Acts Part 1

Notes on the Book of Acts

Part One


Acts, like the four gospels, is anonymous. However, the early church knew that Luke wrote both the gospel that carries his name and this book. Irenaeus (180 AD), the famous Muratorian Canon (170-200), and Eusebius (323) all attribute both the third gospel and Acts to Luke. It is clear that Acts is part two of Luke’s history.


Luke was a companion of Paul. In Acts chapter 16, he changes from third person to first person. This happens when Paul visits Troas. Thus, Luke heard Paul preach in Troas and joined him for the rest of his life. In this respect, he is an example to us. When we hear a spokesperson of the Lord and we perceive that they are a vessel of the Lord who has been granted keen insight into the Scriptures and the Lord’s ways, we ought to attach ourselves to that person and not let go. This is the Lord’s way of discipling us – through the ministrations, teachings, and emulations of a consecrated person!


So, Luke joined Paul on his second missionary journey (15:35 – 18:22), accompanied him on his third missionary journey (18:22 – 21:17), and stayed with him to the very end (2 Tim 4:11).


Luke was inspired. The apostle Paul quotes directly from Luke’s gospel in I Timothy 5:17-18 and calls it “Scripture.”


Luke must have completed Acts prior to the destruction of Jerusalem since he does not mention it. If it had happened, he would have recorded it so that all would know that Jesus’ prophecy came to pass. Neither does he record Paul’s martyrdom (late 60’s). Rather, Acts ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. He doesn’t record Peter’s martyrdom (about 65 AD). Most significantly, Paul’s imprisonment in Rome for two years was his first imprisonment. He was released after two years, visited Ephesus and other cities in Asia Minor, wrote First Timothy, was rearrested in 65 AD, wrote Second Timothy during his second imprisonment, and finally decapitated in 66 or 67 AD. Therefore, Luke likely wrote this book in 61 or 62 AD, prior to Paul’s release in 62 AD.


Witness Lee identifies the theme of the book: “The subject of Acts is the propagation of the resurrected Christ in his ascension, by the Spirit, through the disciples, for the producing of the churches – the kingdom of God.”[1] The wording of this theme is insightful. “Acts” is an abbreviation for “The Acts of the Apostles.” Of course, it is a recordation of what the apostles did. But perhaps a better rendition for a title is “The Acts of the Resurrected Christ.” This will be shown to be appropriate when we consider verse 1.


“We should never think that the ascended Christ is sitting passively on the throne, observing the pitiful situation on earth and feeling disappointed about it. No, in his ascension Christ is active in a very positive way. As the ascended One, He is now doing many things.”[2]

The ESV Study Bible identifies a distinctive feature of the book: “The most distinctive feature in Acts is the speeches or sermons, constituting nearly a third of the total text of Acts. Ten of these are major: three by Peter, one by Stephen, and six by Paul.”[3]

The book of Acts chronicles the journeys, speeches, and activities of the first disciples. As such, it is an adventure. What a privilege to enter into this adventure and see how the ascended Christ works through frail vessels. The original disciples were weak (recall Peter’s denial, the misdirected exuberance of the sons of thunder, and the slowness of all the disciples to comprehend our Lord’s teaching), but the Holy Spirit empowered them and opened their eyes! They did mighty deeds! And so, we too, weak and frail, can be empowered and we, too, can be given understanding so that we can be similar witnesses!

In Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece, The Hobbit, we read: “This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbor’s respect, but he gained well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”

Acts is how the apostles had an adventure. They found themselves saying and doing things unexpected. Many in their day disdained them (indeed, they were all martyred). But they gained well! But their adventure is our adventure. For we are part of the same body. Not only so, but we can do the same things that they have done (Mark 16:17-18)! If we study this book and only gain knowledge then the Lord has not gotten what he desires from us. We should read this book and do similar things! The first disciples were called to be witnesses. We are also called to be witnesses (Matthew 28:18-20; Rev. 12:11). Allow this book to direct your living into witnessing!



Read Acts, chapter one.

