Being Witnesses to the Jews (1:1-9:31) Copy

A. The Growth was Designed by Christ (1:1-26)

The Preface (1:1-11)

The book of Acts begins with the last days before Jesus ascension into heaven. During these days, Jesus explained to his followers more about the kingdom of God and how a resurrected Messiah fit into the scheme of things. 

In light of that, his followers asked him in verse 6, “is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts1:6) Jesus followers were basically asking Jesus if he was now going to establish an earthly kingdom that would rule the whole world. 

Jesus followers were not off base in this question. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies that predict the restoration of a Jewish nation; a nation that will be ruled directly by the Messiah; a nation that will be the most influential nation in the world. With the recent triumph of the resurrection, the disciples were legitimately speculating that the Jesus might be about to establish his Messianic kingdom. 

Jesus responds to their question in verses 7 and 8:

(Acts 1:7-8) It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 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. 

In essence, Jesus is telling them that instead of concerning themselves with the details of the Old Testament prophecies, they should instead focus themselves on being a witness of who Jesus is to the entire world (Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press: Chicago, pg. 1727). That is, to tell others what they have experienced and to share the message they have heard concerning Jesus to their city, their province, and ultimately to the entire world.

What is a witness? If you think in terms of a court of law, a witness is one who has seen or experienced something, and then is willing to communicate that experience for the record. For the followers of Jesus who heard this commandment, their “court testimony” would be simply telling what they saw and heard Jesus do while he was with them.

The plan of the apostles is different than what is revealed by Christ. They ask Jesus, if now being raised from the dead, if it is time to establish His earthly kingdom. But Jesus responds that it isn’t for them to know, and that first the gospel must be taught throughout the remotest parts of the earth (cf. Matthew 24:14). The growth of the kingdom of God would come not the way the disciples would expect. Instead it is designed by Christ to proceed outward as the disciples bear testimony to what they have seen and heard about Him.

But for modern Christians, we haven’t seen or heard directly what Jesus did. Instead, our “court testimony” will necessary need to be different. There are two ways that we can become a witness of Jesus: 

  • Be an Expert in the Life of Christ. We can become experts in what has been recorded historically about Jesus. This demands that we become scholars of the Scriptures and that we diligently search out the truth about which Jesus is and what he has done. We need to become “court-recognized experts” in the life and message of Jesus.
  • Testify to the Influence of Jesus in our Lives. We can directly testify to the influence Jesus has had on our personal life. Notice that Jesus commands us not to “witness,” but to “be a witness.” Do you understand the distinction? Jesus is not commanding us to merely go do a sortie of street evangelism. Instead, Jesus wants everything in our lives to be a reflection of his influence. Charles Colson puts it this way:

Authentic evangelism must involve the totality of life. Jesus said, “You shall be My witnesses, “but a lot of Christians have taken that commandment to mean that we are to witness. So we have reduced evangelism to verbal formulas, neat, easy-step plans; just utter these simple phrases and you’ll be part of the club…

Packaging the Gospel into tidy package has some serious dangers. For one thing, it tends to cheapen the message…

This is why it is so important to focus on Jesus’ command that we be witnesses. Jesus means, I believe, that evangelism is to involve the totality of our live. Everything about our lifestyle counts – how we spend our money, our political values, our domestic relations, and on and on.” (Charles Colson, Faith on the Line, Victor Books, pg. 103.)

The Replacement Apostle (1:12-26)

Jesus then ascends to heaven and the disciples return to an upper room in Jerusalem, where they would wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit in accordance with Jesus’ command in 1:4-5. While waiting, however, they decide to replace a replacement apostle for Judas Iscariot.

The apostles cast lots to choose the replacement apostle (1:26). While this may seem an unlikely method for choosing an apostle, before the casting of lots, they first prayed over the selection of the candidates (1:24), and they required that all the candidates be qualified.

The chief qualification was that the candidate be a witness of Jesus from the time of His baptism to the resurrection. If the mission of the apostles was to now bear witness, this would become the primary criteria for the selection of the replacement apostle. 

