The Book of Acts: For the Cause of Christ
Acts 1:1-11 – Commission and Ascension
Today we are starting a new series on the Book of Acts. I’ve decided to call this series “For the Cause of Christ” and we’ll see the passion and endurance the Apostles had in spreading the Gospel of Christ around the world. So we’ll start at the beginning, and as the song says, it’s “a very good place to start”. Acts chapter 1, verses 1-11.
1. The Prologue and Background: vv 1-3
As we begin let me give you some background of the book itself. Most scholars believe that Acts was written by Luke, the same author of the third gospel. It is also believed that both books were probably written very close to the same time and that they were one book Luke-Acts. This combined volume was split up when the church was recognising the gospel accounts that were canonical, or what should be considered inspired of God. Some of the evidence used for Luke’s authorship of the book is in both introductions (1:1-2) and Luke 1:3-4. Both books are dedicated to the same individual, Theophilus. There are also a number of times in Acts where the author switches from third person narrative (he, she, they) to first person, these are referred to as the “we passages”. The purpose of the book to is have a written record of the Christ’s continued teaching and work through His Apostles and other believers in Jerusalem, the Judean region, and then to the ends of the world. The date this book was written is debated. Some believe it wasn’t written until the second century (100-199 AD), others believe it was written in the 70s AD, and still others believe that is was written earlier between AD 62-64 (shortly after the narrative of the book closes). Something to keep in mind is that the book covers, roughly, a 30 year time span, form about 30/31 AD to about 62 AD. I hold to an early writing between 62-64 [For more reading on some of the evidences of an early writing to Acts, check out the New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Acts written by F. F. Bruce, which can be purchased here]. So, now let’s get into the book.
Luke begins his book linking back to his first “narrative”, which we call the Gospel of Luke, he is even writing to the same person, Theophilus. There has been some debate over this name. Since the name literally means “friend of God”, it has been suggested that these books were not written to a single person, but that Theophilus was being used to address christians in general. However, in the opening of his gospel, Luke calls, “most honorable” or “most excellent”, this phrase is always used in Scripture (including the book of Acts) as a title of respect to a specific individual. It is also thought that the Theophilus is just a pseudonym or code name if you will to hide the real identity of who the books were written too. It is also possible that Theophilus is the real name of an individual Luke was writing this accounts for, whether he was a wealthy patron helping to publish and distribute the work or not we do not know. Scripture is silent and we should avoid filling gaps like this with imagination and idle talk. As far as I am concerned Luke wrote these to a specific person named Theophilus for reasons known only to God and history.
Verses 1 and 2 briefly summarize what Luke wrote about in his gospel account, “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was take up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. (1:1b-2). This is like the saying “previously on” when you watching part 2 of a cliffhanger TV episode, or when listening to radio preachers that have split the sermon for the radio program starting out with “last time on [Turning Point with David Jeremiah or Truth for Life with Alistair Begg]”. But did you catch a word in there? “All that Jesus began to do and teach”. Jesus had taught everything He wanted to, so look at verse 3.
“After he had suffered”, this obviously refers to His beatings and death on the cross, “he presented himself alive to them”, this is after the resurrection. We know from other scripture Jesus appeared to many disciples and followers from his earthly ministry after His resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, Paul accounts how Christ had appeared to Peter, the rest of the twelve, His half-brother James, and to over 500 people at one time all, apparently, during this 40 day window all with convincing proofs to reassure them that it was really Him having been raised from the dead. But Christ still had work to do with the Apostles apparently as Luke tells us He was “speaking about the kingdom of God.” We don’t know for sure what exactly He was explaining and teaching to them at these appearances. The reference to the kingdom of God could have been a proof of His resurrection for them or He may have been explaining the suffering Messiah and the future glorious kingdom to come. F.F. Bruce puts it this way, “This same Good news as Jesus Himself had announced earlier, but now given effective fulfillment by the saving events of His Passion and triumph (Bruce, F.F.; New International Commentary of The New Testament:The Book of The Acts; ©1988, p 32).”
So we see the purpose of this book here. In Luke’s first volume, his Gospel account, he covered Jesus life and teachings up to His ascension. Here in his second volume we see that the implication in these first few verses is Christ’s continued work by the Holy Spirit in His followers. In essence this book is the beginning work of the Great Commission given in Matthew 28:19-20, which by the way has never been countermanded in Scripture. We as followers of Jesus Christ must still follow that direction of “Go” given in the Matthew 28. We as followers of Christ have been given the Holy Spirit, we therefore have strength and power to share the Gospel, to plant seeds for the Lord to harvest.
2. The Commission vv 4-8
The command Christ gave the Eleven here in verse four may have happened during this 40 day period, or this could have happened while they were going to or already on the Mt of Olives outside of Jerusalem. Christ first tells them to wait in Jerusalem until what was promised from the Father arrived. This promise was familiar to them as Christ points out by saying, “you have heard me speak about”. This is a reminder of Christ’s final instructions to them before He was arrested. This is the promise of the Holy Spirit, or Comforter, that is discussed in the Gospel of John chapters 14-16. In verse 5 He reminds them of the ministry of John the Baptist and that he baptized with water after repentance to prepare Israel for Christ’s coming. John’s baptism of water foreshadowed the coming of the Holy Spirit which baptize them and the rest of the believers in a few days time.
