More people go doctrinally astray in the Book of Acts than in any other book of the Bible! It is my firm conviction that most of the confusion and contradictory teachings that exist in much of Christendom today are teachings upon the assumption that Acts is a Handbook for the operation and function of the Body of Christ. I beg for your earnest consideration of the following propositions as introduction to a correct understanding and application of the Book of Acts.
- ACTS is the second Book of Luke …or Volume 2 of the Book of Luke. A comparison of Luke 1:3 with Acts 1:1 establishes the connection between them. Luke binds his second volume to the first volume by recapitulating and enlarging the account given in the conclusion of his Gospel (cf. Lk. 24:48-53 with Acts 1:1-12).
- ACTS records the continuation of “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). Luke presents the work and teachings of Christ on earth, while Acts presents the work and teachings of Christ from Heaven.
- ACTS is the acts of the Holy Spirit through “witnesses chosen before of God” (10:41). The Holy Spirit is the energizer for the work (1:8). The Apostles and believers are the agents for the work (cf. 2:11).
- ACTS is the record of God’s “third” offer (first real offer) of the earthly Kingdom to the children of Israel. Three of the four Kingdom offers are found in the Kingdom parable of Matthew 22:1-10.
First Offer … found in the Old Testament and made by God the Father through the prophets (Heb. 1:1; Isa. 65:2; Jer. 35:17), and then rejected (Mt. 21:35; 23:37; cf. Zech. 7:12-14).
Second Offer … found in the Gospels, made in and by God the Son (Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 8:1), then rejected (Mt. 12:31-32; 23:38-39; Jn. 19:6). According to Matthew 22, these are the ignored servants, i.e., Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, the Twelve, and the Seventy.
Third Offer … found in Acts, made by God the Holy Spirit through the Apostles (Acts 3:19-26), and then rejected (Acts 7:51; 28:25-28; Rom. 11:25). According to Matthew 22, these are the ill-treated servants, i.e., the Twelve Kingdom Apostles of the Acts period.
Fourth Offer … found in Revelation, made by 144,000 Jewish Evangelists (Rev. 7), and Angels (Rev. 14:6). According to Matthew 22, these are the successful servants who bring in the guests.
- ACTS records the birth and development of the Church after the conversion and calling of the Apostle Paul. It is inconceivable that the Dispensation of the Church should be born before the one to whom it was revealed was even converted (Eph. 3:1-9). Acts 13:9 records Paul’s name change from a Jewish name “Saul” to a Gentile name “Paul” and is indicative of a changing dispensation. (The precedent for this symbolic act was set back in Genesis 17:5, when God was turning from the Dispensation of the Gentiles to the new nation, Israel, at which time God changed the name of “Abram” the Gentile to “Abraham” the Jew.) It is also of great significance that this name change takes place right at the time when the Jewish false prophet (Bar-Jesus), who should have been an agent of God’s blessing to this Gentile, Sergious Paulus, was attempting to turn the Gentile away from the truth, at which time he was blinded for a season (Rom. 11:25). God saves this Gentile Governor by His Grace without the agency of Israel.
- ACTS is a Transitional Book. It is a bridge from the Gospels to the Epistles; it gives the outcome of the Gospels and the explanation for the Epistles. There is the phasing out of the old and the phasing in of the new. Acts shows the historic transition from the Dispensation of Israel and the Kingdom Message to the Dispensation of the Church and the Gospel of the Grace of God. This transitional nature of the Book of Acts is demonstrated by: (1) The two divisions of the Book. In the first half of Acts, the ministry of Peter, the “Apostle to the Circumcision,” is preeminent (Acts 1-12). In the second half of Acts, the ministry of Paul, the “Apostle to the Uncircumcision” is preeminent (Acts 13-28). The conclusion is obvious: there is a change in leadership. (2) The changing witnessing patterns. In the first half of Acts, the Jews were given priority in hearing the Gospel (Acts 13:26, 46; Rom. 1:16). BUT, after the closing of Acts, the Gospel witness is given without any racial priorities (Rom. 3:22; 10:12; Titus 2:11). What other choice have we but to conclude—a change is taking place?
