Acts, Reflection 1: The Acts of Whom?

In elementary school I attended a Christian school for the first couple of years. The school was at First Assembly of God in Bakersfield, California. I think that it was there that I was first introduced to “the book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit,” with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit reflecting its Pentecostal roots. You see, the book of Acts tells about the Day of Pentecost and the work that God, the Holy Spirit, was doing.

Years later I found myself at a small Baptist college just outside of Chicago. In my Survey of the New Testament course (required) we had a session on “The Acts of the Apostles.” Not that the Baptists didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit – they did. It’s just that Acts described the works of the Apostles in spreading the gospel – namely its main characters, Peter in the first half of the book and Paul in the second half. And although the traditional title in the Greek (since late in the 2nd century) was lit. “Acts of Apostles” (Grk. Πράξεις ἀποστόλων), it likely wasn’t the original title of the book.

So who is Acts the “acts” of?

I think the clue is in the opening verses:

“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1–2 ESV emphasis mine).

The question: Who is the book of Acts the acts of?

The answer: Jesus.

Luke mentions that his first book was an account of the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was what Jesus began to do. Now, in his second volume, Luke records what Jesus continued to do.

Now, this continuation of Jesus’ ministry certainly included the work of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as well as the obedient response to the Spirit in the lives of the apostles. Nevertheless, Jesus is the central figure at work in the story of his early church.

John Stott describes who the book of Acts is the “acts” of in this way:

“The most accurate (though cumbersome) title, then, which does justice to Luke’s own statement in verses 1 and 2, would be something like ‘The Continuing Words and Deeds of Jesus by his Spirit through his Apostles’” (John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts, The Bible Speaks Today. Accordance electronic ed., Downers Grove.: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 34).

“The Continuing Words and Deeds of Jesus by his Spirit through his Apostles.” I like that!

Stott continues:

“Luke’s first two verses are, therefore, extremely significant. It is no exaggeration to say that they set Christianity apart from all other religions. These regard their founder as having completed his ministry during his lifetime; Luke says Jesus only began his. True, he finished the work of atonement, yet that end was also a beginning. For after his resurrection, ascension and gift of the Spirit he continued his work, first and foremost through the unique foundation ministry of his chosen apostles and subsequently through the post-apostolic church of every period and place. This, then, is the kind of Jesus Christ we believe in: he is both the historical Jesus who lived and the contemporary Jesus who lives. The Jesus of history began his ministry on earth; the Christ of glory has been active through his Spirit ever since, according to his promise to be with his people ‘always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt 28:20)” (ibid).

That paragraph gave me chills the first time I read it and it still gives me chills reading it again so many years later!

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