Growing up, I could probably quote more verses, and relate more stories, from the book of Acts than from any other book in the Bible. I thought I knew the book forward and backward. Unfortunately, the truth is, I had never even paid attention to the major themes. Some of the verses I memorized seem to me now to be more incidental details than key passages. So, what are the major themes of the book of Acts? What message was Luke conveying to his audience? Let’s explore those questions together.
Acts as a Sequel
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to understand Luke’s message in the book of Acts unless you read and understand his gospel account. Both books were written to someone called “Theophilus,” so we should expect the themes Luke began in the first book to be continued in the second book.
If you recall from our discussion of the Gospel of Luke, three of the major themes were:
- Gentiles can become children of Abraham
- Jesus cares for the poor, hungry, and sick
- Jesus has authority to rebuke the powers of darkness
In that post it was noted, “Wherever the kingdom of God spreads, there should be tangible evidence and when the kingdom of God reaches its fullness, God will literally put an end to sickness, death, and poverty.” And we also noticed, “The evil we can see, like poverty, sickness, anger, and murder are all the result of demonic forces working behind the scenes…when Jesus healed someone, he was breaking the demonic hold on that person and setting them free.”
Both books are about Jesus waging war on Satan’s kingdom, but that fact is often overlooked in favor of important–but elementary–teachings on how the early Christians did church.
Restoring the Kingdom of Israel
In the first chapter, the apostles asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” I always thought their question revealed their misunderstanding about the kingdom. But as it turns out, the misunderstanding was mine.
Jesus spent the entire forty days between his resurrection and ascension, “Speaking about the kingdom of God.” When the apostles asked about the timing of the kingdom, Jesus did not dismiss their question as if it were foolish. He promised they would receive power from the Holy Spirit. Through the apostles and the Spirit, the book of Acts describes how Jesus began in Jerusalem overthrowing the enemy who held his people in bondage.
The enemy wasn’t Rome. Rome was just a visible symptom of the enemy’s control. The real enemy, of course, was Satan. On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus brought thousands of Jews “from every nation under heaven” under the rule and reign of God. He set them free from Satan’s grip. The book of Acts recounts how Jesus led his army of spiritual warriors on a battle campaign from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.
Everywhere the apostles went, by the power of the Spirit and at the name of Jesus, the world was being given back to God.
Amazed and Astonished
Luke constantly speaks of people being amazed, astonished, and in awe. He speaks of signs and wonders. Some truly amazing things happen in the book of Acts: The shadow of Peter and objects Paul touched were able to make sick people well, blind people were given sight, dead people were raised to life, demons were cast out, and poverty was eliminated in the Christian community.
All of these amazing and astonishing signs and wonders were evidence that Satan’s grip was being broken and God’s reign was being established. The visible manifestations of Satan’s rule, division, war, poverty, sickness, and death are all threatened by the preaching of the name of Jesus. Satan’s kingdom began to crack and crumble at the preaching of the apostles and someday his rule will be completely overturned.
The Jew First and Then the Gentile
Another theme Luke foreshadowed in his gospel account, which came to fruition in the book of Acts, was that the Jews rejection of Jesus led to the offer of covenant membership being extended to the Gentiles.
In Luke 14, Jesus told a parable which helps us understand the entire book of Acts. In the parable, a man throws a great banquet and invites many guests, who reject the invitation. These guests represent the Jews who rejected Jesus and rejected God’s invitation to be part of his kingdom. Both in the book of Luke and the book of Acts, the Jewish leaders are constantly plotting to assassinate God’s messengers (Jesus, Stephen, Peter, Paul). They hardheartedly refuse to listen to Jesus’ invitation.
So, in the parable, the master sends his servant to, “bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” to the banquet. The servant does so but reports there is still room. So the master tells his servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” In Acts, Paul is one of the servants who is tasked with compelling the world to “come in,” so that God’s house may be filled.
Jesus’ Charge to Paul
I think it’s fitting for us to conclude with Jesus’ words to the apostle Paul about his mission. Jesus told Paul that he was sending him to both the Jews and the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
I think those words sum up the book of Acts (and the mission of the church today) rather well.
I love you and God loves you,