Acts is so titled for the following reasons: 1) It is the Acts of the Apostles, 2) it is the Acts of Peter and Paul, 3) it is the Acts of the Early Church and 4) it is the Acts of the Holy Spirit. All of these fuller titles aptly describe the book. As such the book can be divided into sections under each title. The more common divisions are done under 2) and 3). Under the title 'The Acts of Peter and Paul' the book can be segregated into 'the Acts of Peter' chapters one to twelve and 'the Acts of Paul' chapters thirteen to twenty-eight. However the most common outlook on Acts is done around Acts 1:8
''But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
From this verse we see the progression of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.
1. Jerusalem Acts 1:1-8:3
2. Judea and Samaria Acts 8:4-12:25
3. Ends of the Earth Acts 13:1-28:31
Acts is a very important book. It provides a logical bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles. Without it, we would struggle to understand much of the background to Paul's letters and some of the details he mentions. It logically flows on from Luke's Gospel. It continues where Luke left off - at the ascension of Christ and His words regarding the Holy Spirit. He addresses it to Theophilus, who some suggest was an official in the Government of Caesar, as a document possibly to be used in Paul's defence before Caesar. Luke must have written Acts some time around 62 AD., because this was the date of Paul's trial and he doesn't mention any events past that date (persecution under Nero 64, Paul's death 68, or the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem 70). This is no more obvious than how Luke abruptly ends Acts. The last few chapters deal with Paul's journey to Rome where he was to stand trial before Caesar. The last chapter speaks of Paul being assigned to house arrest for two years where he was just about to stand trial.
Acts is a narrative. It is not primarily a book of doctrine. Therefore it is a description, not a prescription for the Church. While the infant Church is recorded with all its faults and weaknesses, as well as its strengths, it was ever changing and growing. The Church found in the first few chapters of Acts, is not like the Church found in Acts 13. The Church in Acts 13 is not the Church found in Acts 19, and so on. Just because the "first" Church did something, doesn't mean we have to do it the same way. Not even the contemporary Churches of Acts modelled themselves on the first Jerusalem Church.
1. DAY OF PENTECOST
1. What was the attitude of the people in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost?
2. What happened when they were filled with the Spirit?
The Day of Pentecost was fifty days after the "Passover" and "Feast of First Fruits" (the day which Jesus was resurrected). Under Jewish law, every male Jew and proselyte (a Gentile convert to Judaism) was expected to be in Jerusalem to present themselves at the Temple.
Consequently at this time Jerusalem was crowded with visitors keeping the Law. God had marvellously assembled a huge audience in this outdoor arena to hear the announcement of His message to mankind- no man could have timed this with such precision!
3. How did God confirm this sovereign act of sending the Holy Spirit?
Its worth noting how many times God used fire to announce that He was about to immediately commence a new thing. Examples might include the burning bush (Ex. 3), and the bolt of heavenly fire in the ceremony of the dedication of the new temple (2Chron. 7).
2. ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
Such a community spirit had developed among the early church that those who had property or assets were selling them and bringing the money to the apostles.
4. What characteristics stand out about the early church in Acts 4:32?
According to verse 35, the apostles distributed to those in need. In verse 34, we are told that no-one lacked anything. What a social welfare scheme!
5. Does this tell us something about how we should be acting toward each other today?
6.But two people deliberately set out to deceive. What did Peter accuse them of? (5:3)
Jesus also gave some related words in Matthew 12:32 about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In Acts we find some of the clearest references to the Holy Spirit being a Person, just as Jesus was a Person (see Matt. 28:19; Acts 20:23; Acts 21:4, 11).
7. In verse 4, what does Peter call the Holy Spirit?
We are warned not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).
3. CONVERSION OF SAUL
The incident of God revealing Himself to Saul (who later became "Paul")- was an outstanding act of God's grace.