In verse 6, Luke’s language changes, this seems to show that the command and promise in verses 4-5 happened during that 40 day period, but now here, we say a transition to the last conversation the apostles would have with Christ while He was on this earth. They had apparently still been hoping for the Kingdom of God being set up physically and Israel’s independence to be restored to them. It’s possible that since the Lord was discussing the coming of the Holy Spirit, the sign of the coming age, they were thinking that Christ was going to set up His kingdom. Can you blame them? But they remind me of my daughter when we’ve promised her something, time play or to let her help with something. She’ll ask 15 or more times within the next 20 minutes, “Now is it time?” “Is it time now Daddy?”
Here in verse 7 the Lord doesn’t give them a direct “no”, but gently rebukes them by reminding them that matters like this belong solely to the Father. F.F. Bruce says, “Whatever purposes of His own God might have for the nation of Israel, these were not the be the concern of the messengers of Christ (Bruce, p35)”. The Apostles were to focus on proclaiming the Gospel of God and His grace in Christ. To the Apostles’ credit, whatever they were thinking, from this time on they devoted themselves to proclaim Christ and Him crucified.
In verse 8, Christ promised them power from the Holy Spirit when He came, power to perform mighty works and effectively preach the Gospel. He tells them that they will be witnesses for Him.The word witness here is the idea giving testimony or bearing-witness, this is the same root word in Hebrews 12:1
“such a large cloud of witnesses”. The idea of “witness-bearing” is a theme throughout the book of Acts. Verse 8 is also the key verse for the book, as it gives a broad outline for the rest of the account. The Apostles and believers would be witnesses first in Jerusalem (the city to reach) in chapters 1-7, next in Judea and Samaria (the region to reach) chapters 8-11:18, and then to the ends of the earth (the world to reach) chapters 11:19 through the end of the book. How are we doing in our city, our region?
3. The Ascension vv 9-11
Luke’s account here gives us the most detail of Christ’s ascension. Matthew and John don’t discuss it in their gospels. Mark talks about it and gives some detail about what Christ was telling the Apostles, then mentions that Christ “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19b). Luke obviously mentions it in his gospel account, but here in Acts we are told about the cloud and we see that the Apostles watched Him rising up into the sky. Now this forty day period Christ had appeared and disappeared before them several times, but this was different. This was final. After the ascension there were no more visits from the resurrected Lord, where they could touch Him, where He ate with them which was to show them He had physically resurrected. This time was to impress on them His heavenly glory.
The cloud that is mentioned is similar to the one in Luke 9:34-36 that removed Elijah and Moses from the Mount of Transfiguration, as well as Christ’s description of his return in Mark 13:26 and 14:62. It is thought that in each of each of these descriptions, the cloud mentioned should be understood as the Shekinah. The cloud that showed God’s glory and represented His divine presence with the Nation of Israel. This cloud led them through the wilderness before entering the land, it rested above the Tabernacle and filled Solomon’s Temple (1 Kg 8:10-11). This is the same cloud that, after years of disobedience and sin from Israel as a nation, left the Holy of Holies in the Temple, went through the streets of Jerusalem, up a mountain east of the city and ascended into heaven as the nation was taken into captivity and Jerusalem was destroyed (Ezekiel 10:4-5,18-19, 11:22-23). Probably leaving the same place Christ left and will one day return.
The Apostles were standing there heads back to watching Jesus ascending, and though He had disappeared they were still staring after Him, possibly still expecting Him to return and wanting to be there when He did. But while they were watching the clouds, two men appeared next to them. It is commonly thought that these men are angels from God, and I don’t doubt that. Luke’s description of the two men here is similar to his description of the angels that appeared to Mary and the other women at the tomb on Easter morning (Lk 24:4). Here again we see the theme of witnesses being brought out. F.F. Bruce puts it this way, “In both instances the fact that there were two suggests that they were viewed as witnesses, two being the minimum number for credible witness-bearing (Deut 19:15). On the former occasion the two men bore witness to Jesus’ resurrection; here they bear witness to forthcoming [return]” (Bruce, p38).
The angels didn’t come to find shapes in the clouds with the Apostles, they came with a message for them.Their message was one of reassurance to the Apostles, but I don’t wonder if it wasn’t also one to get them moving. The angels addressed them, which would have snapped them back to the moment. The message reassured the Apostle that Christ would return, and they gave them a piece of information they may not have had, Christ would return the same way. From here they leave. We aren’t given an account of the angels leaving, but in verse 12 we see that the Apostles returned to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.
So what can we take from this account? First we see that the commission was to the Apostles, but through their teaching, their writings which have handed down over 2000 years, that this commission was passed along to each follower of Christ. As I mentioned earlier the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and the commission here in Acts 1 has never been countermanded in any of the following Scripture. We are still commanded to “Go”. But we also need to be mindful of Christ’s return. It is evident here and throughout the rest of the New Testament that the Apostles and early church were ready and waiting for the Lord’s return.
So how are you doing with going? How are you doing with waiting for the Lord’s return? We cannot focus on one and neglect the other. We wait, but we labor while we wait.
I partly got the title for this series from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “For the Cause” which you can watch the lyric video of the song here. You can find out more about theire music here at www.gettymusic.com.
This is the current series I am just beginning to preach at First Baptist Church of Brownsdale, Minn. I will try to keep these posts coming as we work through the Book of Acts in our church.