A Study of Acts 1
Introduction: Tonight I want to begin a series of studies entitled AD: Amazing Devotion – a study of the book of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles is a book that contains 29 chapters. Only 28 of them are in the New Testament. Chapter 29 encompasses all of subsequent Christian history and, in fact, we are still living now in chapter 29. The work we’re seeking to do for the Lord every day and every week is the continuation of the book of Acts. The work of this church is chapter 29. What is happening here tonight is chapter 29. What is going on in missions around the world is chapter 29. Chapter 29 is the span between the end of the book of Acts and the rapture of the church. We are living in chapter 29, and that’s why it’s so exciting to us. We love to study this book because we’re still living in its pages.
Saint Luke, whom Paul calls a physician, wrote it. There are three references to Luke in the New Testament, all of them in letters Paul wrote from prison (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). He was a brilliant man; he was an intellectual, a doctor, a theologian, a historian, and an evangelist. He was evidently a Gentile, the only non-Jewish writer of the New Testament. Yet he wrote more than one-fourth of the volume of the entire New Testament. He began the book of Acts by referring back to his earlier Gospel. Let’s begin with Acts 1:1:
Verse 1: In my former book…
Luke is referring back to his Gospel, the Gospel of Luke. It’s fascinating to compare the Gospel of Luke with the book of Acts. Both are roughly the same length and both cover about thirty years. Together they cover a period of sixty years from the birth of Jesus to the arrival of the apostle Paul in the capital city of the Roman Empire. Both begin with a chapter of preparation. In Luke 1, we have the preparation for the birth of Jesus – the Virgin Mary was there; and in Acts 1 we have the preparation for the birth of the church – and the Virgin Mary was there too. She perhaps gave Luke her account about both events.
In Luke 2, we have the story of the birth of Christ; in Acts 2, we have the story of the birth of the church. Both were the result of a special supernatural work of the Holy Spirit on human beings. The remaining chapters of the Gospel tells us about how the story of Jesus went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem; and the story of the book of Acts tells us how the story of Jesus went from Bethlehem to Rome.
So these are twin books by the same author – a two-volume history of the first 60 years of Christianity. Luke begins the second book by harkening back to the first.
Verse 1: In my former book, Theophilus…
We do not know who Theophilus was, but we know what his name means – Lover of God. He was apparently a Roman man of wealth who was interested in Christianity and perhaps was a convert and benefactor of Luke. Perhaps he helped finance the research and writing of these volumes. Luke dedicated both books to him.
Verse 1: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…
The key verb is began, and it is very important. One of my first sermons as pastor of this church was from this verse and from this verb. What happened in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was the beginning of what Jesus did and taught. What happened in the book of Acts and in the story of the church to this day is what Jesus is continuing to do and to teach.
Verse 2: …until the day He was taken up to heaven.
It doesn’t not say that He lifted Himself up to heaven or that He levitated Himself into the sky, but that He was taken. The verb is in the passive tense. That indicates to me that there was a magnetic force of some kind that pulled Him off the surface of the earth and into the sky. That is exactly what’s going to happen at the moment of the rapture of the church. Luke 1:2 is the rapture of Jesus Christ. It is a preview and harbinger of the rapture of the church. Just as Jesus was caught up or taken up to heaven at the end of His earthly ministry, the same will be true for the church.
Verse 2: …after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.
What Jesus did during His ministry on earth, He did through the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. The word “Messiah” means “Anointed One.” At the baptism by John, Jesus was anointed with power by the Holy Spirit, and He preached and taught and healed in the power of the Holy Spirit. In some mysterious way, He had laid aside many or all of His own divine prerogatives, and He ministered through the Spirit’s power. The same is true for us.
Jesus preached and ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. When His work was done, He passed away. He rose again. He was raptured into the heavens – all of that will be true for us. Jesus is our forerunner.
Verse 3: After His suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.
This is evidential apologetics. Jesus didn’t just expect His followers to believe in Him despite the evidence, but because of it. After seeing the risen Christ, it was logical, sensible, credible, and intellectually sound to believe. The study of apologetics is an investigation into the many infallible proofs that the Lord gives us for the defense of the Christian faith.
Verse 3: He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
Jesus began and ended His ministry with a forty-day period. At the beginning of His ministry, He was forty days in the wilderness; and at the end of His ministry He was forty days in time between the resurrection and the ascension.
Notice also that the book of Acts begins and ends on the subject of the Kingdom of God. This verse says that Jesus taught and spoke about the kingdom of God before His ascension. And at the end of the book, the very last verse says: “(The apostle Paul” proclaimed the kingdom of God and aught about Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance.
Verses 4-5: 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. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
If someone asks you if we believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the answer is yes. When John baptized someone in the Gospels, He plunged them into water. When God baptized the church in Acts 2, He plunged them into the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is that event whereby the church was plunged into, saturated, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. When we receive Jesus Christ as Savior, we have a part of that baptism. We become part of the church that was baptized in the Spirit in Acts 2. So we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us from the moment of conversion. I do not believe the Bible teaches that individual believers should have an individual experience of being baptized by the Spirit after conversion. I think we can be filled with the Holy Spirit; but the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church and every believer was, from that moment, indwelled by the Spirit. Here in verses 4 and 5, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Baptism of the Spirit, which would occur on the Day of Pentecost. The baptism of the Spirit was a historical event that formed the church, and when we become Christians be become part of His body, His family, the church, and therefore we have a part in that baptism.
Verse 6: Then they gathered around Him…
Evidently Jesus spoke to them over a meal, and after the meal they all got up and gathered in a circle around Him.
Verse 6: Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The disciples were unsure still of the timing of God’s kingdom. Jesus used this as the occasion to give another version of the Great Commission.
