Empowered to Witness

Explore the Bible Series

June 1, 2008


Background Passage: Acts 1:1-2:47

Lesson Passage: Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-6, 37-41


Introduction: The Book of Acts provides a ďbridgeĒ that connects the Gospels and Epistles.Without this invaluable treatise, Bible students would have great difficulty establishing the chronology of the New Testament and determining the nature of the early church.This introduction provides some historical information that may help interpret Acts. Also, I have provided a general outline of the entire book.--Many thanks to the Bethel Baptist Church of Owasso, Oklahoma.Pastor Bill Ascol invited me to conduct a seminar with the Sunday School teachers of the church, and I wrote this outline to help these faithful servants of Christ to prepare for their important task as Bible teachers.These dear people have twice invited me to work with them, and I have found these opportunities a delight.



Roman Emperors in the Early Christian Era


Tiberius (ruled 14-37 A.D.): Augustus (Octavian) governed Rome for more than four decades, but he died without a male heir to the throne.Tiberius served with distinction in the Roman military, and, in time, married the emperorís daughter, Julia.Some historians question Augustusí confidence in Tiberius, but Suetonius and Tacitus indicate that the elder statesman supported the ascension of Tiberius.By all accounts Tiberius proved an able, unimaginative ruler.He was fifty-six when the Senate proclaimed him emperor, and he did little more than continue the policies of his predecessor.


Gaius Caligula (ruled 37-41 A.D.): The mentally imbalanced grandnephew of Tiberius, Caligula was a disastrous and incompetent ruler.


Claudius (ruled 41-54 A.D.): Claudius was the aged uncle of Caligula, and after an initial period of struggle, proved an able military strategist and political administrator.He began the conquest of Britain in 43 A.D.In 54 A.D., his wife Agrippina poisoned him to hasten the ascension of her son (by a previous marriage) to the throne.


Nero (54-68 A.D.): Nero was, perhaps, the worst of the Roman emperors.He possessed meager administrative abilities and evidenced a cruel and brutal heart toward his subjects.Some historians believe he deliberately set the fire that devastated Rome, in 64 A.D.Four years after the fire, one of Neroís generals, Galba, led a rebellion against the emperor, and Nero committed suicide during the revolt.





Roman Governors of Judea


Antonius Felix (ruled 52-60 A.D.): Tacitus and Suetonius portray Felix as an ambitious, incompetent procurator.Paul appeared before Felix, in Caesarea, and, apparently, the procurator had some curiosity about the Christian faith, but he remained noncommittal about Paulís message.


Porcius Festus (ruled 60-62 A.D.): Like Felix, Festus had some interest in Paulís gospel, and the procurator seemed convinced of the apostleís innocence.Nevertheless, Festus arranged for Paulís case to go to Rome for a judicial appeal to Nero.


Judean ďKingsĒ of the Early Christian Era


Herod Agrippa I (ruled 41-44 A.D.): This grandson of Herod the Great governed Judea and Samaria from 41-44 A.D.He grew up in Rome, a childhood friend of Caligula.When Caligula became emperor, he named Agrippa the tetrarch of Judea.Herod courted the favor of the Jewish leaders, and, in accordance, executed the Apostle James.


Herod Agrippa II : The son of Agrippa I, this ďkingĒ of Judea heard one of Paulís defenses before the apostle was sent to Rome.Agrippa apparently engaged in an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice.




Outline of the Acts of the Apostles


Introduction (1:1-8): The author addressed this treatise to a certain Theophilus (ďFriend of GodĒ), concerning the post-Ascension development of the early church.The Lord, just prior to his Ascension, commanded his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.This baptism would, according to Jesusí promise, empower the disciples to bear witness to Christ in concentric circles of influence: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth.


Recipient: It appears that Luke addressed his Gospel and the Book of Acts to an individual named Theophilus.The Beloved Physician calls this man ďmost excellent TheophilusĒ, and this term may denote a man of high social standing.It proves impossible to determine if ďTheophilusĒ was a proper name or a pseudonym, intended to conceal the identity of the recipient.


Authorship: Luke/Acts does not identify its author; however, internal and external evidence point to the Physician Luke. If so, Luke wrote with some authority. He was obviously a learned man who wrote in excellent Greek and possessed a keen eye for historical research.Some early church leaders identified Luke as a Gentile, probably a native of Antioch.He embraced Christianity sometime before Paulís Second Missionary Journey, and, at times, accompanied the apostle on the mission field.


Date: Liberal scholars have often dated the book quite late (Michael White suggests 110 A.D.), but I donít find these arguments persuasive.It seems that Luke wrote this book before the great fire in Rome (64 A.D.), at a time when Rome had not yet officially turned against the Christian faith.

