Monday, April 27, 2009

The Author of Acts and his message

Since the second century, the book of Acts has sometimes been called by a longer name: “The Acts of the Apostles”. This is because it describes the actions of the closest followers of Jesus as they began to teach others about Him, soon after His death. As we read and study the book of Acts, we will learn about what it meant to be a Christian in the first years after Jesus rose to heaven, and also examine what being a Christian means today.

As a historian, Luke collected his information about the events he recorded in Acts from several sources. As he wrote in the introductory verses of Luke, he included information “handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2). This would have included John Mark, who wrote the earliest gospel, Mark, and Barnabas his cousin, who had been in Jerusalem with Peter (Acts 4:36-37 & 11:22). Luke spent time with these men because all three were Paul’s co-workers, and they were together with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome (Colossians 4:10,14 & Philemon 1:24). Luke wrote, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3), and he was also involved in some of the action himself, having spent time with Paul as he travelled around the Mediterranean Sea (see, for example, Acts 16:10-17) and staying with him through his journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-2ff) and much of his imprisonment (Colossians 4:14,18).

Acts has also been described as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”, because it shows who the Holy Spirit is and how He acted in the earliest days of the church. As we find out more about this third person of the Trinity, we will also learn to recognise and rely upon His work in our own lives.

As a theologian, Luke used history as a tool to explain deep truths about God. He did not write only a mere factual record. He was concerned that the events he chose to include should show clearly their significance for salvation. Luke will show us that salvation is prepared by God, given to us by Jesus Christ, and marked by the Holy Spirit (Stott, J.R.W. (1991) The Message of Acts). Luke was a Gentile, not a Jew (Colossians 4:10-11,14). He was the only Gentile to have his writings included in the New Testament. So it is significant that the events of Acts will reveal finally that, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39) We will be shown that the gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ) “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Acts was written to a person called Theophilus. From Luke’s courteous reference to him as “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), we can guess that he was probably an important government official. The name Theophilus is Greek, and it means “God-lover” or “God-beloved”. It has been suggested that this may even have been a carefully chosen pseudonym. Whoever he was, Theophilus had been taught something of Jesus, and Luke wrote his two books to help him to know and understand everything about Jesus with certainty. As we read the same words that Theophilus studied centuries ago, we will be learning the same lessons about Jesus, His people the church, and the Holy Spirit He sent to them.

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