Acts—A Record of Bold and Zealous Witnessing
FOR about three and a half years Jesus Christ courageously preached the kingdom of God. Then he was put to death. Was Jesus Christ really the Son of God, as he claimed? According to the principle later enunciated by the Jewish scholar Gamaliel, if Jesus’ work originated with himself, his death would have marked an end of it. But if his work was of God and he was indeed the Son of God, then his death would not stop it.—Acts 5:35-39.
The bold and zealous witnessing of his disciples, after Jesus had been raised from the dead, gave proof that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and that his work originated with his Father. In spite of all the bitter opposition that his disciples encountered, they were empowered to spread the good news of God’s kingdom far and wide. All of this is told in the book of Acts.
Who wrote the book of Acts? The evidence, external as well as internal, points to Luke as the writer.* In Acts the disciple Luke shows himself to be not only a fair and an observant chronicler, but also an accurate and a well-educated historian.
Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension and ends with Paul’s Roman imprisonment. It covers some twenty-eight years, from 33 to 61 C.E. Most likely it was also written around 61 C.E., for it does not make mention of Paul’s appearing before Caesar, or of Nero’s persecution of Christians, which took place around 64 C.E. Since Luke was Paul’s companion in Rome (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11), it is also reasonable to conclude that Rome was the place where Luke wrote Acts.
The first twelve chapters of Acts deal chiefly with Peter’s preaching work, the remaining sixteen with that of Paul. Too, Acts tells about the Kingdom witness first being given to the Jews, then to the Samaritans and then to the Gentiles. It also records the expansion of the good news, from Jerusalem to Rome.—Acts 1:8.
Of course, Jesus’ disciples could not have done this in their own strength. It was God’s holy spirit that enabled them to witness boldly and zealously. They witnessed about the resurrected Jesus Christ. But they also witnessed about Jehovah God and his kingdom. In fact, in Acts we find God mentioned twice as often as is Jesus Christ. And particularly when preaching to the Gentiles did they witness first of all to the existence and goodness of the Creator, Jehovah God.—Acts 14:14-17; 17:22-31.
PETER TAKES THE LEAD
The book of Acts begins with Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples and his ascension into heaven. Matthias is chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, a step initiated by Peter. Then 120 disciples wait obediently in an upper room in Jerusalem for Jehovah God to pour out the promised comforter or holy spirit upon them, which He does on the festival day of Pentecost. This enables them to speak boldly and in the various languages of the Jews who have come from many different lands to celebrate Pentecost at Jerusalem. The apostle Peter again takes the lead, with the result that on that day 3,000 souls ‘embrace the word heartily and are baptized.’—Acts 2:41.
Chapters 3 to 5 tell more of the apostles’ bold and zealous witnessing about ‘the only name under heaven by which we must get saved.’ (Acts 4:12) The very outspokenness of Peter and John causes their opposers to recognize that they had been with Jesus. (4:13) Ordered to stop preaching, they boldly reply: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. . . . We cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” After being threatened and released they meet with “their own people” and report what had taken place. Then all with “one accord” pray that God grant them to “keep speaking [his] word with all boldness.” Again ordered to stop preaching, they fearlessly answer: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—4:19, 20, 23, 24, 29, 31; 5:29.
In the next two chapters we learn about Stephen, one of the seven chosen to care for food distribution to the widows. With “graciousness and power” he performs great miracles and gives a telling witness that his opposers cannot gainsay. (Acts 6:8) Frustrated, they hale him before the Sanhedrin, where his bold witness so infuriates his opposers that they stone him to death, he thus becoming the first Christian martyr. Persecution increases, but does that stop the disciples? Not at all. Wherever they are scattered they keep on “declaring the good news.”—8:4.
Chapter 9 tells how the bitter persecutor Saul of Tarsus is converted. How? By the resurrected Jesus when personally appearing before him in a blinding light. Upon having his sight restored, Saul, later known as Paul, also becomes a bold and zealous preacher and is himself now persecuted. Chapter 10 is outstanding in that it tells how God uses Peter to bring the good news to the first Gentile convert, the Roman army officer Cornelius.
Next we read of Herod’s executing the apostle James to please the Jews and of his arresting Peter for the purpose of executing him also. God, though, has other things in mind for Peter and so an angel delivers Peter from prison. ‘The word of Jehovah goes on growing and spreading.’—Acts 12:24.
PAUL’S THREE MISSIONARY TOURS
Chapter 13 tells of Paul and Barnabas starting out on their first missionary tour. They travel hundreds of miles, visit many cities, performing many miracles and ‘speak with such boldness’ that ‘a great multitude become believers.’ Time and again they have to leave cities because of violent persecution. In one city Paul is even stoned and left for dead. Revived, he continues on, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith and saying: ‘We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.’”—Acts 14:1, 3, 22.
A meeting of apostles and older men at Jerusalem to settle the question of circumcision is described in chapter 15. No, it is not required of Gentile converts, for “the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.”—Acts 15:19, 20, 28, 29; 21:25.
For his second missionary tour Paul selects Silas as a companion and en route has Timothy join them. Being told in a vision to come over to Macedonia (in Greece today) to help, they come to Philippi. Again success in preaching results in an uproar and Paul and Barnabas are imprisoned. Due to an earthquake they are set free, which leads to the jailer’s becoming a believer. Going on to Thessalonica and Beroea, they have much success but are forced to leave each place because of violent persecution. (Acts 16:9–17:15) Arriving at Athens, Paul preaches boldly in the marketplace, is haled before the Areopagus by philosophers, where he gives a grand witness to God the Creator, to the oneness of the human family, and concerning the resurrection of Jesus. (17:16-34) Going on to Corinth, he finds so much interest there that he stays for eighteen months.—18:1-17.
After returning to his home base in Antioch and spending some time there, Paul starts on his third missionary trip. He arrives in Ephesus and, entering a synagogue, ‘speaks with boldness’ there, and then in other places for a total of two years. (Acts 19:8-10) Many are the miracles he performs, and many become believers. Again his success results in an uproar, but without his needing to leave. On his way back to Jerusalem he calls for the older men of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus, where he points to his own unselfish course and gives them fine counsel: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers.” In conclusion he says: “I have exhibited to you in all things that by thus laboring you must assist those who are weak.” He also tells them to remember Jesus’ words: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—20:17-35.
BEFORE RULERS AND IN PRISONS
The last eight chapters of Acts 21-28 deal largely with Paul’s prison experiences. They tell of his witnessing fearlessly to Jews and to the Roman rulers, Felix, Festus and King Agrippa. In making his defenses he tells how Jesus miraculously appeared to him and gave him the command to preach. To gain justice Paul appeals to Caesar.
The trip to Rome is interrupted by a great storm after which the ship runs aground and is totally wrecked, but, even as an angel had assured Paul, all aboard are able to swim safely ashore. Three months later Paul and his traveling companions set sail for Rome, and they find Christian brothers in the seaport Puteoli and thereafter they go on to Rome. In Rome he summons the principal men among the Jews and witnesses to them; some believe but many do not. For two years Paul remains in ‘his own hired house and receives kindly those who come to him, preaching the kingdom of God to them.’—Acts 28:30, 31.
Truly the record made by these early Christians clearly demonstrates that the work begun by Jesus is of God and not of men. Directed by their resurrected Master and with the power of God’s holy spirit, they were able to witness boldly, zealously and most fruitfully, this resulting in many thousands becoming believers. As the apostle Paul tells it in one of his letters, their zeal resulted in the good news being “preached in all creation that is under heaven.”—Col. 1:23.
For details, see Aid to Bible Understanding, page 32.