Welcome to Lesson 2 of your Bible Study of Acts.
In this lesson, our aim is to get a bird’s eye view of the Book of Acts. There are tremendous advantages to this step, which will only become more apparent as you make your way through the book:
This will orient you to the book as a whole.
This particular lesson is high on information and low in participation. In other words, there is not much in the way of textual or personal reflection questions.
This is purposefully so. I wanted you to have as clean an orientation to the Book of Acts as possible with a minimum amount of distractions. This will allow you to absorb the content without having to think of too much else.
This content is crucially important as you go forward in your study of the Book of Acts as it will make each subsequent lesson so much easier and richer for you.
In lieu of questions in this lesson, you should do your best to cement the information that follows into your mind.
Once you are finished, briefly study the outline of Acts (see divisions below) to really take your overview of this book to a new level.
The Book of Acts can be divided into four principal parts with Acts 1:8 serving as a key text:
“And you shall receive power from on high when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria even to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The four main divisions are:
Take a look at those divisions above again. Notice how the first three track geographically with our key verse: The church in Jerusalem (1-7), in Judea and Samaria (8-12) and to the ends of the earth (13-20).
We could even incorporate the fourth section of Acts (Paul’s trials and voyage to Rome (21-28)) since the gospel eventually triumphs in Rome, as much the ends of the earth as anywhere else where Paul ministered.
What is also wonderful about our key verse is that it incorporates the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, (perhaps the key event in all of the book).
In addition, it telescopes how the church went from its Jewish roots in Jerusalem to eventually incorporating the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world into the people of God. This is perhaps the second most important theme in Acts.
This is the first major division in Acts. The key event for this section (indeed for the entire Book of Acts) is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Christian church.
Throughout this section, Luke narrates how the church shared prayer, communion, teaching, meals and even their goods and how the apostles preached the gospel with boldness and did many signs and wonders.
The Jewish religious leaders, however, immediately began a campaign of harassment and persecution demanding that the apostles cease preaching in the name of Christ. This persecution reached a literary climax in the stoning of Stephen, the church’s first martyr.
As a result of the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem, the disciples spread to other parts of Palestine. Some even went as far as Antioch spreading the good news (Antioch as you know is to play a key role in Part 3 since they send Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey).
The key events in this section are Phillip taking the gospel to Samaria, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch and the conversion of Cornelius who was to serve as the paradigm for the gospel spreading to the Gentile world.
Another critical event in this section is Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. This event changed the trajectory of Paul’s life, the history of the early church as well as the book of Acts. Indeed, Paul is the subject of Chapters 13-28 of Acts.
This section forms a major thrust of Acts, which is the gospel going into Gentile territories. The protagonist for this effort is the apostle Paul.
Luke narrates three separate missionary journeys (relocations in some cases) which take Paul through the regions of Galatia, Europe (Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth) and Asia Minor (Ephesus).
Finally, in Chapter 15, Luke narrates the Jerusalem Council which redefined the concept of the people of God away from ethnic, religious and geographic boundaries to salvation by faith in Christ. Gentiles Christians had now officially been grafted into the God’s covenant community.
The final section of Acts is primarily concerned with Paul’s legal battles against his opponents and the lengthy journey he makes to Rome to appeal his case before Caesar.
Paul is no longer a missionary planting churches but rather defending himself and proclaiming Christ before Roman governors and kings.
The Book of Acts finishes with Paul’s final appeals to his Jewish compatriots to accept Jesus as their Messiah and with Paul freely preaching the gospel in the heart of the Roman Empire.
Indeed, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, the book of Acts captures the witness of the church of its resurrected Lord and empowered by the Holy Spirit.