Chapter 1.
The Church Begins

Acts 1:1-11; 2:1-4, 37-47; 4:32-37

The Arrangement of Acts

Many outlines have been suggested for the study of the book of Acts. C. H. Turner's suggestion of six chronological "panels" in the book may actually come the closest to Luke's own plan as he laid out the material. Each "panel" covers a particular time and focuses on (though not exclusively) one geographical area. In addition, each one concludes with a distinct summary statement in the text.

Panel One Acts 1:1-6:7

Location: Jerusalem

Summary: "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."—Acts 6:7

Panel Two Acts 6:8-9:31

Location: Judea and Samaria (and Galilee)

Summary: "Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord."—Acts 9:31

Panel Three Acts 9:32-12:24

Location: Syria; Gentiles included

Summary: "But the word of God continued to increase and spread."—Acts 12:24

Panel Four Acts 12:25-16:5

Location: Asia Minor

Summary: "So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers."—Acts 16:5

Panel Five Acts 16:6-19:20

Location: Gospel introduced in Europe; churches strengthened in Asia Minor

Summary: "The word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power."—Acts 19:20

Panel Six Acts 19:21-28:31

Location: The church reaches Rome

Summary: "Paul... welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ."—Acts 28:30,31

Jesus' Commission and Ascension

Acts 1:1-11

Establishing the Groundwork

With this volume of studies, we begin with the opening verses of the New Testament book known as "The Acts of the Apostles." That title may be a bit misleading. The "acts" and words of only two apostles dominate the book: Peter in the first twelve chapters and Paul in the last sixteen. However, the focus on their ministries gives us an accurate representation of the general witness and preaching of all the apostles.

The author of Acts is Luke, the "beloved physician" and a co-worker of Paul. One of the primary pieces of evidence for this is the fact that both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are addressed to the same individual, "Theophilus" (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). Judging from the events recorded at the end of Acts (Paul's journey to Rome and his imprisonment there), Luke probably wrote Acts around A.D. 62. Luke's Gospel and Acts form a two-volume presentation of the life of Christ and the first years of Christ's church. In fact, Acts forms a kind of "bridge" from the Gospels to the New Testament epistles. Without it, the letters of Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude would be far more difficult to understand.

Examining the Text

I. A Period of Proofs (Acts 1:1-5)

A. Introduction to the Book (vv. 1, 2)

1, 2 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

The former book mentioned in this verse is the Gospel of Luke. As noted above, both Luke and Acts are addressed to Theophilus. (For further information on the identity of Theophilus, see the comments in the previous volume under Luke 1:3.) No doubt Luke "carefully investigated everything" in the process of compiling this record, just as he had done in writing his account of the life and ministry of Jesus (Luke 1:3). There is even an indication of Luke's personally witnessing certain events of which he writes; note the use of the pronouns we and us in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; and 27:1-28:16.

Luke says that in his previous account (his Gospel), he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. That account ended with the day he was taken up to heaven (Luke 24:50-53). Acts, in turn, tells how Jesus' ministry continued after his ascension through his apostles and his church. Notice that Luke emphasizes Jesus' actions by putting do before teach. The apostles' preaching in Acts focused on Jesus' miracles, including his death for us and his resurrection, rather than his ethical teaching. The gospel that saves us centers on what Jesus did (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

At the same time, Jesus prepared his apostles for their future task by giving them instructions through the Holy Spirit. These included his commands to preach the gospel to all nations, baptize believers, and lead those believers toward spiritual maturity (Matthew 28:18-20). This same Spirit would be promised to the apostles as their source of power in carrying out Jesus' commission to them (Acts 1:8).

B. Evidence of the Christ (v. 3)

3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

The apostles had to be utterly convinced that Jesus had overcome death. So Jesus went out of his way to make sure that they had all the proofs they needed. He invited them to look at his nail marks and spear wound, to touch him, to give him food to eat, and even to thrust their hands into his wounds (Luke 24:37-43; John 20:27). Notice also the list of witnesses to the resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. These appearances occurred at various times during the forty days between Jesus' resurrection and ascension.