“The first account, O Theophilus, I composed about all that Jesus began to do and teach.”[4]

We do not know who Theophilus was, only that he was a real person and a Gentile. (The meaning of his name is “Lover of God,” so he may have been a disciple of Christ already.) There is some evidence that suggests that he was a court official in Rome and that both Luke’s gospel and Acts are legal briefs that Luke submitted to Theophilus for Paul’s upcoming trial. Evidence to this end includes Luke’s statements that faith in Christ is not something new but a continuation and fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold. That is, the Christian faith is not a new religion but the expression of Jewish faith as it was intended. Since Luke is writing to a Gentile, this emphasis is best explained as Paul’s defense at trial because new religions were not permitted in the Empire but established religions were. However, it is not certain that this was Luke’s purpose in writing. We simply recognize Luke’s inspiration and enjoy the adventure.


“The first account,” of course, is Luke’s gospel. He uses a fascinating expression. He says his gospel was about what Jesus began to do and teach. But how does the gospel of Luke end? It ends with the ascension of Jesus (which will be repeated here in Acts, chapter one, so that the two books overlap). If it ends with his ascension, how is it just the beginning of what he did and taught? The implication is that the earthly ministry of Jesus was only the beginning of his ministry and Jesus continues to do and teach through the apostles! He is continuing to do and teach from heaven!


until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.[5]


Before he ascended he gave orders “by the Holy Spirit.” This shows that, as a man, our Lord relied on the Holy Spirit. So did the apostles. So must we.


Jesus chose the apostles. He is still choosing his followers today. It seems as if we are choosing Christ when we come to him in faith. In a sense, we are. But it is only because he chose us first…from before the foundation of the world!


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,

    4      just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love,[6]


You chose Christ only because he chose you.


To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.[7]


The “many convincing proofs” were his appearances. But, they also include his eating with them in his resurrection body and his allowing Thomas to touch him.


Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of God during the forty days that he appeared to them.


So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

    7      He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;[8]


John MacArthur’s comments on these passages (verses 3, 6, and 7) identify the kingdom to which Jesus referred:


“The Lord wanted them to know that the crucifixion did not nullify the promised millennial kingdom (cf. Isa. 2:2; 11:6-12; Dan. 2:44; Zech. 14:9). The apostles no doubt had difficulty believing in that kingdom after the death of the King. The resurrection changed all that, and from that time on they proclaimed Jesus Christ as the King over an invisible, spiritual kingdom (cf. Acts 17:7; Col. 1:13; I Tim 1:17; 6:15; 2 Tim 4:1; 2 Peter 1:11; Rev. 11:15; 12:10; 17:14; 19:16). The kingdom will be manifested in its fullness at the second coming. At that point our Lord will personally reign on earth for a thousand years.”[9]


“Often Jesus had taught them prophetically about the future (Matt. 13:40-50; 24, 25; Luke 12;36-40; 17:20-37; 21:5-36). The enthusiastic question they were asking him, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ is thus perfectly understandable. After all, here was the resurrected Messiah speaking with them about His kingdom. They knew of no reason the earthly form of the kingdom could not be set up immediately, since the messianic work signaling the end of the age had arrived. It must be remembered that the interval between the two comings of Messiah was not explicitly taught in the Old Testament. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were greatly disappointed that Jesus had not redeemed Israel and set up the kingdom (Luke 24:21). Further, the apostles knew that Ezekiel 36 and Joel 2 connected the coming of the kingdom with the outpouring of the Spirit Jesus had just promised. It is understandable that they hoped the arrival of the kingdom was imminent. Surely it was for this kingdom they had hoped since they first joined Jesus. They had experienced a roller coaster ride of hope and doubt which they now felt might be over.


Jesus, however, quickly brings them back to reality. It was not for them ‘to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.’ The Scriptures teach many things about the earthly and glorious reign of Jesus Christ in His kingdom, but not the precise time of its establishment. ‘Times’ (kairo) refers to features, characteristics of eras, and events. God ‘by his own authority’  has determined all the aspects of the future and the kingdom. But, as far as men are concerned, that remains one of the ‘secret things’ that ‘belong to the Lord our God’ (Deut. 29:29). All that believers can know is that the kingdom will be established at the second coming (Matt. 25:21-34). The time of the second coming, however, remains unrevealed (Mark 13:32).


