Christ in Acts

I. Within the fabric of the NT canon, the book of Acts has a pivotal role. It follows the gospels with a sequel, Christ’s acts after his ascension. It introduces the Pauline corpus by giving an outline of Paul’s Gentile mission. Finally, it pitches the ball that Revelation hits.
II. Within the array of New Testament books, Acts and Revelation have a remarkably close kinship. Both focus essentially on Christ and his church. More specifically, both set forth Christ highly exalted in heaven for his church. Yet, within this broad category, we can draw some distinctions.

  • Acts focuses on the expansion of the church; Revelation on the preservation of the church.
  • Acts shows Christ’s guiding his church within the world of time; Revelation, Christ’s guidance of the world of all times on behalf for the sake of his church.
  • Acts narrates historically, Revelation symbolically.
  • Acts writes about places as small as the upper room, Simon the Tanner’s rooftop, and Paul’s prison. Revelation writes about places as grand as the earth and the sea, the lake of fire and the new heaven.
  • Acts begins with the Jerusalem where our Lord was crucified; Revelation ends with the new Jerusalem coming down from God.
  • In Acts, Luke’s fundamental framework is a geographic one, in which he shows the growth of the church centrifugally (from the center outward) in concentric circles. In Revelation, John’s fundamental framework is a chronological one, in which he shows the victory of church spirally in a series of seven sevens — and so a list of resemblances and differences could go on.

III. A great deal of the Christological significance of Acts is bound up with the connection between the Gospel and Acts, and the clear impetus Luke felt to continue a record of Christ’s acts, now from heaven. According to the prologue of the first treatise was written that Theophilus might know the certainty of his instruction (Luke 1:1-4). The second treatise was written that Theophilus might know the continuity of the instructor (Acts 1:1), and His glorious activity from heaven for his church in the Word.
IV. Embodying this purpose of Acts is the fact that Luke has chosen to repeat the end of Luke as the beginning of Acts. One of Luke’s rhetorical devices is repetition. Thus he does not only recount the event of Pentecost (Acts 2:2), but concisely refers to it twice again (Acts 11:16; 15:8). Not only does he picture the conversion of the beachhead Gentile (Acts 10), but he refers to its significance twice (Acts 11:4-17; 15:7). Not only does he picture the conversion of Paul (9:1-30), but he has Paul recount it twice again (Acts 22:1-16; 26:2-18). Arguably more significant than any of these events is, however, the Ascension of Christ into heaven, which Acts makes the hinge of his two-volume work. He does not only refer to it again as he did with the previously named important events, he recounts it a second time, in detail, now not as the climax of the life of Christ on earth (Luke 24), but as the commencement of the reign of Christ in heaven and on earth. Thus, with profound consequence for Acts and the whole canon, Luke signals that Christ’s ascension did not remove Christ from his church, but empowered his church unto the witness of the gospel through the life of the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the rule over all nations through the Word of God.
V. There is no doubt then but that Luke’s basic focus in the book of Acts is the glory of Christ. It is not only revealed as Christ rides victoriously heavenward, a cloud receiving Him. It is not only transmitted by angelic messengers that remind “that this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). It is revealed on every page, behind every act, undergirding every event, promoted by every sermon, furthered by every imprisonment, unimpeded by every persecution, tribulation, and even death. No ruler can depreciate it. No enmity can frustrate it. No false teacher corrupt it. No contention among the apostles cloud it. On the contrary, the vacancy of Judas gives an opportunity to exhibit it (Acts 1). The Jewish festival of Pentecost showcases it (Acts 2). A lame beggar becomes the occasion to manifest and broadcast it (Acts 3). The Sanhedrin can only afford focus and boldness to the apostles as it relates to promoting the name of Christ (Acts 4).
VI. Luke could not give a more substantial and finally authoritative place to the Scriptures. The vacancy in the apostolic band is filled on the basis of Scripture (Acts 1:16). Pentecost is explained from out of Scripture (Acts 2:16-21). It’s Scripture’s whole message that witnesses to the church’s rights, privileges, and calling as Stephen’s defense would forever memorialize (Acts 7:1-53). It takes resisting the Holy Spirit, who witnesses through the Scripture, not to see it. It’s Scripture’s exhibition of the cross before-hand that claims an Ethiopian official. The inclusion of the Gentiles is registered as a fulfillment of Scripture (Acts 15:16-18). The preaching of Paul is shaped by Scripture and issued with constant reference to Scripture (Acts 13:14-43).
VII. None of the unfolding of Christ’s power on earth has any haphazard or random about it. As Christ’s death had happened because, with, and under Divine Providence (Acts 2:23), the Pauline mission has a divine must behind it, as well as Paul’s imprisonment (Acts 19:21; 23:11; 27:24). As Machen has written: “Jews and Gentiles, rulers and kings, the sea and its tempests – all are powerless before the march of the gospel. Joyous, abundant, irresistible power – that is the keynote of the book.”
VIII. It is especially to His Word that the Lord has given great honor, magnifying it above every other manifestation of His name. “The Word of God” occurs about 38 times in various combinations in the book. Yet, the bulk of the occurrences are from Acts 6:1-Acts 19:20, altogether 33 times. The various combinations include: word of God, word of the Lord, word of exhortation, word of grace, word of salvation, ministry of the Word, word of the gospel. It is often used in conjunction with preaching, teaching, giving testimony to the word, receiving the word, speaking the word, glorifying the Word, etc. Yet, the most important phrase within this unit is a phrase in which the Word of God is the subject: “the Word of God increased” (Acts 6:7) or the Word of God increased and multiplied (Acts 12:24) or the Word of God increased and prevailed (Acts 19:20). It may very fittingly be argued that this section (Acts 6:1-19:20). Along with the Spirit of Christ (Acts 1-2), and the name of Christ (Acts 3-5), the concept of the Word of Christ gives expression to the idea how Christ’s presence and power is known and felt among his church after his ascension.
IX. This is how Acts sets forth the continuation and culmination of the Isaianic mission, which had been governed by “you are my witnesses.” Acts uses the term “witness” and related terms 21 times. The term “witness” comes most clearly from Isaiah. “Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. … I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.”  Or think of Isa 44: 8-9: “Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any. They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed” (Isaiah 43:9-12). Finally, remember Isaiah 55:3: Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
X. In this vein, Luke is keen to show the Isaianic vision of the expansion of the Word to the demolishing of idols takes place especially in the movement of the preaching of the Word into Europe. Notice the important and lengthy sections on idolatry in Athens (Acts 17:24-31) and Ephesus, the book burning (Acts 19:19) and the Diana polemic (Acts 19:24-31). Acts 19:20 concludes on the note of victory: “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” No could Paul’s imprisonment mark a step back; instead, it was a whole leap forward, for even there, “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching these things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” Christ’s glory is unstoppably in evidence in the world, among principalities and powers, religion and anything that is named, though it takes faith to see it. But such faith will also see “this same Jesus” returning in like manner, and then God shall be all and in all.