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Acts by Robert Dean
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 56 secs

Introduction Part 2

 

It is important to do introductory overview work whenever we start a book just so we can understand what it is that we are going to be studying and why it is important. It is important to read an author's introduction and an author's conclusion because the introduction tells what he is going to be telling and the conclusion gives a summary. Then look at the table of contents and if it is a well written table of contents you can follow the trajectory of the author's thought as he develops the ideas he sets forth in his introduction. Then when you read it go back then and re-read the introduction and conclusion and then you can put the whole thing together. We don't do that with every kind of book but it is helpful to approach any study that way so that once we get down to all the details they makes sense because we've seen the overall map, structure, of what the book is all about.

We are now in the role of the Holy Spirit in Acts and this is the fundamental, foundational key doctrine all the way through the book of Acts. The role of Holy Spirit and the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit is really the key issue in Acts. This is something completely new in history. Something new happened for every believer. There is the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit, there is the baptism by the Holy Spirit, and then there is the filling of the Holy Spirit. What we read about the filling of the Spirit in the book of Acts is not what we read about in Ephesians 5:18, it is not the same thing.

So what we see on the book of Acts is that there is a change in the way that God administers and oversees history. Heretofore God had worked in history primarily through the Israelite people, the Jews who were under the Mosaic covenant. But because of the rejection of Jesus as Messiah there is going to be a pause. He hits the pause button in terms of His plan for Israel and He inserts something different, something that was never announced in the Old Testament. Why was the church not announced in the Old Testament? Think about it. If the church is something different and the initiation of the church is a result of Israel's rejection of the Messiah then to have any indication in the Old Testament would have caused the situation to be read ahead of time and would have taken away the reality of the free will, volition, of the Jews to accept or reject the Messiah. So there had to be a real situation there, a real decision that is unaffected by any other factor, so that we see these real contingencies in history that are dependent upon people's decisions. If they decide one way then God has His plan, and of course in His omniscience He knows what it is going to be but His knowledge doesn't cause people to make those decisions.

We are going get into the whole issue of predetermined decisions, election, foreknowledge, as we get into the book of Acts in a couple of different places but the element where people get so confused is that they think that God knows and says X will happen a certain way and that that somehow takes away volition and the individual responsibility and freewill from His creatures. The problem with that is that it is viewing the creator in terms of His omniscience and His oversight of creation and the way He supervises creation and brings things about to be the same kind of causation that occurs within the creaturely realm. God's knowledge is not the same as our knowledge, the way God works to bring things about is not the same way we do, so it is trying to compare apples and oranges and it just doesn't work.

We see that there is a transition that takes place here and it is really important to understand the nature of that transition, but the focal point that in emphasized here is the role of the Holy Spirit and that he is going to have these three key ministries in the life of every believer. That has never ever happened before. In the Old Testament some believers had a relationship with the Holy Spirit, but only a few. It is fewer than ninety and maybe even fewer than fifty. Let's assume that all the writers of Scripture had a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Then there were various prophets and others who were involved in aspects of the administration of the kingdom who had a relationship with the Spirit. There were the judges, the Spirit came upon them, but the role of the Holy Spirit to those believers had nothing to do with their spiritual life. That is the first major mistake that most people make. In reading the Old Testament they read that the Spirit of God came upon Jephthah, the Spirit of God came upon Samson, the Spirit of God came upon David, and think it is something similar to the role of the Holy Spirit today. But it is not. The role of the Holy Spirit in indwelling, filling and baptism has to do with our identification with Christ, in terms of baptism, and the indwelling occurs at salvation but it also has to do with the foundation for our sanctification in terms of both our positional sanctification and our ongoing experiential sanctification. The Holy Spirit is given to us in this church age to "walk by means of the Holy Spirit." That is the key for the spiritual life. But the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with the spiritual life of those who had a relationship with Him in the Old Testament. He simply empowered them to carry out their functions as leaders in the theocracy. For the kings it was in terms of leadership ability, for the judges it was leadership ability plus military ability, for the prophets and writers of Scripture it had to do with inspiration, for people like Aholiab and Bezaleel who built the furniture for the tabernacle the Holy Spirit gave them skill in their craftsmanship to construct everything necessary. But it doesn't have anything to do with their spiritual life.