Verses7-8: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This verse 8 gives us the outline for the book of Acts. It’s like the table of contents. When you look at the structure of the book of Acts…
- Chapters 2-7 are about the evangelization of Jerusalem.
- Chapters 8-12 are about the evangelization of Judea and Samaria.
- Chapters 13-28 are about the evangelization of the ends of the earth.
Verse 9: After He said this, He was taken up…
This is the same phrase we saw earlier, in verse 2 and will see later in verse 22.
Verse 9: He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
He literally disappeared into the clouds.
Verse 10: They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
This is the first appearance of angels in the book of Acts. We have several angel sightings in Acts, and here is the first, at the ascension of our Lord.
Verse 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 seem Him go into heaven.
And here we have the definition and scope of the age of evangelism – from the ascension to the Second Coming. Now, what is the meaning of the phrase “in the same way”? Here we have a promise of the Second Coming, but we also have some clues about how it will take place. There are five things to consider: (1) Jesus will descend to the earth just as He ascended. (2) The location will be the same. According to Zechariah 14:4, “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” (3) His return will be physical, visible, and observable. (4) His coming will be in the clouds. Just as a cloud hid Jesus from view in Acts 1:9, so He will come in the clouds of glory (Mark 13:26). (5) His coming will be in the presence of angels (Matthew 25:31).
Verse 12: Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.
You can still make this same walk. When we take trips to Israel, I always try to get away long enough to walk from the Mount of Olives down one side of the hill, into the Kidron Valley, and up the other side and through the gates of the city. It’s less that a mile, but the elevations are rather steep.
Verse 13: When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying.
We do not know this location. This was perhaps the Upper Room where they had met the night before Jesus was crucified, but we don’t know. Based on Acts 12:12, many people believe this room was in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, the writer of the Second Gospel. We don’t know that either. Perhaps this Upper Room was in the house of Nicodemus or some other wealthy person who was sympathetic to the Christian movement.
Verses 13-14: Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrews; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. The all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
After reading the Gospels, this is somewhat of a surprise – His brothers. In the Gospels, our Lord’s brothers scorned and mocked Him. But He evidently appeared to one or more of them after the resurrection, and now they are among the first followers in Acts. Their primary activity was prayer.
Verse 15: In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty).
It’s very significant that Luke tracks the numbers and the numerical statistics of the early church. You see this through the first chapter of the book of Acts. Numbers are important because numbers represent people. Every number represents a person for whom Christ died. I’ve never been afraid of counting numbers, because it’s biblical to do so. Someone did a head count in the Upper Room. They had grown ten-fold, from 12 disciples to 120 disciples. 120 is ten times twelve. Israel had twelve tribes; Jesus had twelve apostles, and now there were ten groups of twelve. Except, of course, there was a problem. There were no longer twelve apostles; there were only eleven. So Peter convened the first business meeting in Christian history, the first church conference.
Verse 16: (Peter) said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus.
Oh, there is so much in this verse. First, we have something about the nature of inspiration. Peter is about to quote from the book of Psalms, which, he said, was the Holy Spirit speaking through David. We also have something here about the nature of prophecy. When the Hoy Spirit spoke through David, it was concerning Judas. Now, David lived 1000 years before Judas, and yet, according to Peter, David was talking prophetically about this man who would live a millennium later. Third, we have something about the nature of God’s Word. It is unfailing. It has to be fulfilled. Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus.”
Verse 17: He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.
Now, Luke pauses in his narrative here to add some color commentary, and it is rather colorful. He adds a parenthetical explanation that is rather graphic and blunt.
Verses 18-19: (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Matthew 27 says that Judas hanged himself, and some critics say this points to a contradiction in the Bible. But there is no reason both accounts cannot be true, and, in fact, it seems likely they are. Judas hanged himself, and at some point his body fell to the ground and ruptured. Now, in verse 20, Peter resumes his speech by quoting from Psalm 69 and Psalm 109:
Verse 20: “For,” said Peter, “It is written in the book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it.’ And ‘May another take his place of leadership.’
Verse 21: Therefor it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.
This is the third time this phrase “taken up” is used of our Lord’s ascension in this chapter. And here in these verses Peter has defined the qualifications for the original disciples: They were men who had been with Jesus for three years – from the time of His baptism by John to the time of His ascension into heaven. From the early beginning, the church was careful about its leadership. It needed adequate leaders to oversee its ministries, and it needed leaders who were trustworthy and mature.
Verses 22-25: For one of us must become a witness with us of His resurrection. So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, You know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where He belongs.”
Verse 26: So they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
I don’t quite understand the habit of casting lots. It’s not something I’ve ever done, and I’ve never made a church decision (or any decision) in this way. It was an Old Testament practice, and after the Day of Pentecost it is never mentioned again in the New Testament. Now that the Holy Spirit has come to indwell us, we don’t need to follow this Old Testament pattern. We have other ways of detecting the will of God.
Now, some people have said that the selection of Matthias was premature, that God had intended the apostle Paul to become the Twelfth apostle. But there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that. Paul had an apostolic ministry of his own, but here in Jerusalem at the beginning of the church and at the beginning of church history they needed the apostolic band to be complete.
Conclusion: For me the takeaway is that God’s work is right on schedule. Jesus Christ is still working through His church by the Holy Spirit and will do so until He comes again. What we are doing may not always seem exciting, but it’s nothing less than the work of the Lord Jesus in and through us until He comes again. We’re living in the 29th chapter of Acts, and from all appearances, we may not be far from the end of the chapter. We must never be discouraged, but we must press on believing and knowing that it’s the Lord Jesus who is continuing through us the works and words He began in the Gospel. We’re doing greater things than we know — and more good than we realize.