The subject of Jesus' post-resurrection teaching was a topic that he had frequently addressed during his public ministry: the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). As described in the Model Prayer, God's kingdom is present when those who are his subjects do his will here on earth as it is done in heaven (Matthew 6:10). With the establishment of Jesus' church on the Day of Pentecost, the phrase the kingdom of God describes both the church's present identity (Colossians 1:13) and its future goal (2 Timothy 4:18).

C. Baptism of the Spirit (vv. 4, 5)

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Jesus had appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem during the evening following his resurrection (John 20:19). During the following forty days he spent some time with them in Galilee (John 21:1-23; Matthew 28:16-20). Now, as the time of his ascension drew near, he met with them in Jerusalem again and told them to stay there and wait for the gift that had been promised by the Father. As the next verse indicates, this gift was the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was not a new subject to the apostles; they had heard Jesus speak about him on the night before his crucifixion (John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26, 27).

5 "For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

Jesus' words call to mind John the Baptist's prophecy of how Jesus' ministry, particularly his baptism, would supersede his own (Luke 3:16). People—whether John, the apostles, or any Christian—can administer baptism by water. But only Jesus can immerse (the meaning of the Greek word rendered baptized) people with (or "in") the Holy Spirit.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit is mentioned only seven times in the Bible. The first four are the Gospel accounts of John the Baptist's prediction that the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). The next occurrence is in the verse before us. Jesus' words point directly to the Spirits filling of the apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2:4). The sixth reference is found in Acts 11:16, where Peter connects the Lord's promise of the Spirit's filling with events at the household of Cornelius as well as with the filling of the apostles "at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). Thus the baptism in the Spirit is historically connected with just two events—the filling of the apostles at Pentecost and the filling of Cornelius's household. These two events are pivotal, for they mark the first gospel presentations to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.

The seventh and final verse describing a Spirit baptism is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Here Paul notes that all Christians have been "baptized by one Spirit into one body." (The Greek word that is translated "by" is the same word that is used in the other six passages, where it is translated "with.") Here, however, Paul is not discussing the Spirit baptism that Jesus administered. Instead, he is talking about the unity of the church based on the fact that all Christians have been "baptized... into one body." Given the fact that there is only "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5), it seems best to understand 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to the "gift of the Holy Spirit" that accompanies the baptism in water that all Christians are to experience (Acts 2:38). Biblically, then, the promise of Jesus' baptizing in the Spirit is applied to only two important occasions in the book of Acts.

The few days mentioned by Jesus were ten in number. We know this because Jesus was with the apostles after his resurrection for 40 days (v. 3) and the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost—a feast held 50 days after the Passover celebration during which Jesus died and rose again.

II. A Promise of Power (Acts 1:6-11)

A. Time of the Kingdom (vv. 6, 7)

6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

This occasion of meeting together appears to be different from the one mentioned in verse 4. The one described here occurred at the Mount of Olives (v. 12). The question raised by the apostles was not an unreasonable one. Jesus had been teaching them about the kingdom of God (v. 3) and he had been promising the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Israel had always associated with the restoration of its greatness as an independent nation (Ezekiel 36:22-28). As previous studies have noted, in the first century many believed that this restoration would be accompanied by the overthrow of the Roman forces that occupied the country.

Throughout Jesus' ministry, the apostles had been interested in becoming leaders in the restored kingdom of which he spoke (Matthew 20:20-28). Their interests, however, had been tainted by the popular thinking. Even now, with Jesus' death and resurrection having taken place, the apostles' question revealed that they still held certain misunderstandings about what Jesus had taught them.

