Part 12 – The Acts of the Apostles

The Appian Way within the ancient city of Minturno, about 80 miles south-east of Rome – Paul may well have walked on this stretch of road on his way to Rome.
The Appian Way within the ancient city of Minturno, about 80 miles south-east of Rome.  Paul may well have walked on this stretch of road on his way to Rome.  It captures the theme of the Book of  Acts – the gospel witness begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome.

Part 12 of the Big Journey is entitled ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. It’s a PDF document illustrated in full colour throughout. Click on the PDF icon below to read or download it:

Outline of contents
On the Day of Pentecost God sends His Spirit onto a waiting company of faithful Israelites.  A new creation springs into being – a body of people born anew by God’s Spirit and empowered to take God’s gospel blessing out to the remotest corners of the world. Thus dawns a new era in world history.

Before His ascension, Jesus responds to His disciples’ question about the Kingdom with these words “ . . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8). These words set the scene for the Book of Acts.  We see how God’s gospel blessing goes out, like a great wave, from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and on through the Roman Empire.

The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost fulfils three Old Testament promises:

(1)  The promise of the new covenant  On that Day, God begins to give people a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36.26) and comes to live within them by His Spirit (see Ezekiel 36.27, 37.14). Now at last they’re able to keep God’s covenant (Ezekiel 36.27,37.24).

(2)  God’s promise to Abraham  God is now pouring out His Holy Spirit “on all flesh”; “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2.16-21, quoting Joel 2.28-32)! God is now fulfilling, in a wonderful new way, His promise that in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3, see Galatians 3.14).

(3)  The Year of Jubilee  This was a Sabbath year, when people were released from toiling on their farms for a year.  But in this special year, too, Jewish bondslaves were set free, and family land that had been sold off was released back to its original owners. People who had lost land or liberty through poverty could return to their homes and families.  Jesus’s earthly ministry began to fulfil the Year of Jubilee (as we saw in Session 10) in a new and greater way.  The Day of Pentecost fulfils the Jubilee in an even more wonderful way. Through the baptism of the Spirit, God is now releasing people from sin’s bondage.  He is giving people true rest in their innermost being.  And He’s bringing them into a new family – His family. He becomes their Father; all other believers become their brothers and sisters in Christ!

And the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost echoes four key Old Testament events:

(1)  It’s a new creation  God’s Spirit comes with “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2.2). In Genesis 2.7 we read that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils “the breath of life” –  “breath” here being the same Greek word pnoē used here in Acts 2.2.God is creating again. By His Spirit, God is creating a new people for Himself (compare 2 Corinthians 5.17).

(2) It reverses Babel Through His Spirit, God begins to build a new humanity, not united in defiance of Him, as Babel’s builders were, but united under His authority, one in heart and soul (Acts 4.32). At Babel, God divided humanity into many different language groups. Now God’s new humanity embraces people from every language group (see Revelation 7.9; compare Acts 2.5-11). The language barrier erected by Divine command at Babel is symbolically broken; everyone hears God’s wonderful works in their own language (Acts 2.6-11).

(3)  God begins to live in a new Temple  When the Tabernacle was completed “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  . . . .  For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, . . . .” (Exodus 40.34,38).  Now God reveals Himself in fire again.  He manifests His presence in “. . . divided tongues as of fire” on His disciples (Acts 2.3).  His Spirit comes to dwell within each one gathered there. God once lived in a Tabernacle, and in the Temple that replaced it.  Now He lives in His people (1 Corinthians 3.16-17, 6.19, 2 Corinthians 6.16).

(4)  It’s a new giving of the Law  The Jews have traditionally associated the Feast of Pentecost with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – they calculated that the Law was given on the same day of the year. At Sinai, God came down in fire and gave His Law (Deuteronomy 5.22-24). He wrote that Law on tablets of stone. Now, on Mount Zion, tongues like fire rest on the disciples and God writes His law on “tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3.3).

We see how the Church grows and consolidates in Jerusalem.  The explosion of persecution begins the second phase of God’s evangelistic plan in earnest. Many flee Jerusalem for Judea and Samaria, carrying the good news with them (Acts 8.1).

Then Acts records three very significant conversions – an Ethiopian finance minister, Saul the persecutor, and a Roman centurion. These three men each represent one of the three great Biblical branches of humanity – the descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth respectively. Each is saved on a road going out from Jerusalem to a region where their branch of humanity had settled – symbolising the gospel going out from Jerusalem to the ends of the Earth.

We see the centre of world evangelism shift from Jerusalem to Antioch.  It’s from Antioch that Paul’s three missionary journeys begin.  Paul is God’s key man in Acts – devoted to God, brilliant and tireless, and at home in Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures.  He takes the gospel out to Asia Minor and on into Europe, planting churches in key cities.

But Acts also records the struggle to break free into the liberty of the gospel.  The issue that confronts the Church boils down to this – to be a Christian, do you have to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (see Acts 15.5)?  In the end, “the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2.5) wins the day.  But for years afterwards, in Jerusalem itself and doubtless other places, there were many Jewish believers “zealous for the law” – who continued to observe the Law of Moses rigorously (see Acts 21.18-21).

Back from his third missionary journey, a near-lynching in Jerusalem leads to Paul’s arrest and detainment by the Roman authorities.  He appeals to Caesar, and ends up under house-arrest in Rome.  So the Book of Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome.  Peter refers to Rome as Babylon (1 Peter 5.13). Rome is the Babylon of its age, in Alan Stibbs’ words, “the world-centre of organized godlessness”. But within three decades of the Day of Pentecost there is a Christian community here.  As we saw in Session 5, history is a tale of two cities. Babylon is the Bible codename for the world system – a godless society in rebellion against God, and ruled by Satan.  But God has His city, “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11.10) and which John sees as “the holy city, New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21.2). New Jerusalem is God’s world, a world where He rules with His people, the Church.  Now God’s city has a bridgehead in Babylon!

Part 12 of the Big Journey is available as a 16-page PDF document illustrated in full colour throughout.  Click on the PDF icon at the top of this page to download it.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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