I. The Holy Spirit’s Empowerment of the Church for Kingdom Witness (Acts 1:1–2:47)
I. The Holy Spirit’s Empowerment of the Church for Kingdom Witness (1:1–2:47)
1:1-2 In the prologue to the book of Acts, Luke reminds Theophilus (probably Luke’s patron who funded his work) that the first narrative he wrote (the Gospel of Luke) told about all that Jesus began to do and teach until he was taken up—that is, until he ascended into heaven. It is at this point that the two books overlap. Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus (see Luke 24:50-52), and Acts opens with it (1:9-11).
1:3 Jesus had presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs. The disciples didn’t have a corporate delusion. Nor did they see a ghost. Jesus proved to them that he was the same flesh and blood man who had been crucified and buried—though he’d since gained a glorified body (see Luke 24:36-43).
What did Jesus talk to his disciples about between his resurrection and his ascension? During this forty days of intensive teaching, his focus was on the kingdom of God. The Bible reveals that God has an agenda, and that agenda is the advancement of his kingdom in the world. This is the unifying theme of Scripture. God’s kingdom agenda is the visible manifestation of the comprehensive rule of God in every area of life. Not only does Acts begin by telling us that Jesus focused on the kingdom before his departure, but the book also ends by telling us that Paul focused on the kingdom in his preaching. While he was in a Roman prison, he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31). Thus, the church exists to serve King Jesus and his kingdom—that is, his rule over every area of life.
1:4-5 Jesus commanded his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit whom the Father had promised (1:4). He compared this to baptism. John had baptized with water, but the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:5). The Greek word baptizo means “to immerse.” Just as new Christians are immersed in the waters of baptism, Jesus promised that his disciples would be immersed in the Holy Spirit so that they would be empowered to obey their King and proclaim his kingdom.
1:6-8 All of Jesus’s talk about the kingdom of God and the soon-to-arrive Holy Spirit prompted the disciples to ask him if he was restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time (1:6). Was it finally time for Israel to be delivered from the yoke of Rome? But Jesus told them that the timing for Israel’s earthly promised messianic kingdom was not for them to know. The Father would determine that by his own authority (1:7). Nevertheless, they would soon receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them so that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (1:8).
It was not yet time for Christ’s millennial kingdom in which he will rule over the entire earth from Jerusalem on David’s throne. But it was time for the Holy Spirit’s arrival. The disciples were not permitted to know the timing of the establishment of the kingdom, but they would not need to wait much longer to experience the power of the kingdom. The Old Testament had promised the Spirit (see Ezek 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-29). Jesus had promised the Spirit (see John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15). Finally, the Spirit’s coming was near at hand.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples would go as Jesus’s witnesses to proclaim him and make kingdom disciples in Jerusalem in obedience to the Great Commission (see Matt 28:16-20). From there the gospel would expand to “all Judea and Samaria” and then “to the ends of the earth.” This is what we see in the book of Acts, as the gospel incorporates Jews and Gentiles into the church. And this kingdom work continues today, as the church goes to the ends of the earth to proclaim King Jesus with kingdom authority in the power of the Holy Spirit.
1:9-11 Finally, it was time for Jesus’s departure. After he finished speaking to his disciples, they watched as he was taken up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (1:9). Jesus ascended into heaven, and one day he will return in the same way. This is exactly what the two angels who appeared to the disciples told them: This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven (1:10-11).
1:12-14 They returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and gathered in the room upstairs where they were staying (1:12-13). The eleven disciples were present along with the women who had followed Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (1:14). While he had been alive, Jesus’s brothers were skeptical of him (see John 7:1-5). But after the resurrection, they believed.
All of the disciples were continually united in prayer (1:14). Prayer is the mechanism that God has given to his people so that we may communicate with him. Prayer is our link between earth and heaven. The Holy Spirit uses it to deliver our requests to heaven and to bring heaven’s deliverance to earth. Their unity in prayer was critical for experiencing God’s divine intervention.
1:15-19 Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters who numbered about a hundred and twenty and explained how the Scripture had been fulfilled regarding Judas (1:15-16). He had been one of the Twelve and had shared in their ministry (1:17). But Judas had been a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For betraying Jesus to the chief priests, Judas had received payment and acquired a field (1:18).
Comparing this passage with what we read in Matthew’s Gospel, we obtain a more complete picture of what happened. Realizing that he had sinned by betraying Jesus—but unwilling to repent—Judas threw the money he received from the chief priests into the temple and hanged himself (see Matt 27:3-9). Thus, unrepentant sin can lead to suicide. Refusing to take back Judas’s “blood money,” the chief priests used it to buy the field in which Judas hanged himself. There, Judas’s decaying body eventually fell and burst open and his intestines spilled out (1:18). Therefore, they named the place Field of Blood (1:19; see Matt 27:8).
