Acts (Part 01) - Volume 2

10/13/2010 09:47

The Old Testament focuses on God the Father. The Gospels focus on God the Son. Acts focuses on God the Spirit. Jesus had told his disciples while he was with them that after he was gone they would receive the Holy Spirit. In a post resurrection appearance (the evening of that first day), he appeared to them as they were gathered together. John 20:19-23 recounts this meeting. Interestingly, after greeting them and proving it was he in the flesh rather than a spirit, he breathes on them and says, “Receive my Spirit.” This seems at odds especially with Acts 1:5 and 8 in which he tells them that they would not receive the Holy Spirit until several days. So did he breathe the Spirit on them in the John account or did he not?


Actually the Greek does not say “on them” and it doesn’t even use the normal word for “breathe.” It says simply that he blew. From the parallel passage in Luke 24:36-49 we find that at this occasion he was also telling them that they would receive the Holy Spirit later. The blowing was for illustrative purposes. He blew to mimic the sound and invisibility of wind. Later (in Acts 2) when the apostles are gathered together and they hear the noise of the wind, they surely remembered Christ blowing and promising them of the coming of the Spirit. They knew, on that Pentecost day, exactly what was happening because of Christ’s prior explanation.


But John 20 also has another difficult verse. Jesus tells them in verse 23 that they would forgive sins. Is that not the exclusive right and power of God? Certainly it is. This statement cannot be taken at face value. Again, the parallel passage in Luke gives us more details. We find there that Jesus tells them that the significance of his death and resurrection was for the transformative power in the life of believers. By his work, their sins, previously condemning them to eternal separation from God, were forgiven—and the disciples were to proclaim this forgiveness of sins through Christ. That is the intent in the John 20 passage.


Luke wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts as a two-volume work. Both begin with an address to Theophilus. Although the name does mean “lover of God,” it was a common Roman name of the time and most likely was a particular notable Roman believer to whom Luke addressed his recorded history. The Luke-Acts work was divided into two volumes probably for practical reasons. The division is certainly appropriate as one volume concentrates on Christ while the other concentrates on the Spirit. Additionally, “papyrus rolls came in stock sizes with a normal maximum length of about forty feet. A thirty-foot roll could contain about one hundred columns of writing with thirty to forty lines per column and twenty characters per line. Luke’s Gospel (19,404 words) would have fit on a thirty-five-foot roll and Acts (18,374 words) on a thirty-two-foot roll if he wrote in a normal hand and with normal spacing” (Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p.6). 


Luke begins Acts by drawing attention to the continuity from his Gospel. He mentions that in his first volume he wrote of what Jesus began to do and teach “until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (1:2). Verses 3 through 11 then describe more fully Luke’s summary statement of verse 2. In it Luke tells of Jesus’ instruction (a) for them to wait in Jerusalem (1:4), (b) that they would receive the Holy Spirit (1:5), (c) that they would be witnesses for him (1:8a), and (d) their witnessing would eventually reach to the end of the earth (1:8b). Note that these four elements are repeated from the end of Luke. In chapter 24, he tells them the same four things only in reverse order—


Luke 24:46-46 – “Proclaim…to all nations”

Luke 24:48 – “You are witnesses”

Luke 24:49a – “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you”

Luke 24:49b – “stay in the city until…”


So, Luke employs a structural pattern to connect his volume 2 to his previous volume 1.


Luke notes that as Christ ascended, the disciples stare after him amazed. Two angels appear who tell them that Christ would return “in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (1:11b). Hyper-preterists (those who believe all prophecy, including Christ’s second coming, has already taken place) argue that this does not mean a visible, physical return. They note that the angels’ words of “in the same way” could refer to Jesus’ departure as a quiet event seen only by his disciples. His return would be seen by his disciples in the sense that their spiritual perception would note his coming in either the hearts of believers or in judgment in AD 70 to close the first covenant.


But to argue that way is stripping the angels’ words of their context. The angels did not merely stand there to spout facts. They were responding to the disciples’ amazement. Why were the disciples amazed? Because Jesus was leaving quietly? Because he had appeared to only them? Of course not. Luke goes to great lengths in his Gospel (chapter 24) to emphasize the literal, physical body of the resurrected Christ. This literal, physical body of Jesus was now rising before the disciples’ amazed eyes. They keep watching as he disappears into the clouds. And it is this that compels the angels to remark that he would come back in the same way—visibly and bodily.