Chapter OneActs 1:1-8
* * *
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that
Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken
up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy
Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he
showed himself to these men and gave many convincing
proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period
of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one
occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this
command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my
Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For
John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized
with the Holy Spirit."
6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are
you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or
dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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 introduces many themes that are important
to the whole book: Jesus' life and ministry, his
sufferings as a fact predicted in the Old Testament,
the importance of and evidence for the resurrection,
the importance and power of the Holy Spirit, the priority of
witness, the Great Commission with its scope extending to the ends of the
earth, the missionary attitude as opposed to parochialism, the kingdom of
God, the importance of truth and of Scripture in the Christian life, the role
of the apostles, the ascension and second coming of Christ, and the importance
of prayer and fellowship. As such it is a key to understanding the book
of Acts. Because of this we will devote comparatively more space to it even
though it is one of the shorter chapters.
The Former Book (1:1-2a)
The opening section of Acts contains a prologue along with a historical
introduction. The author begins by referring to his "former book," gives the
name of the recipient (Theophilus), and summarizes the contents of the earlier
book (the Gospel of Luke). Theophilus means "friend of God" or "loved
by God," but it is unlikely, as some (e.g., Origen) have suggested, that this
name is a symbol for an anonymous person or group of people. This particular
name was in use at that time, and the description of Theophilus as "most
excellent" (see Luke 1:3) suggests that a real person is meant. "Most excellent"
could suggest that a high government official is being addressed, but that
is not a necessary inference as it was also used as a "form of polite address."
In those days, it was common for books to be dedicated to distinguished
If Luke's first volume describes "all that Jesus began to do and to teach until
the day he was taken up to heaven," we can assume that this second volume
describes what he continued to do and to teach (through his Spirit) after he was
taken up. Luke uses the word "all" in both the Gospel and Acts in a general
way that the context must define. Thus, "we cannot assume he meant his
Gospel to be any more exhaustive than Acts."
Teaching and Instructions Before the Ascension (1:2b-8)
In the forty days before Jesus' ascension, his primary ministry related to the
truth of the gospel (vv. 2b-3). (1) He gave "instructions . to the apostles"
(v. 2). The verb for instructing (entellomai) has the idea of commanding or
giving orders. This must refer to the commands given in verses 4 and 8 not
to leave Jerusalem until the Spirit comes and to preach the gospel to the
ends of the earth (cf. Luke 24:46-48). These instructions were given "through
the Holy Spirit" (v. 2), which introduces a key theme of Acts: All Christian
ministry depends on the activity of the Spirit in the minister and in the ones
(2) Luke then reports that Jesus' appearances were proof of his resurrection
(v. 3a). The objective reality of the resurrection was the ultimate proof
of the amazing claims that the apostles were to make about Jesus (17:31). The
fact that the apostles were witnesses to this resurrection was a key to their
preaching. So right at the start of his book, Luke presents the resurrection
as an event attested by "many convincing proofs."
(3) Jesus "spoke about the kingdom of God" (v. 3b), which refers to the
reign or rule of God and was a key to his teaching. There are fewer references
to the kingdom in Acts (8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31), but they are important,
considering that "the book begins (1:3) and ends on that theme (28:31)." In
the New Testament letters, while the kingdom is mentioned, what receives
emphasis is the church, the body of Christ. But there is a close connection
between the church and the kingdom (Matt. 16:18-19). According to the
Gospels, the kingdom of God came with the events of the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus, and it finds its consummation in the return of Christ as
Judge and King. In our discussion of 2:14-41 we will show why the biblical
teaching on the reign of Christ should be an important ingredient of our
Verses 4-5 present the crucial promise of the gift of baptism with the
Holy Spirit. The word baptizo basically means dip or immerse. But it can
take different meanings that must be determined by considering the context
in which the word appears. It can mean "to wash . with a view to making
objects ritually acceptable," and can thus be translated "wash" or "purify." It can
also mean "to employ water in a religious ceremony designed to symbolize
purification and initiation on the basis of repentance-'to baptize.'" And in a
figurative extension of the idea of immersion, it can mean "to cause someone
to have a highly significant religious experience." Related to this last definition
is Jesus' question to James and John in Mark 10:38, "Are you able . to
be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized" (NASB). This extends
the meaning of immersion to a deluge or an overwhelming flood of suffering.
Some of the other places where the baptism with the Holy Spirit is mentioned
suggest an experience akin to the third use of baptizo. When Luke
records this promise in his Gospel, Jesus says, "Stay in the city until you have
been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Acts 1:8 also says that
when the Holy Spirit comes, the disciples will receive power. Describing
what happened when this promise was fulfilled, Luke writes that the disciples
"were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). The words "power" and
"filled" in these verses suggest that the baptism with the Holy Spirit involves
an experience of God's fullness.
It must have saddened the heart of Jesus to hear his disciples ask about the
time of restoring the kingdom to Israel (v. 6). He had taught them about the
kingdom of God, but they talk about the kingdom of Israel. John Stott points
the verb, the noun and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal
confusion about the kingdom. The verb restore shows that they
were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that
they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause at
this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment.
Jesus' answer about not knowing times and dates set by the Father (v. 7) is
consistent with what he said elsewhere on the topic of the timing of the last
things (cf. Matt. 24:36, 42, 44; 25:13; Luke 12:40).
Verse 8 begins with "but" (alla), suggesting that Jesus is presenting an
alternative aspiration for the disciples. Their primary concern should not be
the political power that will come with the restoration of Israel's kingdom.