1:20 Peter quotes from Psalms 69:25 and 109:8. In both passages, David prays that the wicked man would be removed from his position and that someone else would replace him. If those who betrayed King David should have been judged and replaced, how much more should the one who betrayed the Son of David experience judgment and be replaced?
1:21-23 In light of this, Peter concluded that they should replace Judas with another man—one who had been with them from Jesus’s baptism by John until his ascension into heaven, so that he could serve as a fellow witness . . . of his resurrection (1:21-22). So they proposed two men: Joseph (who was also called Barsabbas and Justus—three names!) and Matthias (1:23).
1:24-26 Notice what they did next: they prayed, asking God whom he wanted to serve in this apostolic ministry (1:24-25). Both men were good choices, so they needed the Lord’s guidance to make the right choice. They cast lots (a practice analogous to throwing dice), and the lot fell to Matthias, who became an apostle (1:26).
According to Proverbs, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov 16:33). In other words, nothing happens according to chance when a sovereign God is running the universe. The disciples knew that God directed the lot. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that after the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell within them, the apostles never again made a decision by casting lots. Instead, they depended on the Holy Spirit through prayer.
2:1-4 The day of Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Passover, was a Jewish holiday marking the time of the wheat harvest and also commemorating the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. In the Old Testament, it is called “the Festival of Weeks” (Exod 34:22; Deut 16:10). Jews would travel to Jerusalem for Pentecost or else stay there after Passover to await it.
On Pentecost the apostles were all together when they heard what sounded like a violent rushing wind . . . from heaven that filled the whole house (2:1-2). Here again, then, an important emphasis is made connecting unity and obedience in order to experience the presence, power, and influence of the work of the Holy Spirit. The wind was invisible, but its work wouldn’t be (see John 3:8). Those present saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them (2:3). These were an indication that the Holy Spirit had come to dwell within them. As a result, they were enabled by the Spirit to begin speaking in different tongues (2:4; see further below).
2:5-11 Many Jews had come from every nation to Jerusalem for Pentecost (2:5). When they heard the apostles speaking, they were both confused and amazed, because each person heard them speaking in his own language (2:6-7). Though the apostles were Galileans, each of these Jews and converts to Judaism who had come from throughout the Roman Empire heard them speaking in his own native language and declaring the magnificent acts of God in [their] own tongues (2:7-11). According to 1 Corinthians 14:20-22, tongues were a sign to the Jews of God’s power and his willingness to overcome the effects of their dispersion.
Thus, the “tongues” (2:4, 11) in which the apostles were enabled to speak were the various native “languages” (2:6, 8) of the visitors to Jerusalem (not some unintelligible heavenly language). This was the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses to the world (1:8).
2:12-13 How was this possible? Galilean Jews would have known Aramaic (the language of the Jews) and perhaps also Greek (the lingua franca of the Roman Empire). But how could they have known all of the other languages? That’s what these visiting Jews and converts wanted to know. Imagine never having studied French and suddenly you’re able to speak it fluently. They asked one another, What does this mean? (2:12). Some mockingly concluded, They’re drunk (2:13).
2:14-21 Peter stood up with the Eleven and took advantage of the opportunity to address both the visiting Jews and the residents of Jerusalem (2:14). The combination of divine activity and human confusion was a perfect occasion for proclaiming the truth of what God had done through Christ and what he was now doing among them.
First, Peter dismissed the ridiculous notion that they were drunk (2:15). The only thing they were “drunk” with was the Holy Spirit (see Eph 5:18). What they were witnessing was actually the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Peter quoted the prophet Joel (2:16), who foretold of the day when God would pour out [his] Spirit on [his] servants without distinction—both young and old . . . both men and women when repentance occurred (2:17-18; see Joel 2:28-32).
Calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21) is a specific act of Christians appealing to a higher court for divine intervention in human affairs (see 1 Cor 1:2). Through the Holy Spirit all believers have access to divine illumination (see 1 Cor 2:9-16) and divine enablement for ministry (see 1 Cor 12:7).
2:22-23 This outpouring of the Holy Spirit had to do with Jesus of Nazareth (2:22). Jesus himself had promised to send the Holy Spirit, whose role was to witness to and glorify him (1:8; see John 14:16-17; 15:26-27; 16:13-14). So if you are unwilling to bear witness to Jesus, you can forget about experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. The Spirit’s task on earth is to make much of Jesus.
