Introduction to History
and Study of Acts 1-3
November 11th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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The Old Testament has twelve books of history from Joshua to Esther, which trace the rise and fall of the nation of Israel. By contrast, the New Testament has one book of history: Acts of the Apostles, also known by its shorter name, Acts. This book chronicles the initial growth of the Christian Church, a trajectory that continues up until today. Other books in the New Testament provide some historical perspective, but that is not their primary purpose.


Acts serves as a record of the history of the early church, written by Luke as a sequel to his Gospel. The book begins with all of the disciples together, but follows the path of different members as they take on specific roles and disperse themselves throughout the region.

The Rev. Connie Jordan-Haas once explained the unique distinction of this book:

    Acts is unlike any other literary genre of the New Testament. It’s not gospel, letter, or revelation. Acts stands alone as our most complete account of what the early Christian church was like (1).

Jordan-Haas also noted that the first Christians experienced persecution and she compared their experience to that of some of the missionaries of our age who are serving in hostile lands. The Biblical expert William Barclay wrote that “Acts is the most important book in the New Testament (2).” He explains that if we did not have Acts, then we would not have a coherent history of the early church. We would have Paul’s letters, but would have to try to fill in the missing pieces. Instead, we have Acts which provides the background and context to help us understand the letters from Paul and other letters found in the New Testament.

Gordon Peterson, the author of The Message explains that Acts helps to emphasize the active role of the disciples: "Luke makes it clear that these Christians he wrote about were no more spectators of Jesus than Jesus was a spectator of God - they are in on the action of God, God acting in them, God living in them. Which also means, of course, in us (3)."

Verily this is true. The growth of the church that began with Jesus and his disciples continued beyond the first century A.D. into the middle ages and now into the 21st century. We can learn from the stories of the first disciples how to dedicate and sacrifice ourselves for this cause.

The chapters and verses in the book of Acts can be divided into several sections that record the geographic growth of the church in accordance with the command from Jesus in Acts 1:8:

    Chapters 1 - 7 - Initial Growth of Church in Jerusalem
    Chapter 8 - Spread of Church into Judea and Samaria
    Chapter 9 - Conversion of Paul
    Chapters 10-15 - Extension of Church through Asia Minor (Turkey)
    Chapters 16-19 - Growth of Church into Macedonia and Europe (end of the known earth)
    Chapters 19-24 - Paul's Arrest and Journey to Rome

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Barclay, William, The Acts of the Apostles, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, London, 1975

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993

  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)

  • Marshall, I. Howard, The Acts of the Apostles, an Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1986

  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)

  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970

  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT

Acts 1-3 (Incendiary Growth)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,* and it filled the entire house in which they were.

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,* which parted and came to rest on each one of them.

And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues,* as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

- Acts 2:2-4 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

These first three chapters provide a transition from the Gospels to the post-Ascension period. Chapter 1 serves as an epilogue for Luke’s Gospel as he summarizes the message of Jesus and describes the assignment given by Jesus prior to his Ascension:

    But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

    - Acts 1:9 (King James Version)

Luke concludes this first chapter by reviewing the experience of Jesus ascending into heaven and describing the process by which the disciples filled the leadership position left open by Judas Iscariot, the traitor.

Chapter 2 describes the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, as predicted by Jesus. The disciples began speaking in many tongues, which attracted the attention of a large audience. Then Peter delivered a sermon that summarized how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had fulfilled the law and the prophets. He quotes the Psalms and the prophet Joel to make his point:

    “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.”

    Acts 1:17 (Joel 2:28) - NIV

At the conclusion of the sermon he issues an altar call which is successful, as Luke records that “about three thousand were added to their numbers that day (Acts 2:41 - NIV).”

Chapter three describes how Peter and John carried on the ministry of healing and teaching that Jesus had started. Peter healed a crippled man and warned the people of the dangers of not listening. He reminded them that in Deuteronomy Moses foretold the arrival of a prophet, and commanded that “ ‘you must listen to him’ (Deut 18:15 - NIV).” Peter adds that those who don’t will be “ ‘completely cut off from among his people’ (Acts 3:23 - NIV).”

Reflection and Application

The mission to be witnesses to the ends of the earth has been passed on to us. The more that we study the Bible, the more prepared we are to deliver spontaneous talks the way Peter did.

In a sermon on Acts 1:8 the Rev. Ron Ton Choi provided a modern perspective on the command from Jesus to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Rev. Choi said that “In this verse we can interpret that “Jerusalem” represents ourselves and our families, “All Judea” represents our relatives (or nation), “Samaria” represents our neighbors (or neighboring countries), and “the ends of the earth” represents the entire human race (4).”

Jesus expects us to share his message with all of these groups of people, beginning with those closest to us and working our way as far out as possible. By the way, it does not matter what our past history was. Look at Peter. He tried to talk Jesus out of sacrificing himself and then chickened out when Jesus was arrested. But he accepted his Grace and delivered the most successful sermon to date. Not bad for an impetuous coward. Imagine what God can do with you and me.

Note that Jesus had told the disciples to wait until they received the Holy Spirit before they began their ministry. They may have been eager to get going, but they waited patiently for the Lord to decide the timing. They may have wanted to know the exact date and time when it would occur, but instead, stood ready to go at any time. We can fulfill our role in the same way. We may have an action or ministry we eagerly want to do, but have to wait for God's timing, and then be prepared when the time comes. In the meantime, our most important action is to pray, as the followers of Jesus did between the day of Ascension and Pentecost: "They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:8 - NIV)."

Moses commanded us to listen, the writers of Psalms and Proverbs gave us wisdom, the Prophets gave us additional insight, and Jesus revealed himself as the Word in the flesh. If we listen as Moses tells us to then we will better understand God’s message in the Bible and our own particular assignment. Listening may begin with regular study of the Bible and continue with prayer, discipleship, and service.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite language other than your primary one?
    2. Why did Jesus ask the Disciples to wait before beginning their ministry?
    3. Who can you share Jesus’ message with today?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we thank you for leaving us with the Holy Spirit. Help us to hear what you are saying through the Spirit and act upon it.

    Prayer Concern
    Language Translators and Language Teachers


    (1) Jordan-Haas, the Rev. Connie, “The World’s A Stage?, Acts 4:32-5:11,” The Noroton Pulpit, Sermons from the Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, July 13th, 1997
    (2) Barclay, William, The Acts of the Apostles, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, London, 1975, p.I
    (3) Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005, p. 1492
    (4) Choi, the Rev Roo Ton, “Reaching Out to the Whole World, Acts 1:8” The Noroton Pulpit, Sermons from the Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, October 1st, 1995

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Acts 4-5 (You Will Not Be Able to Stop Them)

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