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Series 3 - The Great Teachings of the Bible and What They Mean for You: Exploring the Bible

Hello, friends! Welcome to this Bible study series on "Exploring the Bible," which provides an overview of the major sections of the Bible. In this lesson we'll look at the book of Acts (also known as the Acts of the Apostles), a short history of the founding and spread of the New Testament Church from the time of Christ's resurrection to Paul's imprisonment in Rome.

We pray this lesson will help you in your further studies of God's inspired Word, the Holy Bible.

Lesson 7: The Book of Acts and You

The beloved physician Luke followed up his Gospel with an account of the exciting history of the early New Testament Church. The book of Acts demonstrates Jesus Christ's promise and His commission to the Church being fulfilled. What can we learn and apply from the book of Acts today?

Exploring the BibleA major figure in the book of Acts and the New Testament is the apostle Paul. But he did not start off as a hero to the Church of God, but rather a villain. Acts 9 tells the story of the dramatic conversion of the man formerly known as Saul, the persecutor.

"Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

"As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

"Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'

"And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'

"So he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' Then the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'" (Acts 9:1-6).

Imagine what it would have been like to be in Saul's shoes! Now imagine what it would have been like to be the Christian in Damascus who Jesus asked to go heal and baptize this notorious enemy of the Church!

"Then Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.'

"But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake.'

"And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'

"Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized…

"Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, 'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?'" (Acts 9:13-18, 20-21).

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Why Four Gospels? Do They Contradict Each Other?

An Overview of Acts

Luke continues his accurate and exciting history, begun in the Gospel of Luke, with this book about the first 30 years or so of the New Testament Church. We can learn much from the zeal, mission and examples of the first Christians, fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How did Jesus Christ begin to fulfill His promises through the Church?

Matthew 16:18
"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

Luke 24:46-49
Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."

Acts 1:8
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Jesus Christ promised to build His Church and empower it with the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8 can serve as an outline of the spread of the good news of the Kingdom of God:

Did the disciples have absolute proof of the resurrection?

Acts 1:3
…to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

The four Gospels, Acts and passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 give details of the infallible proofs of Jesus' resurrection. The zeal and fearlessness of the formerly fearful disciples also testify to their conviction that Jesus Christ was killed but was raised from the dead and was now backing up their efforts with power.

What message did two angels give the disciples when Christ was taken up to heaven?

Acts 1:10-11
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."

This hope of Jesus Christ's return was a key element of the gospel—the good news—the early New Testament Church taught.

What happened on Pentecost, 50 days after Christ's resurrection?

Acts 2:1-4, 37-41
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
"For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation."
Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

This annual festival marked the beginning of the New Testament Church and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Everything in the book of Acts radiates from this pivotal event.

What did Stephen say that led to his martyrdom? Who consented to his death?

Acts 7:52, 56-58
"Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers…"
[Stephen] said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"
Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Stephen's sermon recounted events in biblical history, concluding with the point that God's people of the past and present have disobeyed God. Instead of being cut to the heart and repenting, as the crowd did on Pentecost, this group chose the more natural response of anger. Instead of believing and accepting their own guilt, they accused Stephen of blasphemy.

This was the start of a great persecution that Saul was a part of. But eventually this Saul was converted and became known to us as the apostle Paul (see the introduction of this lesson).

How did Peter come to understand that God was now calling gentiles?

Acts 11:15-17
"And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.
"Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
"If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"

For gentiles to convert to Judaism, they had to be circumcised. So naturally Jewish Christians thought that circumcision would be required for gentiles to convert to Christianity as well. But God showed Peter that He was also calling uncircumcised gentiles. To convince Peter, God first gave him a vision. Then when the Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius' household in the same way it was given on Pentecost, Peter was completely convinced.

Why was the Jerusalem conference called?

Acts 15:1-2
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

Apparently Peter's statements about the conversion of gentiles in Acts 11:15-17 had not been understood or accepted by the whole Church, so this question was brought to the conference in Jerusalem. During this conference, Peter repeated what God had shown him (Acts 15:7-11).

What was decided at the Jerusalem conference?

