The book of Acts describes the birth and formation of the church, God’s heavenly people. That the church could come into being and be formed is the impressive result of the work of the Lord Jesus, as described in the Gospels. The coming into being and the formation happen because God the Holy Spirit comes to live in the church.
Balaam once, under the mighty action of God’s Spirit, proclaimed: “Behold, a people [who] dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations” (Num 23:9b). His exclamation concerned God’s earthly people, Israel. Just as Israel was formerly set apart by God from all nations as a people for Himself, so it is now with the church. God has taken a people from the nations for Himself, for His Name (Acts 15:14).
The church consists of all those who have converted to God with confession and repentance about their sins. They have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior with their hearts in faith and acknowledge Him in the practice of their lives as Lord (Rom 10:8-10). That people is a heavenly people, connected with a Lord in heaven and a future in the Father’s house.
In Acts we see how this people of God is becoming more and more manifest in a world where they are, but where they are not part of and do not belong to (Jn 17:16). The history of this people is determined by the Holy Spirit in this book of the Bible. That is why the call, as it used to sound from the top of the rocks over Israel, can now sound to the church unchanged from the high, where the Lord Jesus is now: ‘Behold, a people.’ If we accept the teaching of this book, we will wholeheartedly agree.
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, December 2009 – new version 2020, translated 2020
Introduction to the book of Acts
The book of Acts can be roughly divided according to the ministry of the two main persons whose ministry is described in this book. They are the special instruments of the Holy Spirit. Prior to that description we find the starting point for that service: the resurrected and glorified Lord in heaven.
1. The risen and glorified Lord (Acts 1);
2. The ministry of Peter for Jews and Samaritans (Acts 2-12);
3. Paul’s ministry to the nations (Acts 13-28).
The book of Acts is the transition between the Gospels and the Letters. We could call this book the book of Exodus of the New Testament (whereby the Gospels can then be understood as the book of Genesis, the beginning). We read in Acts as well as in Exodus about a people liberated by God from a slave yoke. God frees a people from the world to be His people and frees them from the yoke of the law (Jew) and the yoke of sin (Gentile and Jew). As in Exodus, God’s goal in Acts is the liberation of this people to dwell among them. God comes to dwell in the Holy Spirit in the church – the name of God’s people in the New Testament.
God can only live with a redeemed people. God did not live with Adam or Abraham, but with Israel after the people were liberated from Egypt. God the Holy Spirit could only come to earth to dwell in the church after the Lord Jesus had completed the work of redemption and returned to heaven (Jn 7:39). The new starting point of God’s action is the resurrected and glorified Man Christ.
The Holy Spirit has worked on earth since the foundation of the world. Thus He was moving over the surface of the waters (Gen 1:2) and inspired the prophets (2Pet 1:21). Through Him God did everything on earth and in heaven. But, as said, He could only come to live on earth after the Lord Jesus had been glorified. He now lives in the church as a whole (1Cor 3:16) and in each believer individually (Eph 1:13; 1Cor 6:19).
Luke, the author of this book, tells in the Gospel written by him about the birth, life, death and ascension of the Founder of the church. In Acts he tells about the birth and first life of the church. He tells about the birth of local churches and what kind of churches they are. Because of this we better understand the letters that have been written to some of those churches. These are the letters we have after the book of Acts in the New Testament.
The book shows the development and expansion of a small Jewish movement to a worldwide religious community. In doing so, the Jewish grave cloths are, so to speak, removed from the New Testament church and its special character as a fellowship in which Jew and Gentile are one body in Christ is confirmed.
It is good to see that Luke begins Acts with the event with which he ends his Gospel: the ascension of the Lord Jesus. Acts does not seamlessly connect to the Gospel to Luke, but there is an overlap. At the end of his Gospel, Luke presents the Lord Jesus as the glorified Man Who enters heaven as the crowning of His ministry and His accomplished work on the cross. Luke starts his book of Acts with the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven and taking His place there as the glorified Man.
The position of the Lord Jesus there is the starting point of the work of God’s Spirit on earth. All its consequences are unfolded in this book, starting with the sending of the Holy Spirit through which the formation of the church is an immediate fact.
In all the actions described in this book we see Christ acting from the glory. For example, we see that He designates the twelfth apostle from heaven, that He sends the Holy Spirit, that He adds to the church, that healing and deliverance happen through His Name. In Exodus God, while performing signs and wonders, leads His earthly people out of Egypt to be His people in the period of the Old Testament. In the same way, God’s heavenly people are led out of the world during the New Testament period, while performing signs and wonders, to be His people.
The book deals with the miraculous works of God in the new creation. He wants to testify of this in the old creation by a Witness Who is none other than His own Spirit.
The book begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. There is the man, who is the chosen instrument of the Spirit to bear the testimony of the glorified Man in heaven in the world, in captivity. That brings us to yet another aspect of this impressive book. In this book, Luke gives us a precise description of the history of the origins of Christendom. But in the last chapter we read about the situation that has arisen over the years, namely that Christendom is called a ‘sect’ that ‘is spoken against everywhere’ (Acts 28:22).
That is why we can also see this book that Luke has written as a defense of Christendom. In this sense, it also has great practical significance for anyone who is or wants to be convinced that the truth of God and His Son can only be found in Christendom.