Hermeneutics and the Book of Acts

The selection of the replacement apostle leads us to ask an important hermeneutical principle: is the book of Acts primarily prescriptive or descriptive? That is, are the events Luke records in Acts intended to prescribe for us the normative pattern for the church through the ages or is it merely intended to describe for us what had taken place.

For example, in the record of the selection of the replacement apostle, is Luke merely describing the method the apostles used to choose the new apostle, or what he outlining for us the method that we should use today in choosing church leaders? In other words, should our church cast lots to choose its leaders? 

This is an important question, for throughout the book of Acts we will see early church practices, such as communal living, speaking in tongues, miraculous healings and prophecies. Should we expect that as the normal part of our church life? Is Luke establishing a pattern for us to follow, or is he merely explaining what happened?

It is the contention of this author that the book of Acts is intended to be descriptive of the early church rather than intended to be prescriptive of the church today. This is based on the following: 

  • Luke’s stated purpose for the book is merely to describe what has happened, not to develop a pattern for the church to follow (Acts 1:1, see Purpose above).
  • Luke rarely records any commandments from Jesus or the apostles nor does he make any editorial comments indicating that these are normative practices.
  • Acts tells us almost nothing of the organizational structure of the church, nor of the liturgy and programs of the early church. Therefore, his intent is not to give a clear pattern for churches to follow.
  • Many of the practices of the early church are inconsistently practiced or are not repeated. For example, the selection of the replacement apostle was by lots, but in chapter 6 the congregation nominated the deacons, and in 14:23, Paul and Barnabas appointed the elders.
  • Historical narrative literature in the Old Testament is not considered to be a prescriptive, so why should historical narrative literature in the New Testament? Bearing this in mind, as we come across events or circumstances, we should be careful not to become too dogmatic in our application from the book of Acts. Instead, we should consider how each incident is portrayed:

*Is it repeatable? – Is it possible for the church today to repeat what the early church did (e.g. casting lots for church leaders)? If it wasn’t condemned then there is probably nothing wrong with the church today doing the same thing.

*Is it normative? – Is there a pattern found in the early church that is regularly repeated (e.g. meeting on Sundays)? If so, then the church today should probably follow the pattern unless there is a reason not to.

*Is it prescribed? – Was the early church commanded to do something or not to do something (e.g. avoiding fornication – Acts 15:29)? If so, then the church today must follow the command.

B. The Growth was Powered by the Spirit (2:1-47)

The Gift of Tongues (2:1-13)

The filling of the Spirit is a continual theme in Acts, and is always accompanied by a show of power and a response of people to the gospel. As each new ethnic group or geographic location responds to the gospel, the filling of the Holy Spirit follows. 

In this case, the filling of the Holy Spirit was evidenced by speaking in tongues. The term tongues is an archaic English word, which would be better translated as languages. The believers had the supernatural ability to speak in multiple languages in order to communicate with the pilgrims from many nations in Jerusalem. Throughout the book of Acts tongues is always the ability to speak in human languages. 

At Pentecost, the message given by the church was to the Jews, but also spoken in many languages so that a multitude of nations could hear the message. This is a continual theme in Acts as well, as the gospel is always given first to the Jews, and then to the nations. 

Peter’s Sermon (2:14-36)

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost provides Luke the opportunity to declare the gospel in its fullest. This sermon serves as the basis from which most of the other sermons in Acts are derived. 

Peter begins this sermon by defending the Christians speaking in tongues by quoting the book of Joel, stating that they should not be surprised that God would unleash His Spirit, because such occurrences are predicted in the Old Testament. He connects the spirit filled activity of the Christians with the power Jesus demonstrated in His miracles (2:33). 

But Peter quickly moves the focus of his sermon to the things “to which we are all witnesses (2:32).”Namely, Peter declares that Jesus was crucified by the Jews (2:33, 36), but raised from the dead by God. Peter defends this assertion by showing that the resurrection of the Christ was foretold in by David Psalm 16. Peter then proclaims that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father (2:33) and that He is both Lord and Christ (2:36). 

The emphasis, however, is that Peter and the apostles were witnesses to these events. They could not be disputed. Peter has begun fulfilling the command of Jesus in Acts 1:8 by being a witness in Jerusalem. 