The change of Gospel content: The Gospel of the Kingdom (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and the Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts 16:31) are seen side by side. The conclusion is again obvious—a change is taking place.
The geographical and ecclesiastical movement away from Jerusalem: (1) Everything centers in Jerusalem. In Chapters 1-7 of Acts, Peter is the leader, the Twelve are active, and the Kingdom message goes to Israel. (2) Samaria and the Gentiles are in the foreground in Chapters 8-12 of Acts. There is a moving away from Jerusalem. Paul is moving in and Peter and the Twelve are moving out. (3) The action moves to Antioch in Chapters 13-28:15 of Acts. Here we see only Paul. Antioch is the new center and the Grace Message goes to all men. (4) Finally it’s Rome in Acts 28:16-31. Israel’s Kingdom hopes are definitely temporarily set aside. The conclusion again is obvious—a change is taking place.
The gradual turning away from the Jewish Agency for the execution of the plan of God in time. Isaiah 49:6, 66:18-19 and many other Old Testament passages tell us Israel was to be the agency though which Gentiles were to be saved. Acts 13:46, 18:6, and 28:27-28, clearly state that this Jewish Agency for evangelism is being set aside in favor of an entirely new agency—the Body of Christ. The conclusion again is obvious—a change is taking place.
The mixture of Old Testament principles and principles of the Dispensation of Grace operating side by side. (1) The Angel of the Lord (5:19; 8:26; 12:7, 23; 27:23), and visions (Acts 9:10; 10:3, 17; 16:9) led, guided, and assisted believers. Such things were common place in the Old Testament with God’s dealings with Israel. (2) At the same time, we have the Holy Spirit leading, guiding, and assisting believers (Acts 9:31; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6; 20:23, 28), which is common throughout the Dispensation of Grace. The conclusion again is obvious—a change is taking place.
The changing patterns for water baptism and Spirit baptism. Before the Book of Acts, it was water baptism only (Jn. 1:31; 7:39; 14:17; cf. Heb. 9:10). In Acts 2:38, first water baptism, then Spirit baptism. In Acts 8:14-18, first water baptism, then Spirit baptism by the laying on of hands. In Acts 10:44-48, first Spirit baptism, then water baptism. After the Acts period, Spirit baptism only (Eph. 4:5). The inescapable conclusion—a change is taking place.
The change in financial policies of believers. (1) Kingdom Communism (2:44-45; 4:33-34; 5:1-11). “Neither was there any among them that lacked.” (2) Church Grace (11:29; cf. Rom. 15:26). “For the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” What other conclusion is there? – a change is taking place.
The unique two-fold ministry of Paul (26:16-19; cf. 9:15). Here is the very essence of the principle of “Progressive Revelation,” demonstrated in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. There is no other conclusion—a change is taking place.
The three major turning points. (1) The outrage against Stephen (7:57-58); (2) The outbreak against Paul (22:22); and (3) the outgoing to the Gentiles (28:28).
What are these, if not turning points? And if they do not indicate a turning from one dispensation to another dispensation, then to what are they turning?
- ACTS, therefore, is not a primary source book for the Church-Age doctrine. It is not the pattern for the local church today. There is no pattern here, but primarily Acts is an explanation of how a change of dispensations took place. If this book were a pattern for the local church today, then we must have …
¨ Apostolic rulership (5:1-11; cf. Mt. 16:19; Jn. 20:23)
¨ Communal living (2:44-45; 4:34-37; 5:1-11)
¨ Temple worship (2:46; 3:1; 5:42; 21:26-27)
¨ Healings (5:15-16; 19:12)
¨ Tongues (2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6)
¨ Miracles (6:8; 8:6; 19:11)
¨ Visions (11:5; 16:9; 18:9)
¨ Laying on of hands (8:18; 19:6)
¨ Baptism for salvation and gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38)
¨ Law keeping (21:20)
¨ Women preachers (2:17; 21:9)
¨ Angelic visitations (5:19; 8:26; 12:7, 23; 27:23)
CONCLUSION: We must be aware of the nature of the Book of Acts lest we create hopeless chaos by mixing Jewish-Kingdom truth with Church-Age truth. Please, let’s not be guilty of robbing Peter to pay Paul.