It should be the spiritual power that will come through the baptism with the
Holy Spirit, which will enable them to be witnesses "to the ends of the earth."
This verse presents an outline and summary of Acts. The Holy Spirit's power
and witness is the theme of the book. "The geographical terms provide a
sort of 'Index of Contents' . 'in Jerusalem' covers the first seven chapters, 'in
all Judea and Samaria' covers 8:1 to 11:18, and the remainder of the book
traces the progress of the gospel outside the frontiers of the Holy Land until
it at last reaches Rome."
In a sense the disciples were already witnesses for they had seen the risen
Lord; that was the key to their witness (1:22). But they also needed "power"
to be effective witnesses, power that would come from the Holy Spirit. The
way the Holy Spirit makes witnesses and empowers witness must cover the
entire witnessing process, and this is well illustrated in Acts.
The book of Acts has been aptly called the "Acts
of the Holy Spirit," for all that the church
achieves is through the Spirit. In this first chapter
Luke shows how the church prepared for the
reception of the Spirit. For us today it gives essential ingredients for Spirit-anointed
Objective facts and subjective experience. The first few verses of Acts
show an important factor in all of Acts-that the combination of the objective
and the subjective are important aspects of the Christian religion. The
mention of "many convincing proofs that he was alive" (1:3a) shows that
Christianity is based on objective facts. The teaching "about the kingdom of
God" (1:3b) must also have included much that came under this category. The
evangelistic preaching in Acts certainly contained many objective facts about
the nature of God and the life and work of Jesus (see the chart on "Evangelistic
Preaching in Acts" in the Introduction). Becoming a Christian involves
assenting to those facts, and growing in the Christian life involves growing
in the knowledge of those facts.
But Acts 1 also stresses the subjective experience of Christians. Thus,
verses 4-5 refer to the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which, as noted above,
includes a subjective experience of the power of the Spirit. To prepare to be
witnesses of these great objective truths, one must have power coming from
the indwelling Holy Spirit (v. 8). Peter's sermon at Pentecost climaxed with
a statement of the objective truth: "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified,
both Lord and Christ" (2:36). But in response to the people's query
about what they are to do, he says that if they repent and are baptized in the
name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, they "will receive the gift of
the Holy Spirit" (2:38). The context indicates that the gift of the Holy Spirit
includes, among other things, a subjective experience of him.
Acts, then, shows a church that was able to integrate the subjective and
the objective aspects of Christianity.
Teaching and revival. From what we read in verses 2-5, we can infer
that one of the key ways Jesus prepared his apostles for the revival that followed
at Pentecost was to give them sound teaching. The place of biblical
teaching in revival has been debated, and sometimes great outpourings of
revival have been criticized for being low on preaching and teaching the
Word. This was not the case with Peter's speech at Pentecost, and several spiritual
awakenings have been recorded where the Word was uncompromisingly
taught. Whatever may have happened during a revival, it is well established
that, as in Acts, Bible teaching has always been done before a revival. The
great historian of revival, J. Edwin Orr, has said that a theological awakening
must precede a revival of religion. Dr. John Mackay writes, "First the
enlightened mind, then the burning heart. First a revival of theological
insights, and then the revival we need."
This is what happened under King Josiah when a newly discovered Book
of the Law was read and a mighty revival was sparked (2 Kings 22-23). The
principle we glean, then, is that if we wish to prepare for revival today, we
must be faithful in teaching the Word to our people.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit. As already noted, the references to the
baptism with the Holy Spirit suggest an experience of fullness with the
Spirit. When does this take place? And what type of experience is it? Over
these two questions there has been much debate in the church. Part of the
problem is that the experience promised to the disciples and its fulfillment
were in many ways unique, unrepeatable events. The same can be said of
some of the other experiences of the coming of the Spirit to new believers
in Acts. As a result, we have in the church an array of interpretations of
what this means today.
A traditional evangelical explanation is that, while in Acts there were
unique experiences of this baptism with the Holy Spirit, for us today such a
baptism takes place at conversion, and the term baptism is used for initiation
into the body of Christ and the resultant experience of the Spirit.
But there are also many evangelicals who see this baptism as a second definite
work of grace, distinct from conversion, one that usually takes place
some time after conversion. It raises Christians to a higher plane in their
experience and enables them to enjoy the fullness of the Spirit. Different
emphases are found within this particular interpretation. The Wesleyan holiness
movement has emphasized holiness of heart and life, or entire sanctification,
as resulting from this baptism. The Charismatics and Pentecostals
have emphasized the power for witness and the sign gifts, such as tongues.
Evangelicals like D. L. Moody and R. A. Torrey emphasized power for service,
especially for witness, as the result of this baptism.
Somewhat similar to the view of Moody and Torrey is that of Martyn
Lloyd-Jones, who wrote that while the baptism with the Holy Spirit may take
place at conversion, it usually takes place later and lifts a person to a higher
level of spiritual experience. But Lloyd-Jones seems to have left room for
subsequent baptisms with the Holy Spirit. In fact, he seems to use this expression
also to refer to what we usually call revival, when the power of God
comes on groups of people through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This seems to have been the view of some Puritans as well. "Apparently
detecting in the phrase no consistent, technical meaning, they took it to
mean 'effusion in Spirit' or 'inundation in Spirit' and felt free to pray for
revival in the terms, 'Oh, baptize us afresh with the Holy Spirit!'"
One of the strongest arguments for the conversion-initiation position is
the apparent use of this expression for everyone in the church in 1 Corinthians
12:13: "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether
Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."
Others, however, have countered this claim.