Reading Acts Together #1: Acts 1:1-11

What a privilege to have an account telling us about the origins and history of the early church! As we go through Acts together, the first eleven verses help us understand some of the main topics of the book.

Here are some key themes to hold on to as we go through it together.

1: Verses 1-2 show us the clear connection with Luke’s Gospel – it’s a good idea to read Luke-Acts as two volumes meant to be read together.[1]

2: We see in verse 3 that the apostles are witnesses of the resurrection. This will be a vital thread we cannot ignore as we go throughout Acts.  Jesus is risen and that makes all the difference! We worship and serve a resurrected Saviour and the apostles can testify to this fact!

Without the resurrection Acts doesn’t make sense and Luke is just writing historical fiction. ‘Convincing proofs’ implies the apostles and others Jesus appeared to, still required convincing. Contrary to popular belief – Second Temple Jews living in the First Century A.D. really thought dead was dead – especially when Messiahs were concerned. And especially when said Messiah dies on a tree.[2] So they clearly needed a bit more convincing – just like we often do.

3: The kingdom of God which is mentioned in verse 3 (and indirectly or incorrectly by the disciples in verse 6) acts like the key ingredient that will come up again and again, even if the word ‘kingdom’ is not specifically mentioned much.

Looking forward, we know that at the end of Acts the kingdom of God is mentioned again when Paul is in Rome (Acts 28:23; 31). When something like this happens its likely the author is intending for us is to think they are bookends (the literary term is inclusio) and everything in between is related to the kingdom. Acts is about the spreading of the kingdom of God! The key verse in the whole of Acts helps us understand this. Verse 8 which says, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth‘.

This underlies the missionary intent of the book and helps summarise the content of the book – the kingdom will be spread to the ends of the earth, starting from Jerusalem and working its way out before ending in Rome (which for a Palestinian Jew is kind of ‘the ends of the earth‘). But of course, we know the mission doesn’t stop at the end of Acts 28. The kingdom is still spreading, and we need to make sure we’re ‘going’ to spread it.

4: Another important theme in this section and the whole book is the Holy Spirit – everything that happens for the kingdom is Spirit-worked, and this section anticipates Pentecost – a key event when God’s people are empowered and indwelled by the third member of the Trinity. Many have said that an apt name for The Acts of the Apostles is actually The Acts of the Spirit. The Spirit is the personal missionary power behind the growth of the church.

5: The final key theme which works in tandem with the resurrection, but is explicit at the end of this section, is exaltation.  We’ll see this in places like Acts 2:32-33, but it’s here now in the ascension. The ascension is like Jesus’ triumphal entry back into the heavenly city celebrating his victory over sin, death and Satan. It’s like a triumph of Roman times, where the victorious general would publicly ride through Rome to great acclaim. This is Jesus’ parade back to heaven – and the apostles get to see it!

Everything else in Acts happens as a result of the ascended Saviour. Jesus wins the victory and is lifted up so he can send the Spirit and start the spread of his mission!

The clouds hiding Jesus (v9) is perhaps a reference to his deity as OT imagery of God’s appearance often accompanied or was referenced with clouds (see for example Deuteronomy 33:26). Luke’s Gospel has already highlighted this, both on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:34-35) and then in Luke 21:27 which highlights Christ’s return to earth when the kingdom has finally ‘come’.

So just as the disciples watched him leave intently – may we look intently for the return of the Christ. In the meantime, there’s kingdom building to be done.

[1] See for example Darrel L. Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts: Biblical Theology of the New Testament.

[2] See Deuteronomy 21:22-23 – Jews saw people crucified – those hung on a tree or pole as being under God’s curse – which further highlighted in their minds why Jesus couldn’t have been the Messiah, and why the disciples were unlikely to make this up.

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