So there is a huge mega-shift in history, something radically changes on the day of Pentecost with the coming of God the Holy Spirit. We see that just by the emphasis. The Holy Spirit is mentioned four times in chapter one, six times in chapter two, none in chapter three, two or three time (depending on the text—textual problem) in chapter four, three times in chapter five, three time s in chapter six, six times in chapter eight, two times in chapter nine, and we just see this all the way through the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit is mentioned again and again and again and again, emphasizing the fact that this ministry of the Holy Spirit in new. We don't have this in any book of the Bible up to this point, and all of a sudden it is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit.

The second thing to note is that all the major events that occur in the book of Acts are related to and described to be related to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter the Holy Spirit's coming is prophesied and revelation is attributed to Him. When Peter gets the 120 together in the upper room to make a decision about whether or not they should replace Judas he quotes from Scripture and says that "the Holy Spirit revealed in the Scripture." This is one of the first times we see the Holy Spirit mentioned as the author of Scripture. Then there are the events that occur around the day of Pentecost and also the healing of the lame man in chapter three, and all of these miraculous events are attributed to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 5 & 6 we see a description of the growth of the church and as believers begin to serve each other this is all an outworking of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is involved around the events of Stephen's stoning, then Paul's salvation in chapter eight, and the Holy Spirit is definitely involved in Acts 10 & 11 in the conversion of Cornelius and the inclusion of Gentiles within the church, etc. So we see this constant mention of God the Holy Spirit in the church, this new entity that is known as the body of Christ. It is not a church in terms of an individual localized congregation but a church in terms of including all of the believers in Jesus Christ. Everyone who had accepted Him is part of that new body.

They don't understand all of the dimensions to this yet. That is what is interesting. There is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the day of Pentecost and Peter describes it as the outpouring of the Spirit. Jesus in Acts chapter one promises them that the Holy Spirit would come "not many days from now" and that this was what John the Baptist had prophesied. Later on in Acts chapters 5, 6, 7 they recognize that what had happened on the day of Pentecost was this baptism of the Spirit, but when it happens they don't know what it is, so he just uses this general term "outpouring of the Spirit." It is only as subsequent revelation is given, specifically through Paul, that the early church leaders began to understand and properly interpret what occurred.

And that is a really important principle for us. That is, we can have all kinds of experiences that are labeled "spiritual" is our lives, and we talk to people who have all kinds of experiences in life—some very emotional and deeply personal—and we will never convince them that something different happened. But we have to recognize that we are all going to have different kinds of experiences in different kinds of things, and we are going to have to decide now how we are going to interpret those experiences. Are we going to let our experiences interpret the Bible, or are we going to let the Bible interpret experience? The Bible tells us how to properly understand the experiences that we have, not the other way around. Yet we live in a world where people are intensely emotional and they've thrown away the idea of objective external truth, so what they want to do it interpret their relationship with God or "spirituality" in terms of their own personal feelings, their own personal experiences, rather than letting the Bible tell them how they should interpret those experiences. And we see this example with the leaders of the early church. It is only as they get subsequent revelation are they able to properly understand what happened on the day of Pentecost, what was happening when Peter and John went to Samaria and the Holy Spirit came upon those Samaritan believers, and later on when the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household. So experience has to be interpreted by the Word of God.

That leads to the place of Acts in history. Under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit: 2 Peter 1:21, 22 NASB "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is {a matter} of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." That means they are not interpreting the events around them on the basis of their own experience but that as God the Holy Spirit is overseeing them, superintending them, working through them through the process that we call inspiration, they are able to write about the things that happen and give us God's interpretation. So God being the author of history and the one who supervises history, is the one who interprets it. This role of inspiration is very important. The word "inspiration" is one that often gets loose and fuzzy. Literally broken down into English it means "God-breathed"—the Greek word theopneustos [qeopneustoj]. God is the author of Scripture and He breathes, as it were, that into the author of Scripture and then the author of Scripture exhales it into what he writes. So God the Holy Spirit in some way we don't fully understand guides and oversees what the individual writer writes in such a way that his personality still comes through in his writings, his own personal background, vocabulary, education and things of this nature are still present. We can see there is a tremendous difference in the writing style of Luke in Acts when we compare him to John in Revelation or the Gospel of John, and Paul writes very differently than either Luke or John. Their individual personalities are preserved but the Holy Spirit makes sure that what they say is what God intends to be communicated and that there is no error in the original. Copies may contain errors because people make mistakes as they copy. We are going to run into some very odd people every now and then who want to say that those who copied Scripture were inspired, but the oddest of that group are those who say that those who translated the King James Bible were inspired just as much as the original authors. In fact, the King James Only crowd will argue that the writers of the KJV were more inspired than the writers of the original, so that if you are not studying in the King James version then you really don't have the Word of God. What is wrong with that is, which KJV? It has been modified many times over the years as the language update. Inspiration refers to a specific and a unique kind of activity very, very different from the way we might use the English word "inspire" when we talk about, for example, a great author who writes great prose or brilliant drama and we say, well they have been inspired. 

