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Acts by Robert Dean
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Acts Intro

Acts Outline

Acts Chart

Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:59 mins 21 secs



The dominant places where the Jews lived in the time of Christ were Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. In between was Samaria. The Samaritans were a mixed-blood people, they were not pure ethnic Jews because after the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians and the people who lived there had been deported and moved to other areas of the Assyrian empire the Assyrians had also moved other ethnic groups into Samaria. So it was a mixed racial group and they were looked down upon with tremendous prejudice by the Jews at the time of Christ. The Jews believed that since they were not of pure blood and descendants from Abraham they were not to be talked to. If you were traveling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north you would go from Jerusalem to Jericho and across the Jordan River to the territory of Peraea on the eastern side of the Jordan, then north through the area of Decapolis to Galilee.

When we think about the book of Acts the main verse is Acts 1:8 NASB "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." The Bible is excellent literature. When God the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation He didn't write sloppy literature. The writers of Scripture wrote using their own vocabulary and personality but it was God the Holy Spirit who was superintending the process of inspiration. Like any good writer gives a decent statement that lays out what his purpose is or summarizes his basic argument there can usually be found a verse in any book of the Bible that gives the purpose statement of the book. In Acts it is 1:8. Jesus is speaking to His disciples immediately before His ascension to heaven and He says to them that they are to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. "…and you shall be My witnesses" in not simply a future tense declarative sentence, it has a sort of imperatival force to it: "You will be my witnesses." That comes as a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit. "…both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." That is the outline for the book of Acts and the threefold division of the book. The first seven chapters, up to 8:4 focus on Jerusalem; from 8:5 to 12:25 focuses on Judea and Samaria. In 13:1 the expansion is to the ends of the earth. 

The first section from 1:1 to 8:4 covers the power of the church (chapters 1 & 2) and the progress of the church (chapters 3-8). The focus in Jerusalem is on the witness to the Jews in Judea—the focus of the message in Peter's sermon in Acts chapter 2 and 3 are targeting the Jews. The message that governs both of Peter's sermons in these two chapters is still related back to the original message of John the Baptist at the beginning of the Gospels: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." There is still a legitimate offer of the kingdom being made in those first chapters of Acts. As the gospel goes forward persecution breaks out and they moved out from Jerusalem, their comfort zone, and the focus is on the ministries of Stephen and Philip to those outside of Jerusalem—to the Samaritans, to the Ethiopian eunuch. The third division is to the Gentiles as this follows Paul's salvation and his return to the church at Antioch when he and Barnabas are first commissioned to take the gospel out to the Gentiles. That covers from 13:1 t0 28:31.

Acts begins with 120 believers in an upper room in Jerusalem and it ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome. In those 30 years Christianity just explodes on the scene in the Roman empire, and during that time in the book of Acts it covers much of the Roman empire. We note from extra-Biblical information that the gospel went to many other places. Christianity explodes down into Africa. For example on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 there were anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 extra people in Jerusalem, according to Josephus, who came there for the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, and many of those who came heard Peter's sermons and went home taking the good news that Jesus Christ had died for the remission of the sins of the people. Then with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who was an official in the Ethiopian court the gospel is taken home with him. We know from what Peter tells us in 1 & 2 Peter that he went to the second largest Jewish community in the ancient world at that time, which was in Babylon. We know also from extra-Biblical records that Thomas took the gospel to India. So there is this expansion just thirty years from the crucifixion of Christ and we know that the gospel went down into Africa, into Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and north to the Black Sea and into Western Europe.

We see a shift in terms of the key players in Acts. There is a transition that occurs from Peter to Paul. Peter is the dominant individual at the beginning and then there is a transition that takes place from chapters 8-12. There is focus at first on Philip, then Stephen, then Paul, then back to Peter, then Paul, then Peter, then Paul, and then Paul for the rest of the book. The geographical focus goes from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, and in terms of the time line the first part covers approximately two to three years, the second part approximately thirteen years, and the last part a little more than fourteen years.

One note on the outline: Always try to outline historical or narrative books like this with God as the subject, because God is the one who is working out His plan in history. These things don't happen randomly. We have to think in terms of the writer's intent and the claim of Scripture that this is the objective revelation of God given to us, and assuming that that is true we then recognize that there is a governing hand, a guidance, on the writers of Scripture to include that which God wants to preserve the future and that which he does not want to preserve for the future. This is the information that provides a framework for us to understand d the rest of the New Testament. If we didn't have the book of Acts to fill in the historical gaps as to what happened to the disciples after the crucifixion then we wouldn't have a framework for understanding the background for any of the epistles.

The first chapters, down through 6:7, God through the Holy Spirit authenticates, empowers and directs the apostles' witness in Jerusalem. Notice the emphasis on witness. This comes out of Acts 1:8. God is directing their witness. This is a legal term and actually the book of Acts is not just history, it is an editorialized type of history that is designed to prove something, to make a legal case. It is often suggested that it is an apologetic—APOLOGIA [a)pologia] has to do with presenting a legal defense for a particular position. Luke, who is writing this book, is presenting it in the form of a legal defense. He is marshalling the historical evidence to demonstrate that what took place on the day of Pentecost as the birth of this new entity known as Christianity or the church is not something that has just happened by chance or manufactured by individuals, it was a work that was started by God. He lays out the evidence. He is going to authenticate what is happening to validate the principle of Scripture that whatever God does in private He always authenticates through miracles or something else in public. He never reveals something privately to individuals that runs counter to what He has revealed to others or what he has authenticated objectively in public.

