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NT Survey - 3 - Acts

Between the ministry and teaching of Jesus as narrated in the Gospels and the theology and doctrines as outlined in the epistles of Paul and the other New Testament writers is the book of Acts. It explains how the men who were so timid they ran at the crucifixion became bold apologists and changed the world with an entirely new culture that reshaped all Western civilization.

Icon - ActsBecause of the inclusion in the introduction of the name Theophilus and the mention of a former book, it is generally accepted that Luke is the author of the book of Acts. This makes Acts in essence a sequel to the Gospel of Luke.

Acts contains the history of the early church from the Ascension of Christ through the three missionary journels of Paul and the opening of Paul's ministry during his imprisonment in Rome. Within the book is the beginning of the dispensation of the Holy Spirit.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Acts 1:8 (NIV)

The power of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the believers as outlined in Acts 2:42-47 identify the way the early church joined together in faith and deed to proclaim the truth of the teachings of Jesus, and how this drew people to faith.

42  They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
44  All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
46  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

A basic outline of Acts can be divided into five main sections, mainly constructed around the outline of geographical areas given in Acts 1:8.

A Introduction 1:1-11
B The Origin of the Church: Jerusalem 1:12 - 8:3
C The Period of Transition: Samaria 8:4 - 11:18
D The Expansion to the Gentiles
(The Mission of Paul: Antioch and the Empire)
11:19 - 21:16
E The Imprisonment and Defense of Paul:
  Caesarea and Rome
21:17 - 28:31

A. Introduction

The first verses of Acts set the scene for the rest of the book. The author narrates how Jesus appeared to the apostles and talked to them.

During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
Acts 1:3 (NLT)

The apostles were hoping that Jesus was going to restore Israel to its rightful place and restore the kingdom. They did not understand the fact that Jesus was more concerned with the Kingdom of God than the earthly kingdoms. Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to appear. After He told them this, he ascended into heaven.

"Men of Galilee," they said, "why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!"
Acts 1:11 (NLT)

B. The Origin of the Church

The promised Holy Spirit, when He appeared to the followers and apostles of Jesus who were praying in the upper room, changed their lives.

1  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
4  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-4 (NIV)

The power that the Holy Spirit brought was vital to the church, and changed these timid men and women into brave and bold witnesses for Jesus. Peter, the same one who denied Jesus, stood up and spoke to the crowd that day and spoke of the truth about Jesus with such power that many came to belief.

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Acts 2:41 (NIV)

Peter and John continued to teach and preach in Jerusalem, and their message was strengthened through signs and miracles that were performed in the midst of their speaking. They healed a crippled beggar to show the power of God.

Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.
Acts 3:6 (NIV)

When the word about Peter and John's preaching reached the Sanhedrin, they were questioned and were asked, "By what power or what name did you do this?" Acts 4:7 (NIV).  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter answered:

9  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed,
10  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
11  He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone'.
12  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
13  When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:9-13 (NIV)

The new group of believers continued to meet together and shared their possessions,

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
Acts 4:32 (NIV)

The apostles were ordered not to preach in the name of Jesus without the permission of the Sanhedrin. However, they continued to share the message of the risen Christ. The popularity of the message that they were sharing caused Sanhedrin to begin to persecute the believers. The first martyr recorded was Stephen. As he was accused, Stephen began to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaimed Jesus before they stoned him. (Acts 6:8 - 7:60) Amongst the people who were there and giving approval to the death of Stephen was Saul of Tarsus.

C. The Period of Transition: Samaria

The persecution of the believers in Jerusalem caused them to scatter through the region for their safety. This caused a growth of the church in the region of Samaria. Philip saw the power of the Holy Spirit in his preaching as many people were healed within the crowds. Peter and John also went down to Samaria.

In the midst of this, Saul continued to persecute the believers, and did so with great zeal. He was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. (Acts 9:1) As he was travelling on the road to Damascus, he had a mighty encounter with Jesus. When he recovered from the encounter, his life was changed and he began to preach the same message that he was zealously persecuting up to that time.