God the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the book of Acts so that we have the divine interpretation of the early history of the church. When we think about all the things that could have happened and all the things that did happen in those thirty years we are not told that much. We are not told about any of the apostles except for Peter and Paul, though a couple of others are mentioned (James, John) but they don't say anything. Why is it that only the Acts of Peter and Paul are mentioned? Why is it that only the expansion of the church into western Europe is mentioned? Why don't we learn about the expansion of Christianity into Africa, into the Arab countries, into Iran and further east? It happened; we know that. But the Holy Spirit isn't concerned about that, He is only concerned about the progress of the gospel among the Jews through the ministry of Peter and then through the apostle Paul into western Europe.

So in Acts God gives us a look at history in what He emphasizes, what He ignores, what he describes in detail; because what He is showing is this new work in history that the church is this living, growing dynamic organism that is empowered by the Holy Spirit in and it is not a human product. Human beings do not make this happen; it is energized, given birth to, by God the Holy Spirit, and the church is a unique entity in history. That ought to really change our own view, we ought to really sit up and get excited about that. We are part of this new movement that God stared in Acts. We are just several chapters down the road in 2010 and we have the introduction given to us in the first chapters in the book of Acts. In these chapters God emphasizes the expansion of the church through the witness, a key word in Acts, of the apostles and other believers in the early church as God uses that to take the gospel throughout the world. We see that this is going to be related back to Abraham's call in Genesis chapter twelve, and it is going to take us even further back into Genesis chapter nine and the prophecy given by Noah in relationship to his three sons. 

The next section is the various titles and names for Jesus in the book of Acts. By looking at all of these different titles we see a basic Christology. He is called "the Christ, the Messiah." This is emphasized many times in the book of Acts. He is called ho Christos [o( Xristoj], Greek for the Hebrew word for the anointed one. Even though the word "Messiah" or mashiach is used only a couple of times in the Old Testament in reference to this future one who would come and reign over Israel the primary emphasis is the son of David. God promises that there would be one who would come from the line of David who would rule over Israel and would bring in this perfect kingdom, and Israel would be in the preeminent place of all of the nations. That is the Davidic covenant. When we reads the term "the Christ," "the Messiah," that connects Jesus to those Old Testament prophecies.

A second title that is applied to Him several times is "the servant of God." He is called "your servant" in a prayer, for example directly where the individual is speaking to God—the second persona singular there refers to God. He is the servant, and that connects Him back to Isaiah because Isaiah predicted that this one who would come, that would be the greater son of David from the root and branch of Jesse, would be the one who would be the servant, the suffering servant who would bring redemption to God's people. He is called the Son of Man, which emphasizes His humanity. In Hebrew there is a typical descriptive phrase of somebody as being the son of something. Whatever the something was that is what is describing them. If they were a fool they were called the son of a fool, if they were a murderer they were called the son of a murderer. We often don't see that in the English translations because they just give us the significant translation, e.g. simply, he was a murderer. So when Jesus is called the Son of God the Scripture is saying He was God, it is not talking about derivation or birth. When it says he is the Son of Man it is saying He is a man, a human being. He is called Lord, which is the Greek kurios [kurioj] and comparable to Adonai in the Old Testament which is one of the names for God. He is called the Jesus of Nazareth, which indicates he was from Nazareth. He is called the Prince and Savior in Acts 5:31, Prince because He is a descendant of David—and He is not called King yet, not once, He is not sitting on His throne. He is a Prince but not King. He is waiting in the wings for the kingdom but that is not given to Him until He returns at the end of the Tribulation. He is called the Lord and Christ in Acts 2:36. Lord indicates deity applied to the Messiah. He is called the Prince of life in Acts 3:15 in connection with resurrection. He is the one who lives through He was dead. He is the chief corner stone of the church in Acts 4:11, the foundation of the church. He is called the Just One in Acts 7:52, meaning He is the one who is perfectly righteous. He is the Son of God in Acts 8:37, meaning He is God. He is called the Lord of all in Acts 10:36; the Savior in Acts 13:23.

