Sometimes, God’s Sovereignty is best revealed in the storm!  This completes the themes throughout the book of Acts.  It also completes my  Bible 364 class at Liberty University!  Taking the summer off to focus on some much needed R&R with my daughter and my writing.

Theme Development in Acts

Based on Acts 1:8, the key verse of the book, the Gospel continues to advance in the third movement of the book of Acts.  The Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys played a crucial role in the fulfillment of God’s promises.  This paper will identify the major themes seen in the advancement of the proclamation of the Gospel presented in the key verse, Acts 1:8.  It will cover key themes and advancements made in chapters thirteen through twenty eight and cover the convergence of all key themes in the final chapter.

Overcoming the persecution against the apostles, there is a development of the geographical/ethnic advance of the Gospel in this third movement of Acts.  The first missionary journey in this segment of Acts started in early spring of AD 48 and ended in autumn of AD 49.[1]  Chapter thirteen opens with Barnabas and Saul being sent to Cyprus to do the work the Holy Spirit had called them to do.  Arriving at Salamis, they begin their first missionary journey by preaching in Jewish synagogues while traveling through the island to Paphos (Acts 13:4-5).  Next, they preached in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch where many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed them (Acts 13:42-43).  Hence, because “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region,” the Jewish leaders “stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region” (49-50).  Shaking the dust from their feet, they went to Iconium (Acts 13:51).  They spent a good amount of time witnessing in Iconium until the city divided, schizo, toward the apostles, intensifying to an attempt at stoning them.[2] At that point, they moved their ministry to “an alternative area of Galatia, the Lycaonian region, in which were the villages of Lystra and Derbe.”[3]  However, Ger explains that a Jewish delegation from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium followed Paul and Barnabas instigating the Lystrans to turn from trying to worship them as gods to stoning Paul.[4]  Left for dead outside the city, Paul then dusts himself off and returns to town.  The next morning the apostles went sixty miles to Debre where “they preached the Gospel and made many disciples.”[5]  Reaching the end of the eastern empire, the apostles retraced their steps, still ministering as they “strengthened the foundations they had recently laid.”[6]

Paul’s second missionary journey lasted two and a half years, starting in the spring of AD 50 and ending in autumn of AD 52.[7]  It begins with a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas resulting in Barnabas taking Mark and sailing for Cyprus while Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches (Acts 15:36-41).  In Lystra, Timothy joined their mission followed by a physician named Luke in Troas.  As they preached in Philippi, they again faced opposition from a slave girl with a Python spirit, then from the magistrates of the Roman colony for proclaiming illegal religious customs.[8]  After being beaten and jailed, they go to Thessalonica and preach in the synagogue while Luke likely stayed behind with the church.  Next, they preached at Berea where Silas and Timothy stayed, but Paul was sent to Athens (Acts 17:10-16).  While he waited for Silas and Timothy to join him, he ministered in Athens then “Corinth where he stayed for a year and a half, teaching the word of God” (Acts 18:1-11).  From Corinth Paul sailed to Syria. He reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue then set sail from Ephesus to land at Caesarea where he greeted the church in Jerusalem then went down to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22).  During this second missionary journey, many came to faith “including a God-fearing business woman, a Roman jailer, a member of the Athenian Areopagus and two synagogue leaders.”[9]

Paul started out alone on a third missionary journey that started in spring of AD 53 and ended in AD 57.[10]  Over several months, he retraced his path to “minister to churches he had planted in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch.”[11] In AD 56, every major city in Ephesus and Asia Minor had been evangelized.  They had witnessed to every “region throughout the northeastern sector of the Roman Empire.”[12]  Paul went to Jerusalem where after purifying himself, he was arrested and beaten.  Paul stood trial before Felix and was left in prison for over two years.  Eventually, Paul along with other prisoners sailed towards Rome.  However, they found themselves shipwrecked on the island of Malta where Paul ministered and the sick were healed.  After three months Paul went to Rome where he preached under guard.  He rented his own house and preached with boldness to all who came to him, fulfilling the promises of God (Acts 28:30-31).

Paul’s missionary journeys also reveal other themes including God’s sovereignty, a duel Israel, an inclusive kingdom, suffering, and kingdom followers who always lived within the Roman law.[13]  These themes converge in the final chapter as God’s providence at Malta provided all needed supplies after Paul prayed and the sick were healed (Acts 28:1-10).[14]  Additionally, Paul was allowed to preach under Roman guard because there was no letters from Judea or reports that he had not followed the law (Acts 28:21-22).  Finally, the gospel moved the kingdom forward as Paul made his final statement explaining everything the Holy Spirit spoke through Isaiah the prophet including that the kingdom is inclusive, evidenced by salvation being sent to the Gentiles (Acts 28:23-31).

Moreover, there are themes found in Paul’s three evangelistic messages and his defense before Agrippa.  Analysis of these messages reveal similarities and differences in the way Paul preached to the Jews and to pagans.  In all three messages, he made clear that he was talking about the living God of their ancestors, Creator of all things.  He also pointed that they had crucified Jesus, and that God raised Him from the dead, evidenced by eyewitnesses (Acts 13:28-31, 14:15-18, 17:24-31).  He was consistent in sharing the core elements of the Gospel.  But, he was not able to use the same approach with the pagans as he did with the Jews.  For example, in Athens Paul took an apologetic “inside out” approach.  He started with discussing an alter he found with the inscription “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” and by talking to them about something from inside their culture, he was able to create a space to share the Gospel and tell them of the living God.  He told them there is One living God, the Creator, who had been patient, and always maintained a witness of Himself in the natural world.[15]  Being led by the Holy Spirit, Paul was able to minister to Jews and pagans with people from both groups being saved.

Paul believed he was called to minister to the Jews first and then the Gentiles.  He tried to go to the synagogues first in each town he visited.  However, the Jews rejected the Gospel and persecuted him.  He made it clear to them that he had brought the Gospel to them first, out of obedience to Christ.  Because they did not receive it, he turned to the Gentiles and shared the gospel with them.  Tracing these themes through the book of Acts exemplifies that God used Paul to advance the kingdom and that the Gospel will always prevail. (Acts 13:46-47, 18:6, 28:25-28).

 

Bibliography

Fowler, Ben. “Key Themes of Acts.” Lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, May 5, 2018.

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

Rasberry, Rick. “The Second and Third Journeys.” Lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, May 8, 2018.

 

[1] Steven Ger, The Book of Acts: Witnesses to the World (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2004), 185.

[2] Ibid., 199.

[3] Ibid., 200.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 202.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 221.

[8] Ibid., 229.

[9] Ibid., 248.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 250.

[12] Ibid., 256.

[13] Video Lecture: Don Fowler, “Key Themes of Acts” (lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, May 8, 2018).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Video Lecture: Rick Rasberry, “The Second and Third Journeys” (lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, May 8, 2018).