GOSPELS: Acts of the Apostles
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Written as a “sequel” to the gospel of Luke, Acts of the Apostles picks up the story of the early followers of Jesus after his resurrection. Where Luke showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, Acts focuses on the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit works through the apostles (our heroes!).
Acts takes the reader on the journey of the apostles (Peter in the first half, Paul in the second) as they spread the gospel from Jerusalem through Asia Minor to Rome itself, the political center of their world. It focuses on Christian foundations: repentance and baptism; the teaching of the apostles; fellowship and the life of the community (in which they shared all their stuff!); prayer; and the ” breaking of the bread.”
Acts hits pay dirt with the Pentecost. The Holy Spirit makes a dramatic entrance, and the unlearned fishermen who were friends of Jesus suddenly became eloquent in many languages, astounding their listeners and drawing accusations of being three-sheets-to-the-wind. In a classic line, Peter replies, “These people are not drunk� it is only nine o’clock in the morning!” (2:15).
Other memorable stories along the way include Phillip the deacon’s conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch (the first Gentile Christian); the martyrdom of Stephen (first to die for his faith); Saul’s conversion (AKASt. Paul ) by Christ himself; the Council of Jerusalem; angels busting Peter out of prison; and Paul’s crafty “courtroom” arguments on behalf of the Christian faith.
Throughout the book, there are patterns. Our missionary heroes Peter and Paul perform many of the same deeds as Jesus in Luke: they heal the sick, drive out demons, and even raise the dead. They preach his message and baptize; they invoke the Holy Spirit on those who have been baptized.
Most of what the followers of Jesus seem to be doing is making speeches�rhetoric was a favorite ancient activity. They aim to persuade people of the saving power of Jesus. So we find them talking to everybody�Jewish leaders, local folks at the market, synagogue congregations, Athenian philosopher types, kings, Roman authorities. They emphasize the fundamentals, showing how Christianity deserves legal protection under the law of the Roman Empire (as Judaism received).
The gospel of Luke’s big point that salvation is for all is driven home. Gentile hearers from everywhere respond enthusiastically and faithfully to the gospel message (symptomatic of first-century conflicts, the Jews don’t fare so well: see also Notes on Anti-Semitism and Matthew). The other theme in Acts�that with preaching comes persecution�gets wide shrift, but such persecution is seen as cause for rejoicing by the early followers, proof of their devotion to God.
Like the Gospel of Luke, Acts was written for a mostly Gentile audience, probably around 80-90 A.D. in Syrian Antioch.