Here we have all of these orthodox Jewish men, and Peter is as strict an observer of the Torah and the Old Testament laws as anybody of the era. Paul was as well, and all of these others. These were not rebels, not secularists, not non-observant Jews as there are today. They were all observant Jews and monotheists. Question: How could these men attribute deity to Jesus if there weren't a framework for that in the Old Testament? In Isaiah chapter forty-five we have God, we have His servant speaking, and we have the Spirit, all present in the same context and same verses. In various places in the Old Testament there are three persons within one verse, the three persons of the Trinity. This was clear. It wasn't until about the fifth or sixth century AD that Judaism had to come down with rigid, strict Unitarian monotheism but prior to that it is not evident in their writings that have survived. So here we have these strictly observant Jews, strict monotheists, who have learned that the only way to explain who Jesus is and what He did is to recognize that he was true God, fully God in every sense of the word, who became flesh and dwelt among us.

Some major characteristics of the book. There are two keys words that must be understood if we are going to understand the book of Acts. The first word is "transitional" and the second is "historical." Transitional emphasizes the fact that the norm of God's dealing with human history is changing from the Old Testament pattern to the New Testament. That means that it is in the process of going from one state to another state, and it doesn't happen over night. But there are other things that are going on within this transition, something that are present, that are hangovers from the Old Testament period of the law that die out because Jerusalem was still standing, the temple was still standing, and it doesn't get destroyed until AD 70. So there is the observation of all of the Mosaic ritual still taking place in the temple, and at the end of Acts Paul is going to come back to Jerusalem and make a vow, shave his head and offer sacrifices, and people say, what is that all about, doesn't Paul understand that the law is over with? Sure he did. He doesn't have dementia by the time he gets to Acts 25 he doesn't forget everything he said in Galatians and in Romans. So let's quit treating this as if it is some sort of aberration, that Paul had somehow bumped his head and forgot everything he had ever taught. Maybe there is not a conflict between the two. Why?

We are dealing with a transitional period of history where there were still elements of the Old Testament dispensation and there were elements of the New Testament coming in. There was still an offer of the kingdom. In Acts chapter two Peter's offering the kingdom to Israel again; in Acts chapter three Peter is offering the kingdom again. We have to interpret a lot of things that go on in Acts chapters one through eight in light of this whole kingdom message. Some things that are happening in the early part of Acts are specifically related to the fact as a national corporate entity Israel is rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. The Old Testament sign of impending judgment was that they would begin to hear God's Word spoken to them in an unknown language. Deuteronomy predicted that; Isaiah 28 was saying this. That came in AD 70, so there was no need for it after that. The whole reason we have a Pentecostal movement and Charismatic movement is because they don't understand these two things: axis transitional and axis historical. Historical means that the writer is describing what transpired and he's not telling us that this is the pattern or this is the way things should be; he is simply describing the way things were. Acts is descriptive, it is not prescriptive. Descriptive means that he simply tells us what happened.

Beside the doctrine of the Holy Spirit these other doctrines are recognized: The resurrection of Christ. Again and again and again He is presented as the living Savior. He is the one who conquered death, He is the Prince of life, He is the one who went into the grave for three days and came out alive again, never to die again, and the one who ascended to heaven. We see prayer as a fundamental doctrine. All the way through the book of Acts the importance of prayer is stressed. Prayer is important, we do not give proper emphasis in our lives to prayer.

Another doctrine that is emphasized is preaching. There are two different Greek words that are translated "preaching." The first is euaggelizo [e)uaggelizo] from which we get our word evangelism—to tell the good news. Aggelizo is the verb to announce, to proclaim something, and the prefix eu means to proclaim good news. The essence of Christianity is that we are proclaiming the good news that there is forgiveness of sin, there is justification; we have good news that we can be right with God because Jesus died on the cross for sin. Most of the time, with ten exceptions, when we read the word "preaching" in Acts, it is this world euaggelizo, to proclaim the gospel. The other word that we see at times is kerusso [khrussw] which is a word meaning to announce something. The noun for is kerux [khruc], and a kerux was a herald who would go through the towns and make an announcement. kerusso is the word that means to preach. Preaching is not a mode or oratorical style of oratory, it is simply making an announcement of truth.