That Jesus does not deny their expectation of a literal, earthly kingdom involving Israel is highly significant. It shows that their understanding of the promised kingdom was correct, except for the time of the coming. If they were mistaken about such a crucial point in His kingdom teaching, His failure to correct them is mystifying and  deceptive. A far more likely explanation is that the apostles’ expectation of a literal, earthly kingdom mirrored the Lord’s own teaching and the plan of God clearly revealed in the Old Testament.”[10]


Today, the church is divided over the idea of a millennial kingdom. The Roman Catholic Church (not part of the true church since that system is in apostasy…although a few Catholics might be saved here and there) and Presbyterians[11] teach what is known as amillennialism[12], that is, that there will not be a kingdom that Jesus establishes when he returns to the earth. There will only be the “new heavens and the new earth.” Rather, we are in the kingdom now. However, that position makes no sense of these verses in Acts chapter 1. The amillennialists would have us believe that, after 40 days of teaching about the kingdom, the apostles, even having the Holy Spirit already (John 20:21-22), did not know that there would not be a kingdom centered around Israel coming one day! But the amillennialists know more than the apostles after being taught by Jesus. Or, so they would have us accept.


“Since the season of His coming cannot be known, and the Lord could return at any moment in the rapture of the church (cf. I Thes. 5:2), believers must be continually ready.”[13]


“Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.

  34      “It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.

  35      “Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—

  36      in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.

  37      “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’ ”[14]


“Such continual vigilance and anticipation, through all generations of believers who were looking for Jesus to return, has served as true incentive to live with urgency and minister with passion.”[15]


It is a frightful thing to observe disciples today living without urgency or passion for the kingdom. “Lord, save us from procrastination and apathy! Grant us a burning passion to bring others into the kingdom and to ensure our own entrance. Amen.” If we have lost our passion let us pray this kind of prayer daily. If we have never had such a passion then we were likely never regenerated! Cry out to the Lord for salvation!


Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for bwhat the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me;

    5      for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit bnot many days from now.”[16]


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.”[17]


From verse 8 we see that the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is for power to witness. This does not mean that one cannot or should not witness if they have not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. All disciples are called to witness whether they have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit or not. The most noticeable difference will be in boldness. The Spirit brings a supernatural and blessed boldness to our witnessing.


At this point it is good to remember that our witnessing is qualitatively different from the apostles’.  They were witnesses through their five senses of the glory, majesty, and resurrection of our Lord. They saw him in his resurrection body and heard him teach both before and after his resurrection. We are only witnesses of how the Lord has removed our sins and granted us new life. Nevertheless, this is an important witness. More, our witnessing goes beyond the merely subjective (our own experience of a changed life) and is grounded in the original witness of the apostles. Thus, our witness also has an objective element to it.


Why do some disciples receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and some do not?[18] The full answer to that is found in the secret will of God. He blesses different disciples in different ways and He is sovereign. He does what He will with whom he wills (Romans 9:14-18). But a partial answer is that, because the purpose of the baptism is to witness, if a person does not plan to witness or has little desire to witness, then they will not receive the baptism of the Spirit.


The book of Acts helps us to distinguish between the indwelling of the Spirit, which every disciple has, and the baptism of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the heart of every genuine believer in Christ. The first disciples received this indwelling the very first day that Jesus rose from the dead:


On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.[19]


Thus, the apostles had this indwelling prior to the events in Acts chapters one and two. This aspect of the Holy Spirit is essential not only for witnessing, but to even live the life that we have been called to live: a life of obedience to the Lord and a life of enjoying the Lord. So, it has also been called the essential reception of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit makes witnessing for the Lord easier and has also been called the economic reception of the Holy Spirit. According to Scripture, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is also termed to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.”


