Lesson 1: Introduction to ACTS
ACTS Lesson # 1. Hello, my name is Bernard Horsley and I'd like to welcome you to this Bible study. Now we're going to study from the book of Acts, the fifth book in the New Testament. We're going to study from the King James version. I'd like for you now, if you would, turn to that book and we'll begin our actual study in just a few minutes. Now I study from the King James version - mostly because I happen to have that available. I grew up with it, but it is a good translation. Now I'd like to suggest - even request - you use the King James version during this study because I'll be reading from that version and it will be easier for us to stay together and that is important. Now if you have another version available, you might use it for comparison as we study, but remember our study will be smoother if we use the same textbook. Now please consider yourself part of this study. Please get a copy of the Bible and read along as I read. It would also be wise to have a pencil and a pad and a dictionary at your fingertips. Now the book of Acts is a history book. It covers a period of about 30 years of the early church. Now this book was not written at the time of Jesus. Actually, it was written one generation later -something like 30 years after the time that Jesus died on the cross. If you look at the title of the book in your hand there, it says "The Acts of the Apostles". Notice that the word "Acts" and the word "Apostles" - both words are plural. Now the title no doubt came at a later period than the book. It's not part of the original writing. It should be pointed out that title is not quite correct as it implies that the book records all of the acts, or all of the deeds, of all of the apostles and this is not the case. The book in reality records only a few of the acts that a few of the apostles did. Now all of the apostles are named in the book, but the first 12 chapters are primarily concerned with the Apostle Peter. Chapters 13 through 28 primarily are associated with the Apostle Paul - what we term "the missionary journeys" of Paul.
First, let's discuss the author of this book. The Holy Spirit used a man to write this book. If we know a little bit about the writer, it will help us to understand the book better. We do know several things about the writer. The writer was Luke. Luke was a companion of Paul and was referred to as the beloved physician. It seems that he was an educated man. He went with Paul on some of his missionary journeys. He was apparently a doctor of medicine - or a medical man. Now some have studied the book from the standpoint of trying to find medical terms and there are enough to indicate that Luke was perhaps a physician indeed. Now how do we know that Luke wrote this book? He doesn't say, "I, Luke, hereby write this book." It merely starts off by going into the context and doesn't mention him as such, but during the course of 28 chapters, we find a number of places the first person is used. For example, in Acts 20:4 we find a list of about eight men. Then in the next verse the writer says "they tarried for us". Thus, by the process of elimination we can see that he is not one of the eight men listed there. If you go through the New Testament and list the companions of Paul, then use the process of elimination, it would appear, I think without doubt, Luke is the writer of this book.
Now Luke was an eyewitness to much history recorded in this book. He was contemporary with all of the other people that participated in the other events. Luke was an inspired man and had other means of obtaining this information besides first-hand information as I have referred to it - and he could have known the information both ways. So that tells us that the book of Acts is reliable information. There's no reason to doubt the history recorded in that book. As I have said before, the book of Acts covers a period of about 30 years, starting at the time of Jesus' death. Now you might ask, "Why was it not written at the time of Jesus?" Now that is a good question I suppose. One might ask the same question about Adam - "Why didn't Jesus come at the time of Adam and then Adam would have had the privilege of being with Jesus?" Look at it like this. God does things in the right order. Now we sometimes don't understand things simply because we look at them from the human standpoint, but God knows the order for presenting them so he presented Jesus, his Son, to mankind at the right period of history - after enough people and enough civilizations had lived and died - that it would be more meaningful to the world. You see, the Church was not established until after Jesus died on the cross of Calvary. Now we need to know a little bit about the early Church - how it was established - so the book wasn't written at the time of Jesus but a generation later - perhaps around A.D. 60 or A.D. 62. Now if you're interested in some outside reading, I would recommend that you read McGarvey's commentary on the book of Acts. Now McGarvey's commentary is approaching 100 years old but it's still one of the best for anybody seriously studying the book of Acts. The book of Acts is actually more than a history, it is early Christianity exemplified to us. For example, how would one establish a congregation of the Lord's Church today - that is, the New Testament church? Now we have an approved example to go by in the book of Acts. Now I have a question for you. Which church was that? One church and only one church is mentioned in the Bible. You see, the book of Acts is the hub of the Bible. Every scripture written before this book anticipates what is recorded here. Every scripture written after the book of Acts points back to the events recorded here. All of Gods instructions for worship and godly living was given by Jesus and exemplified to us through this 30 year period recorded in Acts.
I hope you'll consider this a personal study. I wish I could be there with you so that we could discuss these truths on a personal basis. We may be separated by time and distance, but we have a common goal and that common concern is to find out what is God's instruction for us. What would God have us do? Ok, now take your Bible in your hand and with your Bible open to Acts Chapter 1, look at the first word and use your imagination for just a moment. Can you visualize Luke guided by the Holy Spirit of God with his crude paper and some ancient writing instrument in his hand? Now this communication is God's word. It is a link between God and you; between God and me, and every living soul. Now what can we learn from God's word? Let us read together. As I read aloud, please follow the print with your eye. All right, Luke penned these words:
1 The former treatise have I made, 0 Theophilus, of all that Jesus
began both to do and teach,
2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the
Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he
3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many
infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days and speaking of the
things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
4 And being assembled together with them, commanded them that
they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of
the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
Now we have just read together the first sentence - a long sentence. We'll never understand everything about every passage, but we can improve our understanding substantially by a little effort in study. Now one advantage of studying by tape, as you're doing, is that you can turn off the tape player just a minute while you re-read the passage and make your own observation so take advantage of that. When you read, try to read with expression. Now, I'll comment briefly on each passage after we've read it and I'll never go on to the next passage until you feel that you have confidently comprehended the passage at hand. Now that's the difference between reading and studying. Many people read the Bible; few people study the Bible.