The next key word is the word for witnessing or being a witness. The verb is martureo [maturew] from which we get our word "martyr," although the way we use the word "martyr" is very different. But this is am emphasis on the witness. This is what Jesus said in Acts chapter one: "you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Witnessing here isn't what you and I normally use the word "witnessing" for, we use it as a synonym for evangelism. But this is a different kind of word, it is being a legal witness in establishing a case to be true. That is the idea that our lives are evidence in a trial, so to speak. That is the idea here. We find this again and again in the book of Acts which indicates something that is going on that is bigger and broader than simply proclaiming the gospel. It fits within a broader pattern. It is a legal term that is not unrelated to the concept of presenting a defense for the truth. The other thing we see starting in Acts chapter thirteen is the missionary expansion of the church, as Christians are to go out throughout the world and to be witnesses in their lives and to proclaim the gospel. Those two things fit together.

The last thing we see in terms of a major characteristic of the book of Acts is the transition as the church becomes more organized and there is the development of administration and leadership within a local church. One thing to emphasize is that we have to remember that Acts does not present us with patterns for the New Testament church. They are still trying the figure out a lot of things and what Jesus meant by a lot of things and that is what we are seeing in the book of Acts.

Key doctrines. First of all pneumatology, all of the ministries of God the Holy Spirit. We will also get into apologetics. Jesus presents Himself alive after He rose from the dead "by many infallible proofs." The Greek indicates that He is demonstrating that He is alive, that it is Him, that he did die and is now risen from the dead by proofs that can't be argued against. They are incontrovertible and he appears to hundreds. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 people see the physical, bodily resurrected Lord Jesus Christ; that He had conquered death and is now alive. So he is proving something to be true in real time history, it is not a contradiction to faith. It is only a contradiction to faith if you have bought completely into some kind of relativistic subjectivism. If you buy into relativistic subjectivism then you can't prove anything to be true. You can't even look in the mirror and say for sure that that is you. After all, you could be hallucinating! The only basis we have for truth is if somebody tells us truth, which is what the Scripture says; it is called revelation. God reveals Himself to us but He doesn't do it in a vacuum and he doesn't do it without confirmatory evidences. So it is important to understand what those evidences are so that we can think biblically, rationally and logically on the foundation of Scripture.

Ecclesiology. The church as an organism begins in Acts chapter two with the birth of this new thing that is the church, later described as the body of Christ. We have an emphasis on prayer, an emphasis on missions and evangelism and taking the gospel to those who have never heard. Another two theologies that are connected are the kingdom of God and dispensations. From the very beginning in Acts chapter one the disciples say, verse 6: NASB "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" What did they mean by kingdom? Where did they get the idea of kingdom? They got it from the Old Testament—all these promises that God had made to David and to his descendants that there would be this future glorious kingdom that would be ruled by a descendant of David. They don't think of this kingdom as some pie-in-the-sky spiritualized thing that is happening somewhere off in heaven where Jesus is, they are thinking of it as a concrete political, geographical kingdom on the earth that is led by a descendant of David who rules as the everlasting King of Israel. And Jesus responds to that and says, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority," which indicates that God has history broken up into different segments, different periods of time, which is what we refer to as dispensations. But this idea of the kingdom of God was what was offered to Israel with John the Baptist who came along and said, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." Jesus came along and said, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." Where did they get that word "repent"? The got it from Deuteronomy 30. Jesus sent out the disciples to the house of Israel and the house of Judah and said, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."

All through the Gospels this kingdom of God has been present; it's still present. Peter offers it again in Acts 2 and again in Acts 3. By the time we get to the end of Acts this kingdom idea has pretty much gone by the wayside. Why? Because the kingdom has now been postponed and something unexpected is going to intervene in history: the church.

Here are some keys words to watch for as we read through Acts: the Holy Spirit, witness—the noun is used 15 times; the verb 4 times. Faith—the verb is used 37 times; the verb 15 times. Signs and wonders, the signs that authenticate or validate the ministry of the apostles. Teaching, didaskalos [didaskaloj] is used 16 times, almost always translated to teach and it means to inform and explain something to people. Preaching, kerusso, is used in 8:5; 9:20; 10:37, 42; 15:21; 19:13; 20:25, 28, 31.