What are we to make of the book of Acts? There is no other book like it in the New Testament, bridging the Gospels and the Epistles. Most agree that it is a precious aspect to the beginnings of the Christian church, Calvin wrote of it as a “great treasure”. F. F. Bruce went as far as to call it a source book of highest value for the history of human civilization. But above these generous compliments, Acts is a vital contribution to our understanding of the apostolic church and spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:47). Though it is a carefully structured, meticulously written history, garnering eye-witness accounts, Acts is much more than a mere window into the past. For the book does not simply inform us; it transforms and challenges us.
But how does Acts do that? In his Gospel, Luke reports that he set out to provide an orderly account of what had been accomplished among them, so that Theophilus might have certainty of the things he had been taught (Luke 1:1-4). The Acts narrative begins by saying ‘in his previous book he dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach(Acts 1:1-3). So Acts covers what Jesus continued to do and teach, through the apostolic witness. Luke-Acts consists of two volumes forming a single work, so the primary purpose of Acts cannot be considered in isolation from Luke’s Gospel. In Luke-Acts we see “the beginning of the gospel, the establishment of salvation in the ministry of Jesus and the proclamation of salvation by the early church” (F F. Bruce). Therefore, it is unavoidable that Acts is evangelistic, proclaiming salvation in Jesus Christ to its readers, who may not have witnessed Jesus or his apostles’ ministry first hand.
The purpose of this two volume work is to call its readers to repentance, which is almost always seen as the result of preaching in Acts (see 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:30). Luke puts great effort into recording sermons that were preached by those in the apostolic church. As Calvin has noted, they touch on sound and pure doctrine, the great mercies of God, the grace of Christ, our hope and blessed immortality, God’s calling, repentance and the fear of God. Far from simply retelling the story of the God’s fledgling church, Acts invites its readers to hear those sermons afresh and respond to them in faith and repentance. As Jesus Christ is preached, from Judah to Samaria and to the ends of the world, we are enveloped in the expanding kingdom that reaches into all four corners of God’s world.
In closing, Luke makes it clear that the success of the preached gospel came about because the Holy Spirit was at work through those proclaiming Christ (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4; 6:3; 8:17; 10:45; 16:6; 20:23). Luke is emphatic that the progress of the Christian faith is due to the divine agency and work of the Spirit. In reading Acts we are encouragingly reminded that faithfulness to the message of Jesus and the effective superintendence of the Spirit will bring about faith in our hearers. This should give us confidence and challenge us to do as the apostolic church did, boldly preach Christ. The book is a detailed history, proclaiming Christ, calling its readers to repentance, and assuring the church that the Holy Spirit works powerfully through preaching the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.