7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Jesus responded to the apostles' question by telling them that information about God's timetable was not meant for them. Such knowledge was (and is) not necessary for the followers of Jesus to have in order to complete their mission. In fact, such knowledge is reserved by God the Father for himself (Mark 13:32). He holds the future in his hand, and we need not try to pry it from his fingers. The focus of Jesus' teaching about the end times is not to provide us with a handy chart outlining when and how he will return. His main concern is that we be active and faithful servants, ready for the Master to return at any moment (Mark 13:33-37).

B. Power of the Witnesses (v. 8)

8 "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."

Instead of giving the apostles a timetable, Jesus gave them a task: he told them that they were to be his witnesses to the entire world. Whenever God requires an action, he supplies the power to achieve it. Power for the apostolic mission would be provided when the Holy Spirit came on them. It is worth noting that when the apostles were baptized in the Spirit on Pentecost, they were invested with the ability to speak of "the wonders of God" to "Jews from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5, 11).

The apostles, however, were not to stay in Jerusalem. In fact, the verse before us may be considered the key that unlocks the development of the rest of the book of Acts. Jesus told his apostles to fulfill their task in three stages, and those stages are reflected in the events described within Acts: in Jerusalem (as told in Acts 1-7), in all Judea and Samaria (chapters 8-12), and throughout the known world (chapters 13-28). This pattern for evangelism is one that all of us still can use; we can begin with reaching those close to us, even as we keep the ends of the earth our ultimate goal.

The power that the apostles were to receive from the Spirit was demonstrated by three ministries in particular. One power that the Spirit gave the apostles was the ability to accurately recall and proclaim all that Jesus taught them during his three and a half years of public ministry. Furthermore, the Spirit would reveal to them any additional truths as they would need them (John 14:26; 15:26, 27; 16:13-15). A second witness power given to the apostles was the ability to perform signs and wonders to confirm that their message came from God and was true (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 2 Corinthians 12:12). The third power that accompanied the apostles' preaching was the working of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of the hearers of the gospel to convict them of their sin and of their need for a Savior (John 16:7-11). This power is still at work whenever we share the gospel with others.

The Scriptures do not indicate that the apostles expressed any shock or voiced any objections at Jesus' words. But the implications of his commission must have been staggering to these men who only a moment before were interested in the time when Jesus would "restore the kingdom to Israel." For example, they were to reach out to the Samaritans—a shocking thought to any loyal Jew. Later, the Lord provided a dramatic revelation to Peter regarding the all-inclusive nature of the gospel message (Acts 10:9-16; 11:4-18).

C. Certainty of Jesus' Return (vv. 9-11)

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

As he had foretold, Jesus was now leaving the earth in order to return to his Father (John 16:28). He had told the apostles, "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Jesus' ascension signaled that the Holy Spirit would indeed come "in a few days," as he had earlier said (v. 5).

The cloud into which Jesus ascended may have been simply an ordinary cloud that eventually hid him from the apostles' sight. However, it is also possible that this was the cloud of glory associated with the presence of God in the Old Testament and with Jesus at his transfiguration (Exodus 40:34; Mark 9:7).

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.

The two men who stood beside the apostles as Jesus ascended are not specifically identified, but their sudden appearance and their white clothing leave little doubt that they were angels. (See Matthew 28:2, 3; Mark 16:5; and John 20:12. Compare also Acts 10:30 and 11:13.)

11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

The gentle angelic rebuke seems to say, "Why are you staring at the sky? Unlike his transfiguration, Jesus will not rejoin you when the clouds roll back. But he will come back someday. Until he does, remember: you have his orders to carry out!"

The promise to the apostles (and to us) is that this same Jesus will return in the same way he left: personally, visibly, bodily, unexpectedly, and gloriously. At his trial, Jesus prophesied that his accusers would see him "coming on the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62; see also Revelation 1:7). The early Christians lived with a joyous expectation of Jesus' imminent return. This promise encouraged them as they moved out to win as many as possible to his kingdom before he came again. Our expectation of Jesus' coming should do the same for us, for this is certain: with every day that passes we are one day closer