The Response

In response to the testimony of Peter, the people ask, “what shall we do (2:37)?” Peter responds that they must “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (2:38).” After so doing, they also would receive the Holy Spirit. Three thousand people respond. 

Peter closely connects baptism with salvation. However, before determining from this that one must be baptized to be saved, our hermeneutic principles require that we determine if a pattern has been set. Nowhere else in Acts is baptism connected with salvation. In fact, in 10:44-48, Cornelius and other Gentiles came to believe and were filled with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. 

Progress Report #1 (2:37-47)

After this incident comes the first progress report, (2:42:47), describing a unity and a love amongst the believers that exhibited itself in practical and material ways. Furthermore, the gospel continued to grow as more and more were being added to their number each day.

C. The Growth was “of God” (3:1-6:7)

Healing the Beggar (3:1-4:4)

The Healing (3:1-10)

In the temple, Peter and John discover a lame beggar. Peter heals the man, and he immediately begins to walk, lead and praise God. Evidently, this man was a fixture at the gate to the temple, for when others saw him wallking around they became amazed and began wondering what had happened.

The Sermon (3:11-26)

Peter took this opportunity to reiterate the sermon he gave at Pentecost. Namely Peter proclaims that the Jews crucified Jesus, that God raised Him from the dead, and that they were witnesses to these facts (3:15). Peter supports these claims by stating the Old Testament prophets foretold that the Christ would suffer (3:18), and he quotes Moses from Deuteronomy 18 (3:22). 

Again he calls on the audience to repent so that their sins can be forgiven (3:19), but this time baptism is not indicated as part of the mechanism of salvation. 

The Response (4:1-4)

In response, Peter and John were imprisoned by the Jewish leadership. However, 5,000 came to believe.

Before the Sanhedrin (4:5-31, 5:12-42)

Peter and John Address the Sanhedrin

Again Peter declares that they had rejected and crucified Christ, that God had raised him from the dead (4:10). They boldly declare that it was through the power of Jesus that this man was healed and that salvation comes only through Jesus (4:12). When ordered to no longer proclaim the message, Peter and John both state, “we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (4:19).” That is, they feel compelled to continue to be a witness of Christ to Jerusalem and the world. 

The Growth is “of God”

The Jewish leaders throw Peter and John are thrown into jail for preaching Jesus. After being told not to do it again, they are released. But in chapter 5 we see them preaching again, so they are drug back before the Jewish leaders. The leadership debates what to do with this Christian sect. In response, the well-respected Pharisee, Gamaliel makes a most interesting observation. He recounts two other “Messiahs” who came and developed a following. But after their death, the following quickly disappeared. He states that if Jesus is also a false-Messiah, that this movement will also die. However, 

(Acts 5:39 NASB) but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God. 

This speech fits the purpose of the book of Acts. Gamaliel’s confession shows that this rapid growth from obscure Palestine to Rome itself is a result of God’s master plan.

Peter and John’s interaction with the leadership also underscore the second purpose. In both their encounters, they were very respectful of the leadership. The uprisings surrounding these incidents were due to the jealousy of the Jewish leadership and not due to the insurrection of the Christians. 

Sharing of the Church (4:32-5:11, 6:1-7) 

Even as thousand more join the church, the church remains characterized as compassionate and unified (4:32). The members of the church freely shared with one another. This was not a first century form of Communism, for the sharing was voluntary, and it appears that they did not sell their property so that the apostles could jointly manage it. 

Nonetheless, sharing was so pervasive that everyone got into the act, including Ananias and Sapphira. This couple agrees to sell a piece of property to share with the poor. However, after claiming that they had given all the proceeds of the sale to the church, only to discover that they were lying, God killed them. 

While this may seem like a harsh punishment, God often seems to demand more of sin when He is starting a new work. The punishment against Korah in the wilderness was fierce and swift. The sin of Achan in Joshua likewise was not tolerated. It appears that God wants to be taken seriously when He begins a new work. 

Progress Report #2 

The second progress report (6:7) concludes the section on the witness in Jerusalem, showing that the gospel kept spreading and new converts were continually coming to the group in Jerusalem.