An Introduction to the Book of Acts Part 4

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    "An Introduction to the Book of Acts Part 4" is the final article in the Introduction to the Book of Acts. Included in the discussion are some background historical, cultural, and political factors that make the narrative of Acts more understandable as we examine the book in its own unique context.

    An Introduction to the Book of Acts Part 4

    We ended our previous discussion noting that Acts is a book about mission and message. As Acts 1:8 is one of the key verses of the book, Jesus told his disciples just before his Ascension that they would be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. We therefore see in the Gospel of Luke and Acts that Jerusalem buried Jesus Christ, Rome sealed Him in a tomb, but God raised Him from the dead. Now from Jerusalem, the Gospel of the Crucified, Resurrected, Ascended, Glorified, Exalted, and Enthroned Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, goes into the entire known world, and the narrative comes to a close in Rome, in Caesar's court, with the Apostle Paul, a Jew.

    Jesus' Ascension in Acts Chapter 1 not only represents the departure of Jesus from earth to heaven, but also His Exaltation and Enthronement at the right hand of God the Father, far above all other rule and authority in this age and the ages to come (Ephesians 1:20-23).

    The phrase "right hand" signifies a seat of authority. All preaching in the Book of Acts touched on the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Peter's sermon in Acts 2 quoted King David in verses 34 and 35, which were taken from Psalm 68:18 and Psalm 110:1.

    It would be advisable at this time to look at some of the historical, cultural and political aspects that shed light on some of the events in the Book of Acts. First, there is the establishment and nature of synagogues as also mentioned in the closing of our Part 3 Introduction. Following the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire in 721 BC, the Kingdom of Judea continued to exist until it was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire in 587-586 BC.

    The majority of the Jews that survived the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple were deported to Babylon, where they endured seventy years of captivity before the successor to Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia, issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Judea, which subsequently led to a rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple in Jerusalem was the national center of worship before the Babylonian army destroyed it.

    During the Jewish captivity in Babylon, the Jews developed the concept of synagogues as places of worship. Synagogues were neighborhood locations of worship used by the Jews in the absence of a Temple. When their seventy years of captivity ended, a great many Jews returned to Judea, but synagogues remained a central element in Jewish life and worship even after the rebuilding of the Temple.

    There was one very important difference in synagogue-centered worship, as it did not include animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice could only be practiced on the Temple site. Synagogue worship became an avenue for the preaching of the Gospel in the Book of Acts.

    The Apostle Paul made it his "missions strategy" to enter every synagogue he could find to preach Jesus Christ. Paul also made a point of taking the Gospel to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles. However, Gentiles (also referred to as Greeks, as both words are interchangeable when seen in the New Testament. All non-Jewish peoples were considered Greeks or Gentiles by the Jews), were also allowed to sit in on synagogue worship.

    These Gentiles were called "God fearers" by the Jews, because they believed in the same God, as did the Jews, but did not submit to circumcision, which was required for a Gentile wishing to convert to Judaism. Those Gentiles who did submit to circumcision and other requirements to become Jews were called "proselytes", which are referenced in Acts 2:10. Verse 16 in Acts chapter 13 clearly illustrates Paul's strategy as he addressed the people in the synagogue, addressing them as "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen".

    Second, as far as the political aspects, Rome tried to use local native rulers to govern its provinces and territories. King Herod, as mentioned in Acts 12, a descendant of Herod the Great, was the appointed authority in Judea at the time, and Rome also had in place a governor by the name of Pontius Pilate, the man who agreed to crucify Jesus at the insistence of the Jewish leaders.

    The governor looked out for Rome's interests, but deferred to King Herod in most daily matters of government. Rome had three conditions under which a local ruler could serve. First, there had to be unquestioned loyalty to Rome. Second, peace and order were to be strictly maintained.

    Roman authority and the enforcement of Roman will could get extremely violent, and they tolerated very little in the way of civil unrest. This was a real challenge in Judea, as a group of Judeans known as the Zealots were devoted to the overthrow of Roman rule and occupation of Judea. Rebellion eventually became so widespread that the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Third, the local rulers had to pay tribute to Rome.

    Acts reflects the tremendous tensions that existed in the early Church over the question of the Gentiles. The earliest Christians were Jewish. Paul and others believed that Christianity was a natural end or development of true Judaism. Paul received the revelation that Gentiles who received Jesus Christ were not bound to become Jews or required to practice Judaism. This was difficult for many Jewish Christians to embrace, as seen in the controversy resulting in the Church Council on the matter in Acts 15. The Council acknowledged the validity of Paul's revelation, but did not succeed in easing the tension concerning the issue.

