Lesson 5 of5
In Progress

Theological Themes in Acts

• Baptism. In Acts, baptism in the name of Jesus is an important event in the lives of new believers, for it is connected to the gift of the Holy Spirit and joy. The baptized become part of the body of those who have been saved.

• Boldness. Jesus’ disciples, even those who are untrained or skimpily educated, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in such a way that they can speak well and powerfully about God’s gracious resurrection of the Messiah. In the first century, persuasive public speech was considered a fine art, the goal of a person’s education. In Luke 21:14-15, Jesus promises his disciples the ability to articulate persuasively their experiences with him and their convictions about God’s in-breaking reign. At Pentecost (Acts 2), this gift changes the disciples from followers to powerful witnesses and interpreters of Scripture for mission in a new world.

• Christians in society. Throughout Acts, the Christian preachers and believers are shown over and over again to be law-abiding and peaceful people who both believe and continue to live in their social situation. The very high value of social harmony is preserved by new believers, although they are unfairly maligned and harassed by Gentile and Jewish persons who bear responsibility for riots and other forms of social unrest. Such a portrayal of Christian behavior makes a theological claim: Christians do not seek an earthly kingdom, and their God calls them to lives of peace and social responsibility through caring for one another and the neighbor.

• Friendship and Christian community. It is definitive of the Christian community that its members gather for meals, feed those who have no way to provide for themselves, and have all things in common. Such behavior also characterizes friendship as it was understood in the ancient world, as a relationship among equals who cared deeply and mutually about one another’s well-being. Friends were expected to speak the truth with one another and to provide material assistance to one another if necessary. This concept of human community as a community of friends in the deepest sense fills the pages of Acts, reflecting the book’s understanding of the reign of God as it happens among us.

• Friendship and the Holy Spirit. For ancient people, friendship had to be limited to a relatively small number of people in one’s life, because of the intense obligations it entailed and because usually one’s friends were social equals. In the Christian communities, the Holy Spirit empowers persons to become one another’s equals no matter what their social status, thus creating a large number of friends. That same Spirit also strengthens and empowers people to meet the obligations of friendship.

• Future hope for all humankind. Peter’s words in Acts 3:18-25 express hope for the future of all persons who belong to the Lord. Jesus’ return will signal the “universal restoration” that God has long promised, not least to Israel through the holy prophets.

• God and other powers. The God of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus are more powerful and beneficent than any other forces in the universe. The stories in Acts make the case that all invisible powers, such as other spirits and deities, are under the rule of the one God, the God of the Jews and of Jesus Christ.

• God’s faithfulness. Acts is intent on showing continuity among Abraham, Moses, the prophets, David, and the work of Jesus and his followers. In this and other ways, the book continues the biblical story of God’s merciful and faithful calling of humankind. God does not abandon the people of Israel, but, instead, God in Christ and the Holy Spirit fulfills promises made long ago, not least the promise that Israel itself should be a light to the Gentiles and that all the earth should honor God.

• Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, present from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, is poured out by Jesus after his ascension in Acts 2. The connection of the Spirit to Jesus and the Father connects the experiences of the earliest Christian communities with the life and power of God as it worked in Jesus. The activities of the Spirit resemble those of Jesus in working for good (for example, healing) and for inclusion among God’s people (baptism).

• Inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. A major theme of Acts is the complex process of including Gentiles among the saved people of God. The Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-39) may be the first Gentile baptized, but the focus in Acts is on the repeated story of the baptism of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and his household (10:1-11:18; 15:6-11). This story marks the developing community’s refusal to hold Gentiles to the purity laws of Israel, a significant change for the early believers who clung to the Jewish Scriptures.

• Mission and hospitality. The nature of Christian mission in Acts is consistent with the commands that Jesus gives in Luke 9-10, where he instructs his followers to announce the nearness of God’s reign by entering a village or house and staying there, if welcomed by the inhabitants. Part of God’s good news in Jesus has to do with believers’ willingness to set aside their fears of other persons and their desires to remain in their own comfort zones, in order to enter into the lives of people quite different from themselves. In Acts, Christians bear witness–as Jesus did, in deed and in word–by “entering” and “staying.” They cross social boundaries, not to judge someone who welcomes them, but to honor that person’s place, life, custom, and being.

• Networks of Christian community. From the beginning of the book (2:43-47) through Paul’s determination to face great personal risk on behalf of the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (chapters 20-21), Acts presents the Christian community caring for its people locally and farther away. This care includes provision for evangelists who move about with one another as they anchor new communities of believers in networks of hospitality and friendship.

• “Not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Acts emphasizes that Jesus and his followers have never been a secret cult and that there is no surreptitious or shameful quality to the Christian message that would endanger the well-being of persons, households, or governments. Christian faith is a public faith with public consequences, because it is faith in the God who openly created and redeemed all that is, and because this God is served by loving and caring for the neighbor, which is also public activity.

• The prevailing word of the Lord. The final statement in the entire book of Acts, as Paul preaches “without hindrance” in spite of all the difficulties that have beset him and brought him finally to Rome, is that the word of the Lord prevails. From beginning to end, Acts is a confident assertion that, no matter how things look, human history belongs to God. God will not be overcome by any other power, and the promise of “universal restoration” will be kept.

• Reorienting the center of the world. The expectation that Jerusalem would be the center of God’s renewed reign was embedded in the hopes of Israel and its prophetic texts. Jesus changes this expectation in Acts 1:6-8 when he declares that the Spirit of God will send Jesus’ followers out from Jerusalem to the very “ends of the earth” to witness to God’s power. Acts begins in Jerusalem, but, by the end of the book, extends to an apartment in Rome.

 Salvation and the end of time. Acts declares that God’s promises of salvation and blessing have been and will be kept in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus enables “times of refreshing” (3:20) to come to those who repent as they live on earth, as seen in the gathering of the community of faith (2:43-47; 4:32-37) and in the healings that abound in Acts. A time of “universal restoration” (3:21) remains to come, when Jesus will return and all families of the earth will be blessed.