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
Acts 9:20 (NIV)

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Acts 9:31 (NIV)

D. The Expansion to the Gentiles (The Mission of Paul: Antioch and the Empire)

The next portion of Acts covers the expansion of the church into many other areas of Asia Minor. Saul became known as Paul, and took his first missionary journey to Syria, Cyprus, Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. His companions on this first journey are Barnabas and Mark, although Mark left early and returned to Jerusalem.

19  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.
20  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.
Acts 11:19-20 (NIV)

Paul returned to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles in response to some false teaching that had made its way into the church at Antioch. The apostles and elders chose Judas (called Barsabas) and Silas to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch. During this time, Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement over John Mark rejoining them and separate ways.

Paul starts his second missionary journey with Silas, and they travel to Tarsus, Derbe and Lystra. Here, Paul meets Timothy, who becomes a frequent travelling companion. Paul, Silas and Timothy travel to Galatia and Phrygia, and then on to Troas. At Troas, Luke joins the group and they travel to Neapolis and Phillipi. Paul and Silas are imprisoned at Phillipi because they cast a demon out of a slave girl and caused her owners to lose revenue.

It is in Phillipi that the prison is rocked by an earthquake and Paul is freed, an event that leads to the conversion of the prison guard. The group travel through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia and on to Thessalonica. From there, Paul and his fellow travellers go to Berea to preach. Troublemakers from Thessalonica arrive in Berea and Paul moves on to Athens. In Athens, Paul sends word back to Silas and Timothy in Berea to join him.

It was in Athens, when Paul was questioned by a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers that he preaches the sermon "To An Unknown God."

22  Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
24  "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.
25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
26  From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
27  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
28  'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
29  "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill.
30  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
31  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
Acts 17:22-31 (NIV)

Paul eventually travels to Corinth, where he meets Priscilla and Aquila, who are fellow tentmakers. He stays with them, preaching in the synagogue until a new church is formed. He continues to teach and preach there for some time before travelling onto Cenchrea and Ephesus before returning to Jerusalem.

Paul's third missionary journey takes him through most of Asia Minor. He starts by travelling to Antioch in Syria, on to Galatia and Phrygia and then he travels to Ephesus.

24  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
25  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
26  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27  When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.
28  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Acts 18:24-28 (NIV)

From Ephesus, Paul travelled to Macedonia and on to Greece. From Greece, Paul returned to Macedonia and to Philippi, where Luke joined him. From Phillipi, Paul travelled to Troas, where he spoke for an extended time and a young man fell asleep, fell out the window and died.

7  On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
8  There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.
9  Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.
10  Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!"
11  Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.
12  The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Acts 20:7-12 (NIV)

Paul travelled from Troas to Miletus, Rhodes, Tyre and on to Ptolemais and then Caesarea. At Caesarea, Paul stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, where he was warned that he would be imprisoned if he returned to Jerusalem. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem as was prophesied.

E. The Imprisonment and Defense of Paul: Caesarea and Rome

While Paul was in the temple at Jerusalem, a number of Jewish troublemakers seized Paul and dragged him from the temple to beat him. The Roman commander heard of it and send his officers and soldiers to arrest him. Paul speaks to the crowd and gives his testimony, after which the Roman commander orders him flogged and questioned.

Paul reveals the fact that he is a Roman citizen, which alarms the commander. He decides to take Paul to the Jewish leaders to determine why they were accusing him. The commander then sends Paul to Felix, the governor at Ceasarea. Felix tries Paul, who doesn't decide on a verdict, but leaves Paul in prison.

When Felix's term as governor ends, the new governor Festus also puts Paul on trial. Because Paul had appealed to Caesar in this trial, Festus decides to send him on to Caesar. In the meantime, King Agrippa comes to visit Festus and Festus decides to ask Agrippa to hear the case, which he does. Agrippa hears Paul's defence and states that if Paul hadn't appealed to Caesar, he would have gone free.

Paul is then sent to Rome in the company of some other prisoners, in the custody of a centurion named Julius. The last couple of chapters of Acts document that journey, with a storm at sea and a shipwreck on the island of Malta. Paul eventually arrives at Rome where he was met by fellow believers. There, even though he was technically under guard, Paul continues to preach about the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.
Acts 28:16 (NIV)

30  For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
31  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 28:30-31 (NIV)

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