Importantly, Jesus was not unknown to the Jews who were listening to Peter. They had witnessed his miracles, wonders, and signs (2:22). With this connection made, Peter got personal: Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him (2:23). In these words we see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility in action. God had a sovereign plan to sacrifice his Son for sinners, but that did not absolve these free moral agents of their sinful actions. Some of those listening to Peter had joined together with the mob on that day, crying out, “Crucify! Crucify him!” (see Luke 23:13-25). Jews and Gentiles joined together to kill Jesus.
2:24-31 Nevertheless, God raised him up from the dead. Death could not hold him (2:24). Then Peter quoted David from Psalm 16:8-11; he spoke of the Lord not abandoning him to the grave or allowing his holy one to see decay (2:25, 27). But Peter made it clear that David wasn’t speaking about himself. He was speaking about Jesus (2:25). Peter could say confidently that David was dead and buried (2:29). None of his listeners would disagree with that! So David was talking about someone else, one of David’s descendants whom God had sworn . . . to seat on David’s throne (2:30; see Ps 110:1). That descendant was none other than the Messiah, who was raised from the dead so that his flesh did not experience decay (2:31).
2:32 God has raised this Jesus; we are all witnesses of this. The frightened disciples (see John 20:19) had been transformed by the Holy Spirit to risk their lives by boldly and publicly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. How could they have done that unless they were telling the truth? If they were intentionally fabricating the whole story, what explains their transformation and willingness to face persecution and death? The only sane answer is that they were truly witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.
2:33-36 This risen Messiah who had been exalted to the right hand of God had poured out the promised Holy Spirit. That, Peter told them, is what they were seeing and hearing (2:33). He then quoted David (from Psalm 110:1), who overheard God the Father telling the Messiah, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool (2:34-35; see commentary on Ps 110). That Scripture had been fulfilled in Jesus. God [had] made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Messiah (2:36).
2:37-39 When the crowd heard Peter’s words, they were pierced to the heart. They were convicted of their sin and asked, What should we do? (2:37). That was exactly what Peter wanted to hear, and he was quick with the answer: Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38).
Now don’t misunderstand this. The New Testament is clear that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ apart from works (see Eph 2:8-9; Rom 4:4-5). But repentance and baptism are to accompany faith. To repent is to turn from sin to God. As Paul will later tell the Ephesian elders, he preached “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). And to be baptized in the name of Jesus is to obediently go public with a profession of faith in him. But baptism doesn’t save, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 1:17.
Since the goal of repentance is to reduce or remove the consequences of sin, Peter was calling on the Jews who had witnessed and endorsed the crucifixion of Jesus (in identification with their Jewish leaders), to publicly renounce their actions via baptism. By doing this, they would disconnect themselves from the perverse generation that was about to experience the temporal wrath of God when Rome destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in AD 70.
2:40-41 With this sermon and Peter’s exhortation to be saved (2:40), the church age began. This evangelistic campaign resulted in three thousand new believers (2:41)! The church of Jesus Christ was off to an amazing start.
2:42-47 So what did the fledgling church do? Luke says the early church was known for four activities that should be foundational for every kingdom-minded local church. First, there was devotion to the apostles’ teaching (2:42). The church was learning divine truth from God’s Word (only the Old Testament was written at this point, but in the years to come the apostles would be inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what would become the New Testament). You cannot grow beyond what you know. The teaching of the apostles was to give believers God’s perspective on every matter so that they could learn, obey, and experience spiritual growth and make kingdom impact.
Second, they devoted themselves to fellowship (2:42)—mutually sharing the life of Christ within the family of God. We are not to live as Lone Ranger Christians but to engage in the life of faith together. We are called to “love one another” (John 15:12), to “carry one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2), to forgive one another (Eph 4:32), to “encourage one another” (1 Thess 5:11), and the list goes on. A disconnected Christian is a disobedient and unfruitful Christian. Each of us is an integral part of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12:12-26; Heb 10:23-25).
Third, the church regularly prioritized worship, reflected in the breaking of bread (i.e., Communion or the Lord’s Supper) and prayer (2:42). Worship is the recognition and celebration of who God is, what he has done, and what we are trusting him to do. The church is called to make a big deal about God because this is what he deserves.
Fourth, the church was clearly engaged in outreach because every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (2:47). Everyone was involved in evangelism. They weren’t merely letting the apostles take care of it. All of the believers were living out their faith publicly (2:44-47). Such public love, devotion, joy, ministry, and testimony convinced unbelievers to trust in Jesus Christ.
As a result of these activities, everyone in the church was filled with awe and experiencing wonders and signs . . . performed through the apostles (2:43). The Holy Spirit will cause amazing things to happen when the church is unified in its devotion to God and to its members in fulfillment of God’s kingdom program.