Date: c. A.D. 65
Luke wrote the Book of Acts as a continuation of his history of the church. Volume one, which we know as the Gospel of Luke, tells about Jesus and the establishment of Christianity by his death and resurrection. Volume two, the Book of Acts, picks up with the ascension of Jesus back to heaven and the spread of the gospel out from Jerusalem, ultimately to Rome, where the book ends. It is not known whether or not Luke intended a volume three which would have gone to the end of the apostles’ lives. It is possible that he never lived to complete the work, even if that was his intention.
The reasons Luke wrote the Book of Acts are not hard to find. First, he wanted to present the facts about the new movement. Much was being said about it that was false, and Luke wanted to correct any misimpression’s that might have existed.
Second, he may have wanted to show Theophilus, to whom the book was dedicated, that as a Roman official he need not fear what Christianity might do. Granted when it went to some places trouble arose, but it was not the fault of the believers. They were trying to live peaceably, and within the law. It was usually the pagans who rose up in protest causing the difficulties.
Third, Luke wanted to show how the two primary leaders of the church, Peter and Paul, exercised their ministry. Because of some misunderstandings about the relations between the two, some people were trying to create separate churches. Luke tried to show that they were not in opposition to each other, but in fact agreed on the basic point at issue, namely, whether a person needed to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Both said that it was not necessary, and so did the rest of the church (15:1-21).
Finally, Luke wanted to chart the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to Syria, to Asia Minor, to Macedonia and Greece (Europe), and finally to Rome. It was Paul’s desire to see the gospel go to all people, and this was a fulfillment of his dreams. It is ironic that he went as a prisoner rather than freely, but he saw God’s hand in it. He wanted to make it to Rome, one way or another, and this was how God decided to do it. So Paul, the prisoner, preached freedom in Christ.
The book divides easily into two sections, the first half dealing with events in and around Jerusalem (1:1-12:25) and the second half with the spread of the gospel out from there (13:1-28:31).
Theological Themes in the Acts of the Apostles
The first half of Acts stresses some important theological points. The message is rooted in the Old Testament, as would be expected, because the preaching was primarily to Jews. There was also a strong emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus. This point could be made forcefully because it was in the very place where those events took place and many people there remembered it well. There was also a special focus on coming judgment and the end of the age. The judgment was to come sooner than most expected it, with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Finally, there was an urgent call to repentance and faith.
In the second half of the book, new theological insights are added to what is found in the first part. Because the gospel had gone beyond the bounds of Palestine, follow-up was stressed. That was necessary if the church was to grow. It isn’t enough to preach the gospel and leave; one must make sure that the church’s continuing needs are met. Also, the organizational structure of the church must be attended to. The church is not a place where anyone can be anything or one person rules like a despot. It is a place where the Spirit of God directs life and worship in an orderly manner through proper organizational structures.
Finally, new ways of expressing the message were needed. Because most of the converts outside Palestine were Gentiles, they would not be familiar with the Old Testament or its ideas. Ways to communicate to them, without changing the essential nature of the gospel, had to be found. What was done by the early missionaries in the Book of Acts sets a pattern for all of us to follow.
Outline for the Acts of the Apostles
- Early days of the church ACTS 1:1-2:47
- The gospel in Jerusalem ACTS 3:1-7:60
- Spread of the gospel to Samaria, Joppa, Caesarea, and Antioch ACTS 8:1-12:25
- Missionary journeys of Paul ACTS 13:1-21:16
- Arrest of Paul and journey to Rome ACTS 21:17-28:31