I. Witness in Jerusalem and Judea (1:9-8:3)

A.    The Ascension (1:9-11)

B.     Prayer in the upper room (1:12-14)

C.     Matthias chosen to replace Judas (1:15-26)

D.    Pentecost (2:1-47)

1.      the baptism of the Holy Spirit (2:1-13)

2.      Peterís sermon (2:14-39)

3.      the response of the crowd to Peterís sermon (2:40-47)

E.     First persecution of the Jerusalem church (3:1-4:31)

1.      the occasion of the controversy (3:1-10)

2.      Peterís sermon (3:11-26)

3.      Peter and John arrested (4:1-3-4)

4.      Peterís defense before the Sanhedrin (4:5-22)

5.      the disciplesí prayer for boldness (4:23-31)

F.      Generosity in the early church (4:32-5:11)

1.      the kindness of Barnabas (4;32-37)

2.      the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)

G.    Signs and wonders at the hands of the Apostles (5:12-16)

H.    Second persecution of the Jerusalem church (5:17-42)

1.      arrest and miraculous release (5:17-21)

2.      re-arrest and defense of the apostles (5:22-32)

3.      Gamalielís advice to the Jewish Council (5:33-42)

I.       The first dispute in the Jerusalem church (6:1-7)

J.       Third persecution of the Jerusalem church (6:8-8:3)

1.      the councilís accusation of blasphemy against Stephen (6:8-15)

2.      Stephenís defense (7:1-53)

3.      Stephenís martyrdom (7:54-8:3)


II. Witness to Judea and Samaria (8:4-12:25)

A.    Philipís preaching in Samaria (8:4-8)

B.     Simonís false conversion (8:9-25)

C.     Philipís witness to the Ethiopian (8:26-40)

D.    Saulís persecution of Jerusalem refugees (9:1-31)

1.      Saulís vision on the road to Damascus (9:1-9)

2.      Saulís baptism (9:10-19)

3.      Saulís witness in Damascus (9:20-25)

4.      Saulís relationship with the Jerusalem believers (9:26-31)

E.     Simon Peterís witness (9:32-12:24)

1.      healing of Aeneas (9:32-35)

2.      raising of Dorcas (9:36-43)

3.      ministry to Cornelius (10:1-11:18)

a.       angelís appearance to Cornelius (10:1-8)

b.      Peterís vision (10:9-16)

c.       Peterís witness to Cornelius (10:17-48)

d.      Peterís defense of preaching to the Gentiles (11:1-19)

F.      Early missionary work in Antioch (11:19-30)††††††

G.    Fourth persecution in Jerusalem (12:1-24)

1.      Herodís arrest of Simon Peter and execution of James (12:1-4)

2.      Peter miraculously delivered from prison (1:5-19)

3.      Herodís violent death (12:20-24)


III. Witness to the End of the Earth (12:25-28:31)

A.    Paulís First Missionary Journey (12:25-14:28)

1.      commissioned at Antioch (12:25-13:3)

2.      Cyprus (13:4-12)

3.      Pisidian Antioch (13:13-52)

4.      Iconium (14:1-7)

5.      Lystra (14:8-18)

6.      Derby (14:19-20)

7.      return to the cities of the First Missionary Journey (14:21-28)

B.     The Council of Jerusalem (15:1-35): controversy over circumcision

C.     Paulís Second Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)

1.      conflict over John Mark (15:36-41)

2.      selection of Timothy (16:1-5)

3.      the call to Macedonia (16:6-10)

4.      Philippi (16:11-40)

a.       conversion of Lydia (16:11-15)

b.      Paul and Silas imprisoned (16:16-24)

c.       conversion of the Philippian jailer (16:25-34)

d.      Paulís assertion of his Roman citizenship (16:35-40)

4.      Thessalonica (17:1-9)

5.      Berea (17:10-15)

6.      Athens (17:16-34)

7.      Corinth (18:1-17)

a.       Aquila and Priscilla (18:1-4)

b.      trial before Gallio (18:5-17)

8.      return to Antioch and conversion of Apollos (18:18-28)

D.    Paulís Third Missionary Journey (19:1-21:16)

1.      Ephesus (19:1-41)

a.       encounter with johnís disciples (19:1-10)

b.      confrontation with the sons of Sceva 919:11-20)

c.       riot at Ephesus (19:21-41)

2.      Greece (20:1-3)

3.      Troas (20:4-12)

4.      Miletus (20:13-16)

5.      meeting with the elders of Ephesus (20:17-38)

E.     Paulís Return to Jerusalem (21: 1-23:35)

1.      meeting with the Jerusalem church (21;17-250

2.      arrest in the Temple (21:26-36)

3.      defense before the crowd (21:37-22:21)

4.      attempted scourging (22:22-29)

5.      dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees (22:30-23:10)