8. How does Paul describe himself in 1 Timothy 1:15?
No doubt this scene stayed with Paul throughout his trials and tortures. It also gave him an unparalleled appreciation and revelation of God's grace. A church was once asked if they would accept a man who was a blasphemer, murderer, persecutor of Christians and ardent follower of men's traditions. Their reply was "no", but God's reply was "yes"! Such a man was Saul.
In verse 5, the New King James includes "it is hard for you to kick against the goads". This expression uses the illustration of cattle being horded along by someone whipping them with goads (sticks) in order to move them down a road. Paul's conversion is given to us "as an example" and should encourage us to not give up interceding for the lost.
Jesus sent a disciple named Ananias to "confirm" what He had said to Saul. God will never give someone else a "word" for us that doesn't confirm what He has already been telling us (See 9:15-16; 26:15-18)!
4. MARS HILL
After Saul's conversion we can trace his remarkable life through Acts and his Epistles. Shortly after he was saved, he went to Arabia for several years. He then returned to the city where he was originally going on the day he met Jesus.
9. Refer to Galatians 1:17, what was that city?
Paul was in no hurry to become a man of God. His time in the Arabian desert probably spent in much prayer and in-depth study, provided a new launching pad for a man of God yet to be equalled.
He spent three years in Damascus and then went to Jerusalem to become acquainted with the other apostles. He was no 'lone-ranger'! From there he went and based himself in a local church at Antioch in Syria. In Acts 13, Paul is mentioned last in a list of prophets and teachers, who were at the Antioch Church. The first to be mentioned was Barnabas. The connection between Barnabas and Paul began in Acts 11:25. Their friendship beautifully displayed the character of Barnabas, as 'The son of encouragement' (Acts 4:36). Numerous times Barnabas is seen as the one who was encouraging. When no-one wanted to know Paul, it was Barnabas who took him under his wing and brought him into ministry at Antioch. This became a powerful team and a powerful church.
10. Who told the leadership at Antioch to separate Barnabas and Saul? (13:2).
After this 'separating' and 'sending' Paul's ministry as an apostle was founded. From here, he commenced his missionary journeys. His original trips were with Barnabas but after a bitter argument, they were with different men including: Silas, and Timothy. He never travelled alone. As he gained more experience he took along a team of ministries. This was also his intention when he went to Athens (Acts 17:14-34).
11. How many members of Paul's team were with him in Athens? (vs.16).
Paul became stirred in his spirit because of the city's idolatry. So he began witnessing in the synagogue and in the streets every day. Soon the people of the city became interested in what Paul was preaching, so some of the Epicurean (pleasure is the meaning of life) and Stoic (denial as a way of life) philosophers took Paul to Mars Hill (the Areopagus). This was where all new philosophies were proclaimed. Paul used an outline principle that he found very successful and referred to as 'my Gospel'. The outline was:
1. RELATE vs.22
2. CREATE vs.23
3. CONVICT vs.30
4. REVEAL vs.31
(* Refer to any books by Ray Comfort, Living Waters Publications.)
12. According to verse 30, what does God now command all man to do?
13. Did lots of people get convicted at his preaching?
Luke records details in Acts, much of what he said then is now supported by modern archaeology. Although he includes about twenty four sermons in his twenty-eight chapters, these should be seen as summaries not as word-for word recollections.
5. PAUL BEFORE FELIX
By the time Paul was imprisoned by Felix, he had knowledge of his impending trouble awaiting him in Rome and had already had at least two assassination attempts against him. He was charged with bringing Gentiles into the Temple and causing disturbances against the Empire. After being tried by the council (Sanhedrin) he was handed over to the Governor (Felix) who imprisoned him.
14. What topics did Paul discuss with Felix? (Acts 24:25)
15. What is the ministry of the Holy Spirit? (John 16:8)
Paul was in jail at least two years on this occasion. From there he never really experienced any freedom even up to his trial at Rome. We can thank God that Paul was given the opportunity to write so much while in prison. Perhaps if he was never imprisoned, we would never have what we have of the Bible today(?).
New Testament Survey
© 2001 Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania