"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses."
The New Testament divides neatly into two nearly equal sections. the first consists of four Gospels that tell about Jesus' life on earth. The second section, beginning with Romans, concerns churches that sprang up after Jesus left. In between stands the book of Acts.
The best way to appreciate Acts is to imagine a Bible without it. You have just read the life of Jesus, underscored by four different authors, and you turn to Romans: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus...to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." Rome? How did the story get there from Jerusalem?
Next you'd find two books, also from Paul (who's he?), addressed to "the church of God in Corinth." Another book follows, written to the church in Galatia, then one to Ephesus and so on with more letters to other exotic locales. Obviously, something is missing. Without Acts, the New Testament leaps from an orderly history of one man, Jesus, to a collection of unexplained personal correspondence.
|A Plan Reveled by Jesus|
With Acts, everything fits into place. This book gives a transition from the life of Christ to the new church. It introduces Paul and explains how a minority religion crossed the sea to Rome, the capital of the empire. A reader of Acts visits key cities sprinkled around the Mediterranean, meets the principal leaders of the new movement and gets a strong scent of the problems that will occupy Paul's letters.
Luke, a Physician, had written the third Gospel as an account of "all that Jesus began to do and to teach" (Acts 1:1). The book of Acts resumes the story, hinting that this history, too, will show Jesus at work, but in quite different form. "I will build my church," Jesus had promised (Matthew 16:18), and Acts graphically shows how that process began.
Jesus himself had laid out the plot in his last recorded words on Earth: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (1:8). Acts faithfully follows that outline: The first seven chapters show the church in Jerusalem, the next five focus on Judea and Samaria and the rest of the book follows the spread of the gospel to the outposts of Roman civilization.
|How To Read Acts|
Acts reads like well-written history. It follows a logical plan, includes fascinating details and focuses on the most dramatic events. In the sense, it is self-explanatory.
The first 12 chapters concentrate mainly on the apostle Peter. The rest of Acts features Paul (also called Saul), and the book explains how he became accepted as the first and foremost Christian missionary. Paul made three extensive trips in Acts, then a final voyage in chains to Rome.
Acts records the early history of relations between the church and the Roman empire. It also gives important background information on such cities as Corinth, Ephesus and Philippi-cities to whom Paul later wrote letters. The material in Acts will help you understand what Paul is writing about in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians and the other letters.
Acts also summarizes 18 different speeches by Paul, Peter and a few others. These speeches makes a fascinating study in themselves: The apostles were beginning to interpret the facts of Jesus' life in light of their spiritual significance. As you read them, note how the speakers chose their words and content with the audience in mind, and then note audience reaction.
|High Points in Acts|
- Chapter 1: Jesus' last appearance of the disciples.
- Chapter 2: The remarkable events of Pentecost.
- Chapter 5: A glimpse of life in the early Christian church-some good parts and also a tragic scene of failure.
- Chapter 9: The details of Saul's conversation.
- Chapter 16: Paul's dramatic experiences in Philippi, a city that produced one of Paul's favorite churches.
- Chapter 17: Paul on some of the most difficult assignment of his missionary journeys.
- Chapter 26: Paul recounts his personal story to a king.
- Chapter 27: Paul's shipwreck on the way to Rome.
- Chapter 28: Paul's last setting, under house arrest in Rome, where he probably wrote some of his New Testament letters.