By Tim Peace
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:1–8 NRSV
Many who encounter the book of Acts come to the text with assumptions regarding its purpose. A primary belief is that Acts exists to give us a straightforward historical account of the early church in its formation.
While Acts indeed details the goings-on of the early church, primarily the ministry of the apostles (hence the title, Acts of the Apostles), the reality is that there is a deeper intention to the book than mere historical recall.
To get to the book’s point, it’s vital to pay close attention to what the author says at the beginning of the book.
First, Luke, the composer of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, reminds his audience (named Theophilus in both works) that his first work detailed what Jesus said and did from the beginning of his life until “the day when he was taken up to heaven” (Luke 1:1-2).
Interestingly, however, Luke doesn’t overtly tell his readership the purpose of Acts. Instead, he leaves that to a brief dialogue between the resurrected Jesus and his apostles. In addition, we should note a shift for Luke in verse three; he uses the term apostles rather than disciples (Luke 1:3). The Gospel of Luke routinely uses the word disciple to refer to the followers of Jesus because disciple means pupil, student, or follower. The term apostle means delegate, envoy, or messenger and likely refers to only the special twelve disciples whom Jesus handpicked.
So, Jesus commands his disciples to remain in Jerusalem to await the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:4-5). The command to wait in Jerusalem prompts his apostles to ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Luke 1:6). And Jesus responds by first pointing out that their mission as messengers does not entail insider information about “the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority” (Luke 1:7). Instead, the mission of the apostles is to “be [Jesus’] witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:8).
That exchange between Jesus and the apostles tells us what the book of Acts is all about, and equally important, what it’s not about.
You see, Jesus’ apostles, beholding the resurrected Jesus, are concerned with one thing: when will power be taken from the Romans and be restored to the Kingdom of Israel. But, unfortunately, according to Jesus, they’re concerned with the wrong thing, although Jesus, believe it or not, actually answers their question.
The consolidation of power to one people group is not the concern of the king and his kingdom.
Instead, through the Holy Spirit, the power of God will start in Jerusalem and go out through the messengers of Jesus. Thus, God is not concerned with one kingdom, nation, or principality overpowering the world over. Instead, he’s concerned with empowering all followers of Jesus, who represent all nations and tribes, through the mission of making disciples and empowering those disciples with the Holy Spirit.
Thus, we could say the book of Acts is about the continued mission of Jesus, to make disciples of all nations, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the hands and feet of the apostles appointed by Jesus.
And while Jesus’ twelve apostles aren’t around anymore, the mission of disciple-making through the power of the Spirit is alive and well and meant to be happening through the church. The template for being the church and fulfilling this mission is set in the book of Acts, and we, today, are privileged with the opportunity to be a part of and continue the mission.
So, our lesson is this: we are called not to worry about when the culmination of our power will commence, but concerned with boldly making disciples and sharing in the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, to bring about the kingdom for the benefit of all nations and all peoples.
Hope you’ll join us as we study through the Acts of the Apostles in our November series, Unstoppable Church!