We begin our study this evening by turning to the beginning of the book of Acts. The first eight verses are the critical opening to Luke’s writing. If we miss the stated purpose and thesis of Acts, then we will miss many of the key points found in the book. We accept that Luke is the author based upon the first sentence where the writer speaks to Theophilus about a former writing about the life of Jesus. The gospel of Luke was addressed to Theophilus which leads us to believe that Acts was also written by Luke.
In the first three verses Luke essentially declares that he is going to continue the story where he left off in his first narrative. The gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus. Luke recaps the ending of his gospel in the Acts narrative. But Luke records some different words in the first eight verses of Acts than he does at the end of the Luke account. Luke ends the gospel with Jesus’ instructions to remain in Jerusalem and how the apostles would be witnesses of Jesus.
Typically, we have gone to Acts 1:8 and outlined the book in this fashion:
- Acts 1-7 The gospel in Jerusalem
- Acts 8-12 The gospel in Judea and Samaria
- Acts 13-28 The gospel to the ends of the earth
I now believe this is an oversimplification of Acts. Luke is not just simply recording for history the spread of the gospel and how it really did spread from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth. To look at Acts in this light strips the book of any theological significance or teaching. Let us look again at the first eight verses and locate the theological thread that Luke is placing throughout this book.
At the end of verse 3, Luke begins recording information that he did not write down at end of his gospel. Look at verse 3 and compare it to the ending of Luke’s gospel and note what Luke records in Acts that was not recorded in his gospel. I suggest to you the new information is at the end of verse three, “appearing to them during the 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” We are told important information that Jesus spent 40 days teaching about the kingdom of God. This theme is continued through verse 8.
In verses 4-5 Luke records what he similarly records at the end of his gospel, that is, Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. But in verse 6 we see the disciples as Jesus an important question: “Lord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Many scholars and commentaries have criticized this question by the disciples without just cause. Jesus had been speaking about the restoration of the kingdom of God for 40 days. Further, the Messianic promises of the Old Testament declared that the Messiah would restore the kingdom. Joel 3:1 says, “For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem…” Amos 9:14, another messianic prophecy, says, “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.” We should not assume that the disciples are asking Jesus for a physical kingdom. Nothing in the text warrants such an assumption. This is especially true considering that Jesus gives a positive response to the disciples’ question. Jesus’ does not rebuke the disciples for thinking in physical terms nor corrects any false concepts. Jesus had been very clear for the last 40 days explaining all that would happen in regards to the restoration of God’s kingdom. Jesus validates the disciples’ question by stating that they cannot know the exact point in time but that the kingdom would be restored when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Further, the apostles would be witnesses of the kingdom of God in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The purpose of the book of Acts is to show the renewed offer of the kingdom of God to the nation of Israel. This renewed offer of the kingdom of God is the key to the outline of the book and the proclamations recorded by Luke in this second narrative. This ought to make sense since Luke says in Acts 1:1 that he recorded the things that Jesus began to do and teach. What did Jesus teach? What did John the Baptist teach? Both taught the kingdom of heaven in their ministries (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Now, let us go through the book of Acts and see how this theme is presented by Luke.
I. Peter’s sermon (Acts 2)
As many know, Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is about showing the people that the things prophesied by the prophet Joel have come to pass. Peter did not have to explicitly tell the Jewish people that this was the kingdom of Israel because it was implied by Peter’s quotation. To help us in the 21st century see this, we need to see the context of Joel’s prophecy that Peter quotes. Notice the sentences that follow Joel’s words:
2:32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. 3:1 For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 3:2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and they have divided my land.
Joel’s prophecy is about the restoration of the kingdom. The first chapter and a half of Joel’s prophecy describe judgment against Israel. At Joel 2:18 and through the rest of the prophecy, Joel is describing the restoration of the kingdom. The restoration of God’s kingdom would have visible signs so that the people would be aware of its coming. Joel prophesied that there would be many miracles that would take place. Peter quotes this in Acts 2:18-19. Further, Peter says that the promise of God’s kingdom is available to them, their children, and to those who are afar off. Peter is declaring that the kingdom of God has come with power and it is up to them to accept the offer of God’s kingdom.
II. Peter’s sermon (Acts 3)
This preaching of the restoration of God’s kingdom being offered to the Jews is clearer in Peter’s second recorded sermon. “19 Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and He may send Jesus, who has been appointed Messiah for you. 21 Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning” (Acts 3:19-21).
Peter describes the restoration of all things, again this being language about the restoration of the kingdom, since Peter says this is what God had spoken through the mouth of the prophets from the beginning. God did not speak through the prophets from the beginning about the second coming of Christ. All of the prophets spoke about the restoration of the kingdom of God. Peter is preaching that with the Messiah came the restoration of the kingdom of God. If the Jews would repent and turn back to God, they could be part of this kingdom.
II. Jewish rejection in Jerusalem
The first seven chapters are not merely about the gospel in Jerusalem. Rather, the first seven chapters record for us the offering of the kingdom of God to the Jews in Jerusalem and their subsequent rejection. While multitudes of Jews are repenting and coming to the kingdom of God, the Jewish leaders are not.
In chapter 4 of Acts we read about the arrest of Peter and John for preaching about the resurrection of Jesus and the restoration of the kingdom of God. In chapter 5 the apostles are arrested, put in prison, and placed on trial. Peter and the apostles express their teaching in the trial before the Sanhedrin, “God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. We are witness of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:31-32). The apostles are witnesses of Jesus and the restoration of the kingdom. Repentance is being granted to Israel to turn to God. In chapter 6 Stephen is arrested and put on trial before the Sanhedrin.
Chapter 7 is the climax for this section as the history of Israel is recounted describing in continual rebellion Israel had against God’s kingdom and God’s chosen servants. Chapter 7 stands in Acts as the final indictment against the nation of Israel. This is Jerusalem’s final chance to accept Christ and be part of God’s kingdom. At the end of chapter 7 we read the official Jewish rejection of the offering of the kingdom of God. This rejection is verified in Acts 8:1 as a severe persecution breaks out against the church in Jerusalem.
IV. Kingdom offered in Judea and Samaria
Chapter 8 begins with the message of the Messiah and the kingdom of God being offered in Judea and Samaria. We see this expressly stated by Luke in Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”
In chapter 8 the kingdom of God is being preached in Samaria by Philip. In Acts 9 the kingdom of God is being preaching in Damascus, centering around Saul and Ananias. In Acts 10 the kingdom of God is being preached in Caesarea by Peter. Further, in chapters 10-11 we read about the inclusion of the Gentiles in the kingdom of God. Of particular note, consider where the new hub for the kingdom moves to: Antioch. No longer is Jerusalem the center but Antioch becomes the hub from which the missionary journeys take place. Luke painted a subtle shift of the kingdom of God away from Jerusalem to Antioch, or more specifically, away from the Jews in Jerusalem who have rejected the kingdom message to the Jews in the dispersion.
The wickedness of Jerusalem comes to the apex in chapter 12. Just as Stephen is the lightning rod in Acts 7, Peter is the focal point in Acts 12. James is killed by the sword by King Herod in Jerusalem. Peter is next to be executed, but is rescued by an angel. Herod is struck down by God. Herod is representative for the nation of Israel.
V. Kingdom offered to the ends of the earth
Chapter 13 begins with the gospel message going out from Antioch. Luke is still recording the preaching of the kingdom of God to the Jews and their response. In Acts 13:5 we see the apostles on Cyprus preaching in the Jewish synagogues. The apostles come to Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:14 where they go into the synagogues to preach. The end result is the same as in Jerusalem. In Acts 13:44-48 we read about the Jews rejecting this offering of the kingdom and Paul’s declaration that they will take their message to the Gentiles. In Acts 14:1 Paul is in Iconium and he goes into the synagogue. In Acts 14:19 we read the response of the Jews to the preaching of the kingdom that they drag Paul out of the city and stone him. We see the message is still about the kingdom. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul continues to enter the synagogues in Acts 17. Another uproar form the Jews takes place, imprisoning many of the disciples (Acts 17:5). Paul goes again to the synagogue of the Jews in Acts 17:10. In Acts 18:4 we see continued preaching in the synagogues. We look at these passages to see the continuing thread of Luke to show how the offer is being given to the Jews and that the Jews are rejecting the kingdom of God.
In Acts 19:8 we read, “Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things related to the kingdom of God.” After describing that the kingdom of God was preached, we read about the subsequent rejection of this teaching. Notice verse 9, “But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd…” In Acts 20:25 Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “And now I know that none of you, among whom I went preaching the kingdom, will ever see my face again.” Bringing the story full circle, Paul is intent on going to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the Jews are plotting to kill Paul would have succeeded if it had not been for Roman intervention.
VI. Final offer rejected
Even in Rome we spoke to the Jews there, “For dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He persuaded them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets” (Acts 28:23). We often wonder why the book of Acts ends in such an abrupt fashion. With this kingdom view as a purpose of the book, we see that the book ends very naturally. Read Acts 28:23-31. Paul condemns the Jews for rejecting the kingdom message and verifies this through the prophecy of Isaiah. The word would now go to the Gentiles because the Jews in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, in Asia, and now in Rome had rejected this message. Israel had said no to Jesus as the Messiah and to the renewed offer of the kingdom.
The book of Acts begins by telling us that Jesus had taught the disciples for 40 days about the kingdom of God. The apostles wanted to know when the kingdom would be restored to Israel. Jesus said it would happen when they received power from the Holy Spirit coming upon them. From then on, the apostles would be witnesses of Jesus and the kingdom in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts closes showing that the kingdom had been preached to the ends of the earth and that some Jews accepted the kingdom message, while others rejected it. Thus, the doors of the kingdom were opened up to the Gentiles for them to accept.
In our final analysis, our outline of Acts looks like this:
Acts 1-12 Rejection of the Kingdom by the Jews in Jerusalem
- Arrest of the apostles
- Murder of Stephen- culmination of rejection by Jews
- Persecution of Christians
- Kingdom message preached in Samaria and Judea
- Gentiles enter the kingdom
- Antioch becomes the base of kingdom work
- Herod’s death representative of judgment to Israel
Acts 13-28 Rejection of the Kingdom by the Jews of the Dispersion
- Persecution and arrest of Paul and companions
- Kingdom message offered to Jews in Asia and Rome
- Jews reject the kingdom in every city
- Gentiles continue to enter the kingdom