6.      plot to kill Paul (23:11-22)

7.      decision to send Paul to Caesarea (23:23-35)

F.      Paulís Imprisonment in Caesarea (24:1-26:32)

1.      trial before Felix (24:1-27)

2.      trial before Festus (25:1-12)

3.      trial before Herod Agrippa (25:13-26:32)

G.    Paulís journey to Rome (27:1-28:10)

1.      Paulís warning ignored (27:1-12)

2.      shipwreck on Malta and Paulís subsequent ministry on the island (27:13-28:10)

3.      Paulís arrival and imprisonment in Rome (28:11-31)




Lesson Observations:


Prologue (1:1-3): Students should compare this opening paragraph with the first few verses of the Gospel of Luke.Several important points bear consideration.

  1. Luke was not an eyewitness to most of the events he recorded (See Luke 1:2); rather, he relied on the testimony of those who, firsthand, observed the Lordís ministry and the early development of the church.Later, in the record of Paulís missionary labors, Luke apparently joined the apostle during some of the evangelization of Asia Minor.
  2. Luke was a good historian.Apparently, several writers had written accounts of the Lordís work, and Luke consulted these records to complete his ambitious enterprise.Like any good historian, Luke examined his sources and wrote an ďorderly accountí of his findings.Godís people have long recognized the hand of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of this material, but divine intervention did not preclude careful scholarship in the composition of Luke and Acts.
  3. The Book of Acts is grounded in Jesusí resurrection from the tomb.While Luke used the tools of a historian, his purpose transcended the historianís craft.He had an evangelistic motive for his writing.


Christís Ascension (1:4-11): Shortly before his ascension, Jesus appeared to his disciples and reaffirmed the promise of the Holy Spirit.Sadly, Jesusí followers still had distorted views of the Kingdom. They still anticipated a restoration of political Israel, but Jesus mildly rebuked them and redirected their attention to their evangelistic commission.Then, Jesus rose into the clouds, and two angels promised that Jesus would one day return, in the manner he had ascended.


Days of Prayer (1:12-26): After Jesusí ascension, the disciples left the Mount of Olives and lived, for a time, in an upper room.Some think this upper room was part of the home of John Markís family and may have been the same place where Jesus observed the last supper with his disciples.During these days of prayer, the followers of Jesus chose another apostle, Matthias, to take the place of Judas Iscariot.The Bible tells us little about this man except that he was an eyewitness of the resurrection.


The Gift of the Holy Spirit (2:1-14):On the Day of Pentecost, as the disciples gathered with other devout Jews, the Holy Spirit came upon Godís people in a rushing, mighty wind and like divided tongues of fire.As the Spirit indwelt the men, each disciple began to speak in other tongues.It appears that these men spoke extant languages, discernable to the international crowd that gathered in the Temple confines.The teeming masses marveled at what they heard and saw, and some of them accused the disciples of drunkenness.


Peterís Pentecostal Sermon (2:14-39)

1.      Peterís defense of the disciples (vv. 14-21): The indwelling of the Holy Spirit transformed Simon Peter.This man, timid and fearful just a few weeks before, stood boldly to preach the gospel in the presence of the very people who called for Jesusí execution.The disciples, he affirmed, were not drunk, as the crowd supposed; rather, the Lord had fulfilled the promises of Joel 2:28-32 by filling his people with the Holy Spirit.

2.      Peterís witness concerning the Lord Jesus (vv. 22-36): Peter argued for the glorious divinity of Christ on three grounds:

(1). God attested Jesusí divinity through great miracles, signs, and wonders (v. 22).Peter appealed to the firsthand knowledge of his listeners.They remained, to this point, in unbelief, despite their awareness of the miraculous works of the Lord.

(2). God delivered Jesus up for crucifixion (See v. 23): Crucifixion was a common occurrence in the Roman Empire, but Luke made clear that God directed this particular event.This affirmation of divine activity must balance with the next claim; that is, the Jewish leaders bore moral responsibility for the death of Jesus.Here, as elsewhere in the Scriptures, divine sovereignty and human responsibility stand side by side.

(3). God raised Jesus from the dead (vv. 24-36): Peter quoted from Psalm 16:f concerning the Davidic anticipation of the resurrection.David, Peter reasoned, could not have referred to himself because the Jews knew, in Peter's day, where Davidís grave was located.Instead, the ancient king made reference to the resurrection of Christ.According to Peter, Jesusí resurrection served as a precursor to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

††††††††††††† 3.†† The response to Peterís sermon (vv. 37-39): Peterís message cut his hearers to the quick, and they asked the disciples what they should do.Peter called on the crowd to repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.Two things would occur when the people repented.

†††††††††††††††††††† (1). God would remit their sins.

†††††††††††††††††††† (2). They would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.