Great Themes From Acts
An Introduction to a Historian’s View of the Scheme of Redemption
By Tom Roberts
There is no broader scope of man's history than that which considers one's spiritual relationship to his Creator. "In the beginning" (Gen. 1:1), Jehovah brought the universe into existence, made a physical earth suited for man's habitation, placed man in the Garden, gave him a companion for life and allowed him dominion over his environment. In this idyllic home, Adam was only a "little lower than the angels" (Psa. 8:5) and enjoyed a full spiritual fellowship with God. In his elevated place of honor as a free moral creature, Adam was to continue in fellowship so long as he walked in harmony with the law of his Creator, restraining his hand only from "the fruit of knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17).
It is sad, but true, that man did not restrain himself. Adam and Eve, through Satan's temptation, fell into sin. Having been free to choose, Adam chose evil rather than good. Having a moral ability that knew not to sin, Adam now learned experientially about the consequences of and punishment for sin. Driven from the Garden and from fellowship with God, Adam and Eve experienced the punishment of death. They died (spiritually) when they sinned in that they were separated from God (Isa. 59:1,2). They began to die (physically) since they were prohibited from the Tree of Life and their bodies eventually returned to the dust (Gen. 3:19; Jas. 2:26). From that day forward, every descendant of these first parents, with the exception of Jesus Christ, has sinned (Rom. 3:23) and dies (Rom. 6:23). This is true, not because of enforced hereditary depravity, but because we make the same choice as Adam. Free will is both our crowning glory and the source of our spiritual grief. We come no closer to our potential as the offspring of God than when we willingly and lovingly choose to obey him. But we are pitiful, indeed, when we allow Satan to dominate our lives. Make no mistake, however. Sin is not forced, genetic or inherent. As with Adam and all of humankind, sin is by choice and deed. Man is held accountable only for his own sin (Ezek. 18:4, 20), not the sins of Adam or others. Sin is a "transgression of the law" (1 Jn. 3:4), comprehended through "lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and the pride of life" (Gen. 3:6; Matt. 4:1-11; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). The history of man is that, though not mandated to sin, we do sin. Sin, being universal, brings spiritual death to all. Likewise, denied access to the Tree of Life, all continue to die physically. With Paul, we may cry, "0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24) His answer is, in the same passage, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Yes, the history of man is the history of our failure to obey God. But God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and he loved us while we were disobedient (v. 9; Rom. 5:6). Thus, in the same book that recorded the origin of sin is also revealed the first promise that God will redeem us. This promise of salvation through the "seed of woman" (Gen. 3:15) is the beginning of a plan, a scheme of redemption, that God developed over centuries. The "seed of woman" is none other than Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16-16), also of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3, et al) and David (2 Sam. 7:12ff). Our hope of eternal redemption is Jesus Christ.
Luke's History of Redemption's Fulfillment
It is in the "Acts of the Apostles" that the full story of redemption is preached in its entirety for the first time. We are told that ancient prophets and heavenly angels (1 Pet. 1:9-12) had long desired to learn of the divine wisdom to be exercised in the salvation of the human race. Kept from their view, it was revealed through apostolic preaching (1 Cor. 2:6-10; Eph. 3:8-10). Though the epistles (Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews, etc.) supply the exegetical and doctrinal basis for salvation, the Acts provides the historical record of its proclamation. It is through the carefully gathered material of Luke that we see the Pentecostal thousands in Jerusalem as they hear truth about the crucifixion, resurrection and coronation of Messiah. It is through his pen that we learn of Peter entering the house of Cornelius to speak of salvation to Gentiles for the very first time. It is Luke that undoubtedly learned firsthand from Paul, then passed it on to us, the joys and perils of the three journeys that spread the knowledge of the gospel ("good news") to the world. He occupies a unique place in biblical history by bringing into focus that pregnant moment in time when salvation was offered (Gal. 4:4). In the person and work of Jesus, peace replaced the enmity between God and man (Eph. 2:14-22) and fellowship was restored. What we lost in Adam, we regained in Christ. We are indebted to Luke for his efforts in tracing the story of the cross from Jerusalem to Rome, from Peter and the Twelve (chs. 1-12) to Paul (chs. 13-28), from Jew to Gentile.
