Witnesses for Christ
The first verse of Acts lets us know that Luke is the author, that his recipient (Theophilus) is the same as his gospel, and that his gospel only covered the beginning of what Jesus did and taught. In other words, Acts is a continuation of the words and works of Jesus. Maybe we would do better if we viewed Acts not as the acts of the apostles but as the acts of Jesus done through His disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is very much present in the book of Acts (1:24; 2:33, 47; 3:16; 4:10; 7:55-60; 9:5, 10-12, 34; 14:3; 16:14, 18; 18:9; 23:11), and He continues to be present in the lives of His disciples today as they bear witness to Him (Matt. 28:20).
Another fascinating connection exists between Luke’s Gospel and Acts. At the end of the book of Luke, Jesus tells His disciples they are to be witnesses of the repentance and forgiveness of sin available through Him (24:47-48). That same emphasis appears throughout the narrative in Acts (5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 17:30; 26:18).
Witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth
Jesus laid out the plan of attack for His disciples as His witnesses in Acts 1:8. When the Spirit comes, they will witness of Him in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth. Acts reflects this three-pronged program. Acts 1-7 is set in Jerusalem. Persecution in Jerusalem pushes the witness into Judea and Samaria and even beyond (Acts 8-12). And Acts 13-28 records the advance of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The phrase “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (1:8) is repeated verbatim in 13:47 as Paul and Barnabas shift their focus away from the Jews and more toward reaching Gentiles.
While Peter was God’s choice to open the door to the Gentiles—and much of the first half of Acts follows the ministry of Peter—Paul was God’s special instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles and about half of Acts records the missionary journeys of Paul. Luke was Paul’s travel companion for some of these journeys, thus the “we” in 16:10 where Luke inserts himself into the narrative (also 20:5; 21:18; 27:1; 28:1). Luke recounts how Saul the persecutor (8:1) meets Jesus on the Damascus Road and is called by Him to evangelize Gentiles (9:15). A major purpose of Luke’s writing Acts seems to be to record how God used Paul to take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. In doing so, Luke helps us understand why so many of the New Testament books were written by Paul.
Jewish opposition to the witness to Jesus
In addition to recording the advance of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth, another purpose of Luke’s is found in chapter 28:28, “let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen.” These are Paul’s words to a Jewish audience. In Acts, the Jews are the primary persecutors of the Christian faith. And jealousy, the same reason the Jews hated Jesus, is the reason they oppose Jesus’ disciples (5:17; 13:45; 17:5). As you read Acts, note how in virtually every chapter, some kind of Jewish opposition is alluded to, either to Jesus Himself (by their crucifying Him) or to His disciples. The gospel of Jesus Christ has transitioned to the Gentiles not because it was not offered to the Jews but because the Jews did not want it. Acts also records Gentile opposition to the gospel, such as what happened at Philippi (16:19) and Ephesus (19:26), but it pales in comparison to what Paul suffered at the hands of his fellow countrymen.
The role of the Spirit in Christ’s witnesses
Of course, the witness of the disciples to Christ is only accomplished through the Holy Spirit. As you would expect, the Holy Spirit is a constant presence in Acts, empowering (1:8), convicting (7:51), filling (4:8), calling (13:2), speaking (10:19), leading (16:6), and predicting (20:23). He appears in over half of Acts’ chapters. Whatever His exact action, the vast majority of the Spirit’s work in Acts relates in some way to the work of furthering witness to Christ. Those filled with Him witness with boldness (4:31). He leads Christ’s witnesses to specific people (8:29), and He removes hurdles that might otherwise prevent the gospel from spreading (10:19-20). He calls specific people to the task of missions, directs their travels, and enables them to overcome opposition (13:1-10). He redirects to the right opportunities (16:6) and testifies honestly when persecution lies around the corner (20:23).
As you read Acts, view yourself as one of Christ’s witnesses. Realize you have the same Holy Spirit that empowered them to witness. Accept that where God’s providence has placed you is exactly where He wants you to witness for Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to direct your steps and fill your mouth so that you too can “proclaim the kingdom of God and teach the things concerning Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31).
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About the Author
Timothy W. Berrey is the author of Planning Your Life God's Way and From Eden to Patmos: An Overview of Biblical History. He is the director of Graduate Studies at Bob Jones Memorial Bible College in Metro Manila, where he has lived with his wife Laura and six children since 2005.