Now let's re-examine further the four verses that we just read. In the first phrase, Luke uses the personal pronoun "I". He says "I" made something - a former treatise. Now a treatise is a writing so Luke is saying "I wrote something before" and then he mentions who he wrote it to or addressed it to - 0 Theophilus. Now at first glance this looks like a man's first initial and last name and for all I know, it could be just that. It's a Greek name and I must confess to you, I am not a Greek scholar, and in this study we're going to try to dodge all of the technicalities that have led to volume after volume of theological debate. Now I'd like to keep this study to the sort of, you know, "man-on-the-street" level. You don't have to be a theologian to study the Bible. Perhaps Luke wrote the book of Acts to man. Now the first part of the word "Theophilus" - Theo - means "God". The last part - philus - is translated "love" in English so Luke may be saying "Oh lover of God" and if "0 Theophilus" is translated "Oh lover of God", then the book is written to you and to me and every other soul that loves God. Now I prefer to think that this is what Luke meant. I recognize that this is not the majority view. Now, the rest of the sentence making up those four verses, along with verse five, is a quick summary of what that treatise or writing contained. The writing discussed here is the book of Luke, the third book in the New Testament - the gospel according to Luke as addressed to "most excellent Theophilus" in Luke 1:3. Thus, Luke and Acts are both addressed to Theophilus. Now these two occasions are the only two times that the word "Theophilus" is used in the entire Bible. We find that the book of Luke containing 24 chapters has in it exactly what our four verses here in Acts outline. Luke 1:5 starts off by saying:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea....
and from there he tells of the birth of John the Baptist and then the birth of Jesus. He continues to tell what Jesus began to do and teach. The book of Luke ends in Luke 24:51 by saying:
And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.
Now this corresponds to the second verse in our text at the beginning of Acts. The rest of verses 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to the history recorded here in the book of Acts, but is really an outline of the book of Luke. Thus, we find that the book of Acts is in reality a continuation of The Gospel According to Luke, the third book in the New testament. Therefore, one must have some working knowledge of the information in the four gospels before the book of Acts can be meaningful. It's interesting to note where Luke puts the emphasis in this introductory summary. Notice that Jesus' commandments to the apostles were through the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. Notice that in verse 3 Luke says there were "many infallible proofs" that Jesus showed himself alive after being put in the grave and arose from the dead. Now Luke does not go into the proofs but simply says in this short summary the proofs were infallible and beyond that Luke says there were many. In other words, Luke is saying "you can't question this point." Now notice also that we learn some new information here. Jesus was with the apostles a period of 40 days between the resurrection from the dead and the ascension into heaven. This time element is not given in the book of Luke or elsewhere in the New Testament or Bible. That doesn't mean that he was with them every minute, but this covers the period that he was seen with them in the middle of verse 3. Notice now that at the end of verse 3 the thing Jesus discussed or talked about with the apostles was the kingdom of God. That is, the Church. Now verse 3 ends with a colon punctuation. That means that more follows with reference to the discussion. Now verse 4 thus summarizes that discussion. Notice closely in verse 4 that that discussion pertaining to the kingdom of God had reference to the future, not to the past. Now this kingdom or church had not yet been established. In instituting the Lord's supper in Luke Chapter 22, Jesus said to these same apostles "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come", and later in that chapter Jesus told these same men "I appoint unto you a kingdom and you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom". Obviously, that has reference to the Church. That's what Jesus was propping them for. Notice that in the middle of verse 4 Jesus commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem. They were to wait for the promise of the kingdom or church. This waiting was to be done in Jerusalem. Finally at the end of verse 4 observe this closely. Jesus said "Ye", that is, the apostles. "Ye have heard of me." Thus, Jesus had discussed this kingdom promise of the Father with them before. As a matter of fact, many times. That's the theme of the four gospels. I just quoted to you one example about the Lord's Supper, Luke, Chapter 22. Now let's read verse 5 together. I'll read it aloud. You read it silently but please follow the print with your eye. Now verse 5 says:
For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
The apostles, I repeat, the apostles, were promised a new baptism with the Holy Ghost in only a few days. Now this corresponds to Luke 24:49 where Jesus said it like this:
tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
Now Jesus was speaking to the apostles. In our text where it says "ye" in verse 5, notice that the antecedent is "apostles" up in verse 2. Now I'd like for you to re-check that. Ok, now we've covered the first five verses, the introductory summary. The book of Acts is the second volume of a two-volume inspired history written by Luke. The first volume called the "Book of Luke" covers a period of about 30 years that Jesus walked and breathed upon this old planet that we call earth. The second volume, called the "Book of Acts" adds another 30 years of history. During this time the Lord's Church was established. This is the only church mentioned, or even hinted at, in the Bible - and we should be very interested in that church.
Now, it's hard to realize but we've been studying for approximately 20 minutes and we've covered only five verses. We've got to cover more material even more rapidly in the future, but this is not a bad start. Some find it difficult to actively study more than about 30 minutes at one time. Now these tapes are 45 minutes on each side, so we're going to cut our lessons to 20 to 22 minutes in length so that two lessons will fit on one side of a tape. Now that means that four lessons will be on one tape. I'm going to include one verse of a hymn on the tape at this point. This will serve to remind you in the future of a lesson division. Some of you might like to schedule your sessions on this basis, but even if you plan to continue your study at this time, I would suggest that you stand and stretch your legs during the song.