The Story of Luke
Much of the life of Luke is unknown: the message is greater than the man. He does not mention his own name either in the Gospel or Acts, leaving it up to Paul, his mentor and apostolic leader to place him with certainty as a fellow-worker (Phil. 24), physician (Col. 4:14), and companion, remaining with Paul until his imprisonment in Rome (2 Tim. 4:11). We know nothing of his family, his place of birth or of his conversion, save that he was not an eye-witness of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4) and that he was a Gentile. This last is learned only by inference (Col. 4:11-14) when those "of the circumcision" are named as distinct from Luke and others.
We must rely on the lowly pronoun, as used by the author, to identify his presence among the associates of Paul. The first-person "we" and "us" passages in the report (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16) provide that evidence. The third-person pronouns indicate when Luke "traced the course" (Lk. 1:3) by information from other sources.
We find Luke among the companions of Paul for the first time at Troas during Paul's second missionary journey (Acts 16:10) as he received the vision and departed for Macedonia. He remained behind at Philippi (17:1) when Paul left for Corinth and did not rejoin the group until about seven years later when, on the return from the third journey, Paul passed through Philippi (20:5, 6) on the way to Jerusalem. Luke was with Paul at the time of his arrest in Jerusalem and, though nothing was intimated of his presence during Paul's trials before the Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus and Agrippa, he appeared again as Paul, appealing unto Caesar, sailed for Italy (27:1). Evidently, he was with Paul during most of the two years of his first imprisonment in Rome and by his side, alone, near the final days of his second imprisonment (2 Tim. 4:11).
For some unknown reason, Luke's history ends before the death of Paul, indicating an early date of composition. It seems implausible that Luke, as a historian, would pass over the death of Paul, the severe Neronian persecution of AD. 64, or the destruction of the Temple (AD. 70) if his writing took place after these important events. Their absence implies an earlier date, possibly AD. 63.
Chronology of Acts
The date of the first chapters of Acts can be easily related to the death of Christ since Pentecost came fifty days after Passover (Acts 1:3,5; 2:1). The events that transpired with the beginning of the church took place near A.D. 33. This can be established from information supplied in the gospel relating the birth of Christ in the time of Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1), Jesus' age of thirty years when he began to teach (3:23), and the three years of his public ministry. A span of some uncertain time occurs until James was killed by Herod (12:1) near AD. 44. The major part of Paul's labors, related by Luke, would have occurred between AD. 44 and AD. 59, the approximate time of Festus in Jerusalem, for a total of nearly fifteen years. Of this time, Luke recorded that Paul was in Corinth a year and six months, plus "yet many days'' (18:11-18). He was in Ephesus the greater part of three years (19:8, }O; 20:31), in prison in Caesarea for two years (24:27), on a long and arduous journey by ship to Rome and imprisoned there for two years (28:30). The remaining years would have been spent in the three journeys recorded by Luke.
Critics of the Bible love to look for mistakes which permit their skepticism to pass judgment on the veracity of Scripture. Such critics of the past have fastened on the language of Luke to impugn his accuracy. He has been accused at various times of being mistaken in terminology regarding military, religious and civil titles (13:7; 13:50; 14:13; et al), locations of cities (13:13; 14:6; et al), medical (28:3ff) and nautical terms (ch 27). In each and every instance, his knowledge has passed the acid test and put his critics to rout.
Additionally, the harmony of The Acts in doctrine with the epistles as it relates to such matters as the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7), elders (14:23), the Holy Spirit (ch. 2, et al), and salvation terms (Acts 2:38, cf. Matt. 28:18-20), etc., lends credibility to his observations. A divine hand has provided us with documents of considerable more value than that of the secular historian Josephus.
We are indebted to Luke both as a historian and biographer in supplying an inspired account of the work of the Holy Spirit as the Scheme of Redemption was revealed to the apostles and preached to the world. This provides everyone this side of the Roman era with an unerring guide to God's plan to save the world through Jesus Christ- By connecting the Gospels with the epistles, Luke made his contribution to the full revelation of truth so vital to our own salvation. Luke has finished his work and rests from his labors. It is now our responsibility to read The Acts carefully, along with the rest of Scripture, learn of God's will and obey it fully. Would you be a Christian? We, along with Theophilus, now have the information necessary to make that vital decision.