I can’t wait till summer when I will have more time to get back to blogging on a regular basis!  My love for writing is currently being poured into my school work for now.  Here is a recent paper I wrote that taught me a lot.  I have always thought of the Holy Spirit as the main theme of Acts, but I did not realize there were several other themes as well.  Now, I understand more than ever why Acts is one of my favorite books!

Theme Development in Acts

     In the book of Acts, the theme of the geographical/ethnic advance of the proclamation of the gospel through the Holy Spirit is developed.  The Holy Spirit is the backbone of everything that occurs, empowering the apostles to speak boldly and endure suffering for the sake of Christ.  Prayer shows the value of the Holy Spirit working through Christ’s followers and precedes major events throughout the book of Acts.  The Kingdom of God is advanced through the themes of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and suffering in the first seven chapters of Acts.

Chapter one opens with Jesus instructing His followers to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:4).  Jesus explained in the key verse of Acts that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them, enabling them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth (1:8).  The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. Everyone gathered filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (2:4).  The noise caused a crowd of God-fearing Jews from every nation to gather, amazed that each could hear their own native language being spoken to ask the meaning of it (2:5-12).  Peter, filled with the Spirit, confidently addressed the crowd and gave God the glory for raising Jesus from the dead.  He explained that Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God; and the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them causing what they saw and heard.  Hence, about three thousand people responded to his message by repenting of their sins and were baptized.  The new converts devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and the Lord added daily to the number being saved (2:42-47).

Prayer is a theme found in nineteen chapters of Acts and always leads to something miraculous happening.[1] While waiting on the Holy Spirit, the disciples along with the women, Jesus’ mother and his brothers joined together constantly in prayer (2:12-14).  Prayer precedes them casting lots to determine God’s chosen one, Matthias, to replace Judas. In chapter three, Peter and John went to the temple at the time of prayer when Peter commanded the lame beggar to walk in Jesus’ name (3:1-9). In chapter four, after the believers prayed, “the place where they were meeting was shaken and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke the word of God boldly” (4:31). Finally, in chapter seven, filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen prayed “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” as he was stoned to death (7:54-60). Prayer can be traced throughout Acts as a dominant part of the life of the believers in Acts.

Suffering for the sake of the Gospel is also a theme found throughout the book of Acts. In chapter four, Peter and John were put in jail for teaching about the resurrection (4:1-4).  In chapter five, the apostles were put in a public jail but during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the doors and instructed them to go teach in the temple courts (5:17-20).  After appearing before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest, they were flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, then released (5:27-40).  Finally, in chapter seven, Stephen was stoned, becoming the first martyr for Christ.

In addition to these themes, there are core elements that Peter considered non-negotiable when he preached the gospel.  Peter always pointed out that he was talking about the Jesus that they had killed by hanging Him on a cross.  He also reminded them that it was the God of their ancestors that raised Jesus from the dead.  Ultimately, he always explained that Salvation is only found through Christ and requires repentance of their sins.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter spoke these truths boldly and many came to the saving knowledge of Christ.

Finally, there are primary, recurring themes in Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin.  He started his speech with acknowledging God’s covenant with Abraham.  He was highlighting “a divine invitation to a Gentile within a foreign land” and the Abrahamic Covenant confirmed by circumcision.[2]  Next, he paralleled Peter’s core elements, stating that the Jesus who they had rejected is exalted, and “becomes the Savior of those who had rejected him.”[3]  He gave the example of Moses, also rejected until his authority as God’s agent for deliverance is finally recognized during his second appearance to the Jewish people.[4]  Stephen addressed Israel’s chronic idolatry and the use of the temple.  He argued that “God’s presence could not be confined to merely dwelling in the Temple.”[5]  He wasn’t speaking negatively about the Temple, but was saying that God has bigger plans than to just stay in a temple and they should keep a proper perspective.[6]  The climax of his message targeted the Sanhedrin as he “called them ‘stiff-necks’ who were ‘uncircumcised in heart and ears,’ guilty of continually resisting the Holy Spirit.”[7] Stephen’s accusation that the Sanhedrin had rejected Moses, the prophets, the Messiah and God Himself, angered them; then his accusation that “they were in flagrant violation of the Law of Moses” increasingly infuriated them.[8]  In the fierce anger that resulted from these accusations, the mob stoned Stephen, making him the first martyr for Christ.[9]

In conclusion, the book of Acts has multiple themes that are used to advance the Kingdom of God.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, the followers of Christ stood firm, enduring suffering and even death because of their belief in Jesus as the risen Savior.  The book of Acts develops these themes as God is establishing His church and the opposition is not able to overcome it.

 

Bibliography

Fowler, Ben. “Key Themes of Acts.” Lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, April 21, 2018.

Ger, Steven. The Book of Acts: Witnesses to the World, Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2004.

 

[1] Video Lecture: Don Fowler, “Key Themes of Acts” (lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, April 21, 2018).

 

[2] Steven Ger, The Book of Acts: Witnesses to the World (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2004), 100.

[3] Ger, Book of Acts, 101.

[4] Ibid., 102.

[5] Ibid., 104.

[6] Ibid., 106.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 107