And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.[20]


The English word, “fill,” only has one connotation. However, in the language of the New Testament (Greek) there are two words that are translated “fill.” One is pleroo, which means to fill inwardly. We see this word used in Acts 2:2 where the wind filled the house that the disciples were in. But Acts 2:4, cited above, uses pletho, which means to fill outwardly.


Thus, sometimes when the NT presents the word, “fill,” in regards to the Spirit it refers to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in power (as in Acts 2:4) and other times it refers to the inward filling of the Holy Spirit, the essential aspect, as in Ephesians, chapter five:


And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,

  19      speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

  20      always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to bGod, even the Father;[21]


By speaking and singing we can receive a greater supply of the Spirit within us.


 We will also see that one can be baptized (filled with) with the Holy Spirit more than once. However, every disciple has the Spirit living in them. They receive him upon faith and He stays with them all their lives (Eph 4:30). He can be grieved by our sin, but he never leaves us. Thank you, Lord!


And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

  10      And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.

  11      They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”[22]


Regarding prophecy and the end times, there are five different perspectives. Four of these are orthodox, meaning that one can hold one of them and still be considered within the realm of orthodoxy. One is a heresy.


The four prophetic views are idealist, historicist, futurist, and partial preterist (also called orthodox preterism). The first sees most prophesy, especially in the book of Revelation, as full of symbolism and that one should not expect a literal fulfillment of these prophecies and many could be nothing more than a poetic way of describing the victory of good over evil. The historicist view sees the many prophecies given as all being fulfilled in different periods of time throughout church history. Therefore, many or even most have been fulfilled already. The futurist view sees the vast majority of NT prophecies as yet to happen. The partial preterist view sees the vast majority of NT prophecies as already fulfilled, most having to do with the close of the Jewish age as terminated with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (and events leading up to it, 63 – 70 AD).


The fifth view is full preterism. This teaching holds that all prophecy in the Bible has been fulfilled and there is nothing left to happen. According to this view, Jesus will not physically return to the earth. He reigns from heaven and will stay there. No rapture, no earthly kingdom. The only kingdom that will be manifested here is when the church will gradually get the gospel to the whole world and the majority of people will be saved and the earth will become a much better place. The fact that full preterism (also called heterodox preterism) denies the return of Christ makes it both dangerous and heretical.


Acts 1:9-11 shows the impossibility of full preterism being true. Jesus is going to return in the same way that he left: being seen coming down from heaven in the same way that he went to heaven, that is, physically and visibly.


Then they returned to Jerusalem from the bmount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.[23]


A Sabbath day’s journey was defined by rabbinical law as 2,000 cubits, or 3/5ths of a mile. In other words, Olivet is right next to the city.


When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying;[24]


This must have been a large house, since the upper room alone held 120 people. Also, the eleven were “staying” at this house, that is, living here until they would return to Galilee. See that they lived together. Such was the bond of love, unity, and sweet fellowship that they had.


These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.[25]


“These” are the eleven apostles listed in verse 13. They were continually devoting themselves to prayer. This entails the moving of the Holy Spirit in their hearts because prayer is work. It takes energy and concentration. Prayer is easier when two or more pray together, but it still requires attentiveness.


“His brothers” are his half-brothers through Mary and Joseph. While they disbelieved in him and even ridiculed him during his earthly ministry (John 7:5), as soon as he resurrected from the dead, they became his strongest supporters! He appeared to his half-brother James (I Cor. 15:7) and then he must have astoundingly told his siblings of the Lord’s visit and they all believed.


The remainder of the chapter chronicles how, through the leading of Peter (now possessing the Holy Spirit), they chose a replacement for Judas who is now in hell (vs. 25).


A point of interest is how they made their choice: through the casting of lots. It is surprising how completely contrary to one another the various analyses of this process are! One commentator will say that this was an error on behalf of the apostles – that they never should have cast lots. Another says that it was appropriate for them but not for us – that God does not use that method any longer. Another will say that it is an example for us and we ought to still implement it.


