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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

Why Do We Need the Book of Acts? {Acts 1:1–11}

by William Boekestein posted January 5, 2023

This is the first article in a new weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here. 

The “Acts of the Apostles” is an amazing gift to God’s people. It addresses topics relevant for believers seeking to live faithfully today, emphasizing conversion, stewardship, prayer, apologetics, steadfastness under persecution, and a proper stance toward government. It also guides Christian congregational life, modeling church leadership, fellowship, and ecumenical relations, and extolling the importance of the word and sacraments—“[a]t least thirty percent of the text of Acts consists of apostolic preaching.”i And Acts shows how healthy churches grow under God’s sovereign blessing: through the efforts of called and gifted leaders, well-ordered, theologically-sound church government, the testimony of regular Christians, and an obedient response to persecution. So, the book of Acts is a historical account of the Spirit-guided progress of early Christianity that can help us glorify and enjoy God today.   

Christ Tasks the Church with a Mission 

The way Acts begins is extremely important (see Acts 1:1–11). It reemphasizes the Gospels’ focus on Jesus’s resurrection, the Great Commission, and Christ’s ascension. Luke and Acts are two parts of one story that overlap on these vital realities, signaling their centrality in Christian doctrine and life. Luke writes his Gospel to help people like Theophilus (and us) “know the certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4) so that they could more effectively witness for Christ. 

Acts, then, teaches that the church must proclaim the gospel. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells his disciples, even “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This restatement of Jesus’s Great Commission comes on the heels of his resurrection (cf. Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 24:46–49; Mark 16:15–16). Jesus had “presented himself alive to [the apostles] after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Jesus’s followers came to believe that he had defeated death and that his resurrection proved that God’s kingdom would overturn the powers of darkness. This truth became their message.  

Acts 1:8 restates the church’s mission, but it also outlines the book, showing the gospel’s extraordinary advance: “You will be my witnesses … in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Apostles’ ministry began in Jerusalem (Acts 1–7). Owing to Saul’s persecution, believers fled, bringing their message into Judea and Samaria (Acts 8–12). Starting in Acts 13, the Christian witness spread even further. The book ends with Paul testifying of Christ in Rome—for a Jewish person, Rome was the end of the earth.  

Christ Empowers the Church for the Mission 

Acts is a missions manual. But it shows that the mission is the Lord’s which he fulfills from heaven. Acts 1:8 is more than an outline; it’s also a promise. The rest of the book confirms Jesus’s word that the gospel would stretch across geographical boundaries and overcome political, religious, ethnic, and cultural barriers. 

Luke chronicles the growth of the church like this: “The word of God continued to increase” (Acts 6:7; cf. 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). The church’s rapid growth in impossibly rocky soil points to God’s sovereign work. Luke’s Gospel—his “first book”—was about what “Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Luke 1:1–2). Acts is about what Jesus continues to do after he was taken up to glory.  

Christ’s ascension demonstrates his comprehensive heavenly reign. He has the authority to send witnesses from his church into the world (Matt. 28:19) to speak for him “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2). From heaven Jesus poured out the Spirit, whom the Father had promised (Acts 1:4), to empower believers for witnessing. The book could be called, “The Acts of the risen and reigning Christ and his Holy Spirit through the church.” 

Acts shows how early believers did everything through Christ who strengthened them (Phil. 4:13). Despite constant opposition, God helped these first Christians live as faithful kingdom citizens, eagerly anticipating Jesus’s return. So also for us, “In an age of relativity, the practice of truth when it is costly is the only way to cause the world to take seriously our protestations concerning truth.”ii Acts encourages us with this reality: God builds his church through ordinary people who rely on him through the Spirit’s ministry in the church.  

Church life in Acts was far from perfect; the ideal church age is still coming. But the book just the testimony the church always needs. One commentator asks, “Who needs the book of Acts?” Here is his answer:  

When familiarity breeds contentment and complacency, when good order calcifies into rigid regularity, then people who love Jesus sense that something is amiss. They know that it was not always this way, and they turn to the Book to see again what is truly normal for Christ’s church. In particular when our zeal flags and our focus blurs, we need to listen to Luke, apostolic associate and documenter of the deeds of the Lord, as he recounts the Spirit’s acts in the Spirit’s words. We need the Acts of the Apostles.iii 

Acts feels like an unfinished book. There is no “mission accomplished” banner waving in the background. Instead, Paul previews an influx of gentiles into the church and holds out the baton to the church in every age; those who follow the apostles must carry on their mission.  

[i] Dennis Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), 11.

[ii] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There: The Book That Makes Sense Out of Your World (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1968), 169.

[iii] Johnson, Acts, 1.

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