The book of Acts is a fascinating account of the life of the early first-century church. It highlights the work of the Spirit of God powerfully advancing the gospel beyond every barrier. We can better interpret its message when we see the author’s theme and his arrangement of the book’s contents. The theme is essentially a historical narrative on the beginnings of the church and the expansion of the Gentile mission. What is included by the author is therefore selective in order to make his point.
Concerning the book’s arrangement, it can be viewed in several ways: (1) It could be organized personally, focusing on Peter and Paul (thus having two halves). (2) It could be organized geographically, from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth (cf. 1:8) (thus having three sections). Or (3) It could be organized according to Luke’s progress reports (thus having seven units or sections – 1.1-2.47, 3,1-6.7, 6.8-9.31, 9.32-12.24, 12.25-16.5, 16.6-19.20, and 19.21-28.31). The latter reveals a singular thrust for the book -that the gospel advances in spite of hindrances. This is especially poignant, as the end of the book sees Paul arriving in Rome and imprisoned for two years, yet “the word of God cannot be chained” (2 Tim. 2.8-9).
The book’s writer is thought to be Paul’s companion, Luke. He begins his work by addressing the recipient named Theophilus, called “most excellent” in Luke 1.3, a term that normally indicates some kind of government official, or at least a person of high social rank. Luke informs Theophilus that this is now a second volume about Jesus. The first, as Luke explains it, covered the work and teachings of Jesus upon the earth up until he ascended to heaven. Luke is careful to include the fact that his first volume was about what Jesus “began to do and teach” (1.1), reminding his readers that Jesus is still alive and at work among his followers (cf. Heb. 7.25, Rom 8.34, Rev. 2.1).
As to the rest of chapter one, Luke provides a link to the resurrected Jesus’ final words concerning the kingdom of God, as well as a critical instruction for his followers to “wait for the promise of the Father”. This giving of the Spirit will set the stage for the kingdom’s advance and the transforming power found in the gospel. No longer will God’s Spirit merely rest upon men to empower them for service, but for those who receive Jesus, his Spirit will live within every believer. The waiting is possibly intended to convey that nothing can or should be done by disciples without the power and leading of the Spirit.
Luke includes a question posed by Jesus’ disciples regarding the timing of the coming kingdom. Jesus makes it clear that “times and seasons” are not our concern, but are exclusively the Father’s business. Most of us find it hard to wait, and we wonder about the future in our instant-gratification society, but God’s best gifts come to us on his own timetable (Luke 11.13). What WAS important was the disciples’ preparation for their singular mission from this point in the world. The disciples are to be Jesus’ witnesses, starting where they are in Jerusalem and only then expanding that mission to ever-widening circles to “the end of the earth”. This is a valuable reminder that we start by sharing Jesus with those in our closest circles (i.e. to our family, our friends, our city, etc.) before we yearn to witness in far-away places.
In the last section of chapter one, Luke includes the account of the replacement for Judas Iscariot to the original twelve disciples.The accounttells us that a primary qualification to be an apostle was to have been an associate with Jesus during his ministry and an eye-witness to the resurrection. After recounting Judas’ tragic story to the fledgling church, the apostles decide to put forth two possible replacements, Justus and Matthias.Ultimately, Matthias is commissioned as Judas’ replacement. Here we see a group of unified believers, obediently following the Lord, devoted in prayer, and depending on God’s Word – a model for every church.