    We will begin a verse-by-verse look at the Book of Acts next time. Do you have any thoughts to share?

    Your comments are welcome.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jan 24, '17
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  3. by   FSUNurse2b
    I liked this article. I am an avid student of the Word (or at least have been for the past couple of years). If it were not for the book of Acts, written by the physician, Luke, it would be most difficult to chronoligically place either the Pauline or non-Pauline epistles. We know that Matthew, Luke and Mark were written before Acts 1. The gospel of John is debatable, whether written prior to, during or after the Acts period. So, the book of Acts is like one giant time-line, that spans nearly 40 years! Through my studies, I have come to learn many truths about the Word. I'll share a few of them, concerning the book of Acts:

    1) We know that Jesus (during his earthly ministry) was preaching the "Kingdom of God" is "at-hand".

    2) It is prophesized, in the OT, that Israel would form a priesthood during this kingdom and that Gentiles would be blessed "through" Israel.

    3) That clearly is not taking place today, as the temple in Jersualem was destroyed by Titus in AD 70.

    4) In the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus' disciples, after having been instructed in the Word for 40 days, asked Him, "Will you at now restore the kingdom to Israel"? In which he answered, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which My Father has purposed". So, from their question, we can conclude that Christ taught them about the earthly, prophesized kingdom, where Israel would be a kingdom of priests.

    5) We must remember that Jesus Christ was "supposed" to die. His death, burial and resurrection were all according to the scriptures, (i.e., OT). Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

    6) So, I personally do not believe that today we are currently living in this prophesized kingdom.

    7) I have been lead to believe that there were two different gospels being preached during the period covered by the book of Acts. One, by Paul, to the uncircumcision (Gentiles) and the other, by Peter and the eleven, to the circumcision (Jews) - Galatians 2. If each epistle, whether Pauline or non-Pauline, is looked at as a letter in an envelope, we must look at the address on the front. For example, the book of James was written to the( "twelve tribes scattered throughout the nations"), ie., Jews. This in no way, shape or form, concerns Gentiles.

    8) So, I look to the period covered by the book of Acts as God still dealing with Israel as a nation and also Gentiles. The first Gentile to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, was Cornelius. This did not come into play, until Acts 10, under the ministry of Peter.

    9) So, something NEW began taking place. Gentiles began being saved.

    10) Around this time, Paul was "saved" on the road to Damascus. He speaks about "grace" more than all other apostles, combined. Every one of his epistles, end in some fashion, with the word "grace".

    11) I feel that throughout the book of Acts, Israel was given a chance to repent and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. They failed, as a nation, to do so.

    12) In Acts 28, Paul speaks these solemn words to the chief Jews (of the dispersion) at Rome, saying:
    Acts 28:23-31
    23 So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. 24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our[b] fathers, 26 saying,‘Go to this people and say:
    “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;
    And seeing you will see, and not perceive;
    27 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
    Their ears are hard of hearing,
    And their eyes they have closed,
    Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
    Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
    So that I should heal them.”’[c]

    28 “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” 29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.[d]
    30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

    13) It was at this point (in "my" opinion) that Israel was set aside by God. We do know from history that the temple was completely destroyed in AD 70, just a few years after Acts 28, thus fulfilling Jesus' saying in Matthew 24:

    24 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

    14) It was also during these two years (Acts 28:30) that he penned his Prison Epistles, as the apostle to the Gentiles, "no man" forbidding him.

    15) Paul's prison epistles provide us today, in this period of Grace, the fullest revelation of Truth. It is today that we are "saved by Grace":

    Ephesians 2:4-9

    4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

    Sorry for the lengthly reply. Of course, many of my points are "my opinion" as I've come to understand the Word, through studying. I'm a firm believe in "Rightly Dividing" the Word of God, 2 Timothy 2:15. Once I distinguished between, "times past" and "but NOW", Ephesians 1:8, began to become a reality. The OT, the gospels and the Hebrew-Christian epistles were addressed to Jews/Israel. All of Paul's epistles were addressed to Gentiles.

    Ephesians 1:8
    18 the eyes of your understanding[c] being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

    16) At some point in the future, when the prophetic time clock begins ticking again, God will pick back up, where He left off in Acts 28. He will again, deal with His people, the nation of Israel. I believe that the world is ever so slowly working towards the last days, that Paul so wonderfully, talks about:

    2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
    3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe,[a] because our testimony among you was believed.
    11 Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Last edit by FSUNurse2b on May 3, '13