True and Rational
Paul addressed Agrippa, knowing that he had some knowledge of the Jews and, theoretically, Scripture. Paul explained that he was being held “because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers…” so, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” Once again, Paul then recounted his conversion (also found in chapters 9 and 22). He again stressed that the Lord is the One who appeared and told him he would go to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” In the middle of Paul’s defense, Festus interrupted, ““Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind,” to which Paul replied that he was speaking what was both true and rational. He then turned to Agrippa: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa’s response may have been heartfelt or ironic, but it indicated that he understood what was at stake. Paul desires to persuade all to become Christians. Agrippa told Festus that Paul would be set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.
Acts 27: Journey to Rome
Luke describes Paul’s trip to Rome as a prisoner. The time of year was going to be difficult for sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. They reached a point where they were sailing with great difficulty. Paul warned the Romans that things could get bad enough that they could lose the cargo and even their lives, but they did not listen. A great storm arose and the ship was dangerously driven out to sea where they could not anchor down. They had to jettison cargo and were unable to eat. At this point, Paul gave some words of encouragement, telling them that an angel had assured him that they would not lose life. Paul’s faith shines through: “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” They would run aground on an island first. After some days, they were able to eat, throw the cargo overboard to lighten the load, and then survive the impending shipwreck. Paul kept the soldiers from killing the prisoners, and they came safely to land. Paul’s faith was exemplary. Do we believe God that things will turn out as He promises?
Acts 28: Finally at Rome
The island on which they landed was called Malta. The natives of the island treated Paul and the others with kindness. As Paul was gathering sticks for a fire, a serpent bit him and they thought perhaps this was justice for his crimes. When nothing bad happened to Paul, they changed their minds and said he was a god. The chief man of the island, Publius, had a sick father that Paul proceeded to heal. Then many who were sick came to him and were healed. Finally, after about three months, they boarded another ship and sailed for Rome. Some of the Christians were able to meet Paul when he arrived. Paul explained his situation and, though a prisoner still, was given full ability to proclaim the kingdom of God. The book ends on these words of hope and anticipation: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.