In the first part God through the Holy Spirit authenticates, empowers and directs the apostles' witness in Jerusalem. The God expands their witness outside of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. Then third, God is going to expand the church to the ends of the earth. In the first section there are two basic parts. In the first two chapters is where we see the birth of this new spiritual entity, the Church, and there are four things that are worth noting: the ascension of Christ to heaven, before which He tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. During that time Peter decides, since they have lost Judas Iscariot, that his number needs to be replaced among the twelve disciples; then, at the end of chapter one we see that they have cast lots and chosen Matthias, and at the beginning of chapter two the day of Pentecost arrives. On the day of Pentecost there is the sound of a mighty rush of wind and "there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them." They are all filled with the Holy Spirit. Contrary to what we are often taught this is not the filling of the Spirit of Ephesians 5:18. There are two different words used for the filling of the Spirit in the New Testament, one is pimplemi [pimplhmi] and the other is pleroo [plhrow], and there is only one time pleroo is used with the dative (instrumentality)—instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, and that is in Ephesians 5:18. All the other places are talking about something else. Ephesians 5:18, because of the grammar, talks about something distinct from this.

They began to speak in other languages. The situation is that there are seventeen different geographical areas mentioned in vv. 9-11 where all of these different Jewish people have come from to worship on the day of Pentecost. They represent anywhere from eight to twelve languages. Then Peter stands up and quotes from Joel chapter two to show that what they have experienced is the ministry of the Holy Spirit not unlike that mentioned in Joel, and he connects this event again to the coming of the kingdom. The Joel 2 passages talks about the coming day of the Lord just before God establishes the Messianic kingdom in Israel. So he concludes with a challenge to repent and to accept Christ, and this cannot be disconnected from the message of John the Baptist and Jesus because he uses similar terminology related to repentance and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As a result of this there are some three thousand who are saved that day and then they begin to meet on a regular basis. We are told in verses 46 and 47 that they continued daily with one accord in the temple, breaking bread from house to house, praising God, and the Lord added to the church daily. And so the church is growing dynamically by leaps and bounds every day, and they are focused on the teaching of the apostles doctrine and fellowship (with God, not man), as exemplified with breaking of bread and prayer.

Later that afternoon Peter and John go back to the temple, and they heal a lame man. Everybody knows that he has been lame from birth and it is obvious that he is healed and the religious leaders can't do anything about this because it was done in public and witnessed by numerous spectators, and the man is glorifying God. This is the occasion for Peter's second sermon and again he concludes with an offer that relates to the coming of the kingdom. Acts 3:19 NASB "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; [20] and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you." "Times of refreshing" is a key term for the kingdom.

Peter and John are arrested at the beginning of chapter four and taken before the Sanhedrin. Peter addresses the Sanhedrin. So there are numerous speeches or sermons that are going on throughout the book of Acts. All that the Sanhedrin can do is to tell them not to mention the name of Jesus. Also at this time 5000 men are saved. So there were probably in excess of fourteen or fifteen thousand people who were saved on the day of Pentecost. Then it explodes from there.

In chapter five we see an episode related to the early church lying to the Holy Spirit, and this is a serious event that occurs to two people. In this chapter we see that once again the apostles get picked up by the Sadducees because the Sadducees specifically are indignant about them proclaiming the realities of the resurrection. And so the tension builds between the Sanhedrin and these disciples of Christ.

Gamaliel was a famous rabbi at that time and was the teacher of the apostle Paul before he became a Christian. Acts 5:34 NASB "But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. [35] And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. [36] For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. [37] After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away {some} people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. [38] So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; [39] but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."

In chapter six and the first seven verses is where they realize that they have grown to such a large number that they have to begin to be organized in order to carry out the day-to-day administration. There were a number of widows, especially those who have come from outside of Judea, and they are neglected in being taken care of in the daily distribution of food and other resources. It was decided that there was need to spread out some of the responsibilities. Acts 6:2 NASB "So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. [3] Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. [4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'" So this is the first organization of the church where there is one group whose responsibility is to teach the word. These are not deacons at this point, they are simply those who are helping with the administration of the financial resources and the food resources and making sure that those who are in need are taken care of.

Two of these are going to be highlighted in the subsequent chapter, Stephen and Philip. Stephen comes along and is quite powerful and has performed various signs and wonders among the people that validate his message—always the purpose of miracles. Miracles are always credentials to authenticate the message of the individual. But even a false teacher performs miracles and so the first test to validate this in Deuteronomy chapter 13 had to do with the fact that the message had to be consistent with accepted pervious revelation. So he is going to be involved in ministry and as a result he comes in conflict with the religious authorities again and is brought before them. He then preaches a sermon that goes through the history of the Old Testament illustrating how again and again and again the Jewish people have had a pattern of rejecting the prophets of God. He ends up by accusing them of having always hardened their hearts toward God and always resisting the Holy Spirit. The result is that in a completely illegal manner they pick up stones to stone him. There is no proper adjudication here; it completely violated the legal mandates within what we now call the Mishna.

There is a young man standing there by the name of Saul. Stephen is stoned in AD 35. "Young man" would indicate that Paul was at least probably twenty. That means he was born around 15, and when he was fourteen or fifteen years old would be when his parents sent him from Tarsus to study under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, which means he would have arrived in Jerusalem about the year thirty. This means he would have been in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem.

Paul is confronted by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ in chapter nine to challenge him as to why he was persecuting Him. Paul had taken it upon himself to try to wipe out this new sect of people who were following Jesus of Nazareth, and in this chapter we see his conversion. We see the persecution at the beginning of the church at the beginning of chapter eight. It is that persecution that pushes everybody out into Judea and Samaria. 

Acts Chart

Acts Outline

Acts Introduction