By comparing Acts 1:1-2 with Luke 1:1-4, it is clear that Luke wrote the book of Acts. He wrote it sometime after Paul’s earliest ministry in Rome because that is where its history ends in the early 60’s AD. Luke was with Paul until his death (2 Tim 4:11) and we know Paul’s ministry continued after Acts 28. Why did God have Luke stop the record where he did? The book of Acts is the record of the fall and diminishing of Israel. God set His chosen nation aside through a transition as He called out a believing remnant from among them. Therefore, the book concludes with the end of that transition period.
The Gospel of Luke records “all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up” (Acts 1:1-2). The book of Acts takes up the history where the Gospel of Luke left off and records what Christ continued to do from Heaven through the Holy Ghost sent down to empower the apostles. By comparing how the Gospel of Luke concluded with how the book of Acts opens, it is clear that Acts is the sequel to Luke. Therefore, the same kingdom program of Israel recorded in the four Gospels continues into the book of Acts.
The message to Israel in the four Gospels was “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). The kingdom of heaven is a literal and visible kingdom that the God of heaven will establish on the earth (Dan 2:44). Christ will rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem (Acts 2:30) and Israel will be a kingdom of priests with authority over the nations (Ex 19:5-6).
The four Gospels end with Israel rejecting their King and crucifying Him. Many wrongly assume that God set Israel aside at the time of the cross and began this present dispensation. On the cross, Christ made intercession for His nation (Lk 23:34). Both Christ and Peter (Acts 3:17) said that the Jews crucified their King in ignorance and therefore they were given an opportunity to repent. If we are going to understand the book of Acts, we must understand that it records a renewed offer of the kingdom to the nation of Israel (Acts 3:19-21).
We must also understand that Acts is not primarily a book of doctrine. It is a historical record of God moving His attention from Israel to the Body of Christ; from the gospel of the kingdom to the gospel of the grace of God; from the ministry of Peter (chapters 1-12) to that of Paul (chapters 13-28). Acts is a transition book because the dispensation of Law is fading out while the dispensation of Grace is fading in.
The popular view of Acts is that it is primarily the record of the birth and growth of the Church in this age. We are told that it contains the doctrine and practices of the Church in its purest form and that we should seek to follow it as our pattern for the ministry.
Here are some major problems we will run into if we take Acts as our pattern for the ministry:
Which message should we preach to those who want to know how to be saved, the one in Acts 2:37-38 or in Acts 16:30-31?
Where and to whom should we preach? Should we, like the twelve apostles, begin at Jerusalem (Acts 1:8)? Or should we, like Paul, depart from Jerusalem and go far hence to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21)?
Should we preach to the Jews only (Acts 11:19), to the Jews first and then the Gentiles (Acts 18:6), or to all men alike?
Do we receive the Holy Ghost several years after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:4), immediately after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38), after the apostles from Jerusalem lay hands on us (Acts 8:14-17), or immediately upon faith in Christ (Acts 10:44-48)?
How are we to handle money? Should we sell all our possessions and have all things common with the church (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35) or should we work to supply for our needs (Acts 20:33-34)?
Should we expect miraculous deliverance such as Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:7) or imprisonment in chains with Paul (Acts 26:27)?
Trying to use the book of Acts as our pattern today is dangerous. Many religious groups go through Acts picking and choosing verses that seem to support their beliefs. The Campbellites (“church of Christ”) teach that water baptism is essential to salvation and so they use Acts 2:38. The Charismatics take the tongues in Acts 2, but will not sell all and give to the poor as found in Acts 2:44-45. The transition period discussed in Acts is like a bridge that takes us from one dispensation to another. We are not to park on a bridge but to keep moving across it lest we get run over.
The correct view of Acts is that from beginning to end it is primarily the account of the fall of Israel. It explains step by step why the chosen people had to be set aside and salvation sent to the Gentiles apart from them (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:28). It reveals why the commission of the twelve apostles had to be suspended and another apostle raised up to go to the Gentiles with the gospel of the grace of God.
The Acts of the Apostles may be divided into two main sections. In the first part of the book, the apostle Peter is prominent, and the center of work is Jerusalem (chapters 1-12). In the second part of the book, the apostle Paul is prominent, and the center of the work is from Antioch (chapters 13-28).
Understanding the book of Acts is essential to understanding the New Testament. If we were to study the Gospels and then go straight into Romans without Acts, we would be very confused. Rightly dividing the word of truth is the key to Bible study (2 Tim 2:15). The main division in the Bible is between prophecy concerning Israel (Acts 3:21) and the mystery of the Body of Christ (Rom 16:25). The book of Acts reveals the transition between the prophetic kingdom program of Israel and the mystery program of the Body of Christ. The mystery is not revealed in Acts because it was the Lord’s will for Paul to make it known and not Luke.