Acts 15:19-20
Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.

Here are excerpts of the explanation of this passage from our free booklet The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?

"Some people seize on these words to argue that nothing more was required of early Christians—that they (and we) need not keep other laws found in the Old Testament.

"But does this view really make sense? James said nothing about murder, stealing, lying, taking God's name in vain or a host of other sins. By this rationale, should we conclude that Christians are now free to do these evil things? Of course not! So why, then, did James list only these four restrictions—'to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood'?

"The link connecting each of these requirements is idolatry. Specifically, each was directly associated with the pagan forms of worship common in the areas from which God was calling gentiles into the Church. Each also violated specific biblical commands (Exodus 20:2-6; Leviticus 20:10-20; Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 7:26-27).

"It is evident, however, that the apostles also had another reason for singling out these links to idolatry. They wanted to make sure that new non-Jewish converts would have immediate access to learning the teachings of God's Word—the Holy Scriptures (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:15).

"Notice the reason James expressed for listing those particular prohibitions: 'For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath' (Acts 15:21, NIV). The purpose for this somewhat puzzling concluding statement now becomes clear: The apostles wanted to ensure that every new gentile convert would be able to avail himself of that instruction as the words of Moses were 'read…every Sabbath.'"

Since no one could afford a personal copy of the Scriptures, the gentile converts would need to show that they had forsaken idolatry by following these rules to be allowed to learn the Scriptures in the synagogues. (For the complete explanation of this passage, see "The Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15: What Was Decided?")

What was the typical way Paul spread the gospel message in the new cities he visited on his missionary journeys?

Acts 13:42
So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

Acts 17:2-3
Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ."

Paul often preached on the seventh-day Sabbath in the synagogues until a local congregation was set up, which then met elsewhere to worship together. He preached to both Jews and gentiles on the Sabbath. There is no biblical evidence that the day of worship was changed (see "Was the Sabbath Changed in the New Testament?" from the free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest).

What message did the apostle Paul continue to preach after ending up imprisoned in Rome?

Acts 28:30-31
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

The Bible teaches one unified gospel—the message of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). This message includes the message about the King of that Kingdom, Jesus Christ, who is also our Savior (Romans 1:16). It includes the message of grace and of salvation, which make it possible for us to enter that Kingdom (Acts 20:24; Ephesians 1:13). It includes the message of peace that God's Kingdom will bring (Romans 10:15).

It was this good news that the Church of God spread throughout the Roman world in the first century, and it is the same wonderful message that the Church of God teaches today.


Apply Now

Read Acts 17:10-12. The Bereans, like all the Jews, did not understand that their Scriptures prophesied two comings of the Messiah: first, as a suffering Servant and sacrifice for our sins and, second, as King in the Kingdom of God.

The Jews didn't understand the first coming. Today, many do not fully understand the second. The Bereans were willing to check these things out in the Bible. We pray you will be willing to check out what the Scriptures say about Jesus Christ's second coming and the good news of the Kingdom of God. Please take time to read The Gospel of the Kingdom, which brings together relevant passages from both the Old and New Testaments about this vital subject. This is the good news that Jesus Christ and all the apostles, including Paul, preached.

Next Lesson: Lesson 8: The Epistles of Paul and You

Questions about this lesson? Feedback about this lesson?

Related Resources:

Profiles of Faith: Luke: Paul's Beloved Friend and Companion

Profiles of Faith: Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles

The Bible and Archaeology: The Book of Acts: The Church Begins

The Bible and Archaeology: The Book of Acts: The Message Spreads

The Bible and Archaeology: The Book of Acts: Paul's Later Travels

The Sabbath in Acts: Luke's Record of Paul's Understanding

The "Feasts of the Lord" in the Book of Acts

Following in the Footsteps of the Apostles

What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?

Acts Shows What the Early Church Believed and Practiced from the booklet The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?

The Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15: What Was Decided? from the booklet The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?

Was the Sabbath Changed in the New Testament? from the booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Restoration: Joel and the Start of the Church

Barnabas: The Encourager

Dorcas, a Faithful Disciple