10 Things You Should Know about the Book of Acts

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

1. Acts is not primarily about the acts of the apostles.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts, didn’t actually give his book the title, “Acts of the Apostles.” That name was given to the book by the church in the third century. And while the book of Acts certainly tells the story of what happened to and through the twelve apostles and the apostle Paul in the thirty or so years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, if this is a book about what the apostles did, it is interesting that after the twelve are listed in the first chapter, we don’t hear anything else about most of them.

An argument could be made that this is a book about the acts of the poured out Holy Spirit. Or it could be the acts of the preached word. The word almost seems to take on an identity of its own in this book, as it is spreading and prevailing. Perhaps we could also say that this is a book about the acts of the enthroned Lord Jesus. Jesus ascends to his throne in heaven in the first chapter of Acts, and then, as we read through the book, he remains at the center of the action, calling people to himself, adding new believers to his church, providing direction to his disciples, and appointing ministers of his word.

2. Acts 1 provides an outline and a geographical guide to the remainder of the book.

In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus says to his apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8), which provides an outline for the rest of the book. These first followers receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they begin to preach in Jerusalem (chapters 2–7). From there they witness to Christ outside of Jerusalem in Judea and in Samaria (chapters 8–11). Then, from chapter 12 on, Paul and others take the gospel throughout Asia Minor, Asia, and all the way to Rome, the ends of the earth in their day.


Nancy Guthrie

Saved, by bestselling author Nancy Guthrie, gives individuals and small groups a friendly, theologically reliable, and robust guide to understanding the book of Acts.

3. Acts presents the ascension and Pentecost as essentially connected to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When it comes to articulating the gospel, we tend to focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Certainly, the announcement of these singular events in redemptive history are at the heart of the gospel message. But there is a sense in which they are incomplete without the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God in heaven, and the pouring out his Spirit on his people. When we come to these events in the first two chapters of Acts, we are at the apex of the unfolding of redemptive history which will culminate in his return. Without the ascension and Pentecost, the work that climaxes in Christ’s death and resurrection would be incomplete.

4. Acts presents the resurrection of Jesus as evidence that all of the prophets' promises about the last days had begun to be fulfilled.

When we meet the disciples in the opening of the book of Acts, they have spent forty days with Jesus, immersed in the writings of Moses and the prophets, and growing in their understanding of what it means that the resurrection of Jesus marks the ushering in of the last days the prophets wrote about. This helps us to understand what the issue was when Peter and John were accused of preaching “in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead,” and what Paul meant when he said he was on trial because of “the hope of Israel.” Israel as a nation set her hope on a day in the future when the Messiah would usher in a new age. Satan and evil would be gone for good; the world would enjoy perfect, universal peace and justice. This messianic age would be inaugurated by the resurrection of the dead (e.g., Dan. 12:2). The Jewish religious leaders who opposed the apostles believed in resurrection. But they didn’t like it that the apostles were saying that the messianic age had already begun with the resurrection of one man—Jesus—and that he was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament’s promises.

5. Acts connects the ministry and experience of Jesus’s followers to the ministry and experience of Jesus.

In the Gospels, we read about Jesus healing the blind, the deaf, and the lame. When we come to the book of Acts, we see the apostles do many of the same things. The same Spirit who enabled Jesus to do signs and wonders enabled his disciples to do signs and wonders to authenticate their ministry as being connected to his. But it is not just Jesus’ miracles that demonstrate a connectedness to his followers. In the accusations made against Peter and John, the murderous rage toward Stephen, and Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem even though he knows suffering awaits him there, the book of Acts takes care to show that Jesus’s followers can expect to be treated in the same way he was treated.

6. Acts addresses the hurdle that had to be overcome to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

When Acts opens, the apostles are prepared to follow Jesus’ command to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). But in their minds, Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could get in on God’s salvation through Christ. That meant the men had to be circumcised, and they had to follow Levitical law. Peter’s vision of a sheet filled with forbidden foods and the divine command to eat enabled him to understand and embrace the truth that Gentiles were no longer to be considered unclean. When the Jerusalem Council took up the matter of circumcision and sent a letter to the church in Antioch confirming that circumcision would not be required of Gentile believers, it clarified the gospel it was taking to the nations. Nothing is to be added to salvation, which is by grace alone through faith alone.

Acts presents the resurrection of Jesus as evidence that all of the prophets’ promises about the last days had begun to be fulfilled.

7. Acts presents a picture of believers in Christ in transition away from Judaism.

Acts records the history of a very unique time. Jews were no longer bound to strictly adhere to laws about circumcision or food or sacrifices at the temple. They could if they wanted to, but they didn’t have to. Yet there were many Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who still felt conscience-bound to circumcise their children—not in order to gain or to retain salvation, but because it had been the right thing to do their whole lives. Certainly Paul hoped that over time these Christians would develop the habit of thinking through Old Testament ceremonial law in light of its fulfillment by Christ and lose their sense of obligation. But he did not demand that these practices be abandoned overnight. The day was quickly coming when the temple would be destroyed, which would force not only Christian Jews, but all Jews, to leave the temple way of life behind.

8. Acts pushes back against the high value we place on physical safety.

Prayers for safety are often on our lips and dominate our prayer lists. And there’s nothing wrong with a desire to be safe. But personal safety can become an idol if it is more important to us than advancing the gospel of Jesus. From the very beginning of the story Acts tells about the spread of the gospel, those boldly speaking of Christ face significant threats. But then the threats become beatings, and then stonings. Acts should prepare us as believers to reckon with the realty that the life of a believer cannot be about self-preservation. Following Jesus wherever he leads may prove to be dangerous.

9. Acts provides an essential aspect of the story the Bible tells about the kingdom of God.

From the beginning of the Bible’s story, when Adam and Eve were told to exercise dominion as vice-regents of the Creator-King, the Bible is the story of a kingdom. Jesus began his ministry by saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” So we are not surprised that Luke begins the book of Acts saying that after his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with the disciples, “speaking about the kingdom of God” (1:3). The apostles were enrolled in a forty-day course of study, The Kingdom of God 101, taught by the King himself. Throughout the book of Acts, we see how the King, from his throne in heaven, is directing the advance of his kingdom in the world.

10. Acts directs our focus and attention toward God’s ultimate purposes in redemptive history: the salvation of a people for himself from every nation.

In the book of Acts we see the risen and enthroned Lord Jesus at work by his Spirit giving his apostles boldness to preach, adding to their number, and equipping them to establish churches. But toward what end? If we look at the bookends to Luke’s two-volume work for clues, we discover in Luke’s birth narrative that the child Mary is carrying is the one who will “give knowledge of salvation to his people” (Luke 1:77). Then at the other bookend, Paul proclaims, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen,” (Acts 28:28). In between, we’re told that the content of the message that the apostles have been empowered by the Spirit to declare is “the message of salvation” (Acts 13:26), or “the way of salvation” (16:17). The story Acts tells is situated in the larger story of the outworking of God’s plans to save a people for himself. In it we see that the enthroned Lord Jesus is at work by his Spirit through his apostles who are preaching the word, taking the gospel to every nation, and it is accomplishing its intended purpose: people are being saved.

Nancy Guthrie is the author of Saved: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Acts and the host of the podcast Conversations on the Bible with Nancy Guthrie.

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