That the decision-making method of casting lots is in accordance with God’s will and manifests God’s choice is clear under the old covenant:


The lot is cast into the lap, but its every judgment is from Yahweh.[26]


This was a common way for the Lord to reveal his choices! See Lev. 16:8ff; Numbers 26:55ff; Joshua 7;14; I Sam. 10:20; 14:41ff; Proverbs 18:18.


Some say that, once the Holy Spirit was received we no longer need this method. But, we have already seen that the apostles had the essential reception of the Holy Spirit and they still cast lots. It is likely that the intention of those who try to denigrate this method is good. They seek to either have those making important decisions do so by rational processes (using wisdom to make decisions) or by sensing the Spirit’s direction.


However, it is not that the apostles did not use reason to determine Judas’ replacement. They narrowed it down to two individuals by the process of reason. They left the final decision to God Himself.  If we follow this example, we will do well. We can narrow down our choices by considering the pros and cons of every potential decision. Indeed, probably most times we can make a decision based solely on these considerations. If other people are involved, of course, we must consider the character (moral integrity) of the persons being considered. Indeed, in choosing a mate for oneself or for your child this ought to be the primary and overarching deliberation.


If we are still uncertain then we cast lots.


Some have also tried to assert that even choosing a replacement for Judas at all was misdirected. They say this because it is evident that the apostle Paul was God’s choice. If only Peter had waited then there would have been no need to go through the trouble. But there is no evidence for this and it is pure speculation. Such an idea undermines apostolic authority. If Peter was wrong about this choice then maybe he was wrong about other things, too. How can we know when he is wrong and when he is right? Further, they prayed for the Lord to choose (vs. 24). If the Lord had wanted them to wait for Paul he would have told them so.


We do not know exactly where Matthias testified to the faith. He is not mentioned again in the Bible and there are three different traditions which purport to tell us what he did. One says that he preached in Judea and was stoned to death by the Jews there. Another says that he travelled to Ethiopia and preached the gospel there. A third says that he travelled to Georgia, preached, and was buried there after martyrdom. Interestingly, a historical treatise of the Middle Ages by Nikephorus (1256 – 1335) reports that he did all three: that he first preached in Judea, then Ethiopia, and then Georgia.


Chapter one closes with Peter and the apostles recognizing the importance of being a witness to the risen Christ. Do we see this importance? If we do, what do we do about it? Take the time to share what you do about it.



[1] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Acts, Message One.

[2] Ibid.

[3] ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL; 2008)

[4] Legacy Standard Bible (2021) (Acts 1:1) La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation

[5] Legacy Standard Bible (2021) (Acts 1:2) La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[6] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Eph 1:3–4). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 1:3). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[8] Legacy Standard Bible (2021) (Ac 1:6–7). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[9] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Acts 1-12 (Moody Press, Chicago, IL; 1994) p 15. (This commentary will be abbreviated as MNTCA henceforth.

[10] Ibid, 19-20.

[11] Although, some Presbyterians do hold to premillennialism. Probably the majority are amillennial or postmillennial.

[12] This doctrine did not arise until Augustine taught it circa 425 AD. Augustine, an influential and otherwise excellent teacher, introduced this doctrine and his persuasiveness caused it to be accepted quickly. Thus, the early church was premillennial.

[13] MacArthur, MNTCA, 20.

[14] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mk 13:33–37). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[15] MacArthur, MNTCA, 20.

[16] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 1:4–5). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 1:8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[18] Some teach that all believers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Obvioulsly, this was not the case with the original disciples. They received the indwelling of the Spirit in John 20 (the same day that Jesus arose) and later received the baptism. Moreover, later in Acts we will meet those who believed the gospel beforehand but had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 20:19–22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[20] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 2:4). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[21] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Eph 5:18–20). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[22] Legacy Standard Bible (2021) (Ac 1:9–11). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[23] Legacy Standard Bible (2021) (Ac 1:12). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[24] LSB (Ac 1:13). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[25] LSB (Ac 1:14). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[26] LSB (2021) (Proverbs 16:33) The Lockman Foundation.