Bold Witnesses of Jehovah in Action!
Christianity’s Expansion as Told in the Book of Acts
JESUS CHRIST had declared the good news of God’s kingdom for some three and a half years. He had urged his followers to let their light shine. But they were few in number, and Jesus had foretold a worldwide preaching work. (Matthew 5:14-16; 24:14) Could his disciples ever accomplish such a ministry? Even if they wanted to perform it, what help would they have.
The faithful disciple Luke, an educated physician, furnished answers to these and other questions in the divinely inspired book entitled “Acts of Apostles.” (Compare Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1, 2.) Both external and internal evidence points to Luke as the writer of Acts. Likely, it was written in Rome about 61 C.E.—Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11.*
Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension to heaven and ends with Paul’s Roman imprisonment. Hence, it covers some 28 years, from 33 to 61 C.E. In its broad review of early Christianity it is, indeed, a stirring account about bold witnesses of Jehovah in action.
How can the book of Acts benefit us? Among other things, it can (1) show us that Jehovah’s hand is with his faithful witnesses; (2) make us aware of the holy spirit’s power and influence; (3) strengthen our confidence in divinely inspired prophecy; (4) help us to put God first during tests of faith; (5) encourage us to be bold in giving a thorough witness; (6) assist us to endure in the face of persecution; (7) motivate us to be self-sacrificing in God’s service; (8) prompt us to be diligent students of God’s Word; and (9) stimulate our faith in the marvelous Kingdom hope.
Peter—A Bold and Faithful Witness
As the book of Acts opens, Jesus is about to bid his disciples farewell. Will he restore the kingdom to Israel at this time? They want to know. But he tells them that ‘it does not belong to them to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.’ Though Jesus’ followers then lacked a full understanding of the Kingdom, he commissions them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then “to the most distant part of the earth.” How will they possibly do this work? In the power of the holy spirit!—Acts 1:6-8.
On the day of Pentecost about 120 of Jesus’ disciples are assembled in an upper room in Jerusalem when they are filled with holy spirit. This enables them to witness boldly in the various languages of Jews and proselytes who have come from distant lands to celebrate Pentecost at Jerusalem. The apostle Peter takes the lead in witnessing. He explains that the outpouring of the spirit is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. (Acts 2:14-21; Joel 2:28-32) That very day 3,000 souls ‘embrace the word heartily and are baptized.’ (Acts 2:41) It is obvious that Jehovah’s hand is upon his witnesses. The holy spirit’s power and influence are evident. Furthermore, Peter’s words strengthen our confidence in the fulfillment of inspired prophecy.
Next, a lame man is miraculously healed, giving further evidence of the power of God’s holy spirit. Then Peter and John give a bold witness concerning Jesus. This is too much for the religious leaders, who arrest the apostles and try them the next day. Outspokenly, Peter and John point out that salvation is available only through Jesus Christ. When commanded to stop preaching, they refuse. After being threatened and released they meet with fellow believers and then all join in asking God to help them to “keep speaking [his] word with all boldness.” Accordingly, “they were one and all filled with the holy spirit and were speaking the word of God with boldness.” When again ordered to stop preaching, they fearlessly reply: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 4:19, 20, 29-31; 5:29.
How this should help Jehovah’s modern-day witnesses to put God first during tests of faith! And how it should encourage us to be bold in giving a thorough witness, even when persecuted!
Stephen, one of seven men appointed by holy spirit to distribute food, also gives a powerful witness when brought before the Sanhedrin. When he points out the judges’ guilt in Jesus’ death, they become enraged and stone him to death. Stephen’s tranquillity in all of this is a fine example, encouraging present-day witnesses of Jehovah to endure in the face of persecution.—Acts 6:1–7:60; compare Philippians 4:6, 7, 13.
Persecution increases, but it does not stop the disciples. Rather, wherever they are scattered they keep on “declaring the good news,” with Jehovah’s support and blessing. (Acts 8:4-8) Soon, the bitter persecutor Saul of Tarsus is converted when Jesus personally appears before him in a bright light, and Saul is blinded by its glory. Ananias restores Saul’s sight, and this former persecutor, later known as the apostle Paul, becomes a bold witness for God and Christ.—Acts 9:1-30; 22:6-11.
The congregation now ‘enters into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walks in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it keeps on multiplying.’ (Acts 9:31) Peter raises the beloved Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead. Later, he receives a call to go to Caesarea, where he declares the “good news” to Cornelius and his household. They become believers and the holy spirit is poured out upon them. Having realized that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him,” Peter baptizes them—the first uncircumcised Gentiles to become Jesus’ disciples.—Acts 10:1-48.
Shortly thereafter, Herod Agrippa I executes the apostle James and has Peter arrested for the purpose of executing him too. But the apostle experiences an angelic deliverance from prison. Moreover, despite hardship and persecution, Jehovah’s hand is with his witnesses and ‘the word of Jehovah goes on growing and spreading.’—Acts 11:19-21; 12:24.
Paul’s Three Evangelizing Tours
By holy spirit, Barnabas and Saul are set apart and sent forth from Antioch, Syria. (Acts 13:2, 3) On the island of Cyprus many become believers, including the proconsul Sergius Paulus. Time and again the Kingdom witnesses must leave cities because of violent persecution. For instance, in the city of Lystra Paul is even stoned and left for dead. But, when he revives, he is back at his work of witnessing and encourages others to remain in the faith, saying: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” (Acts 14:22) How all of this encourages Jehovah’s modern-day witnesses to endure in the face of persecution!
A meeting of the apostles and older men at Jerusalem settles the question of circumcision. (Acts chap. 15) No, circumcision is not to be required of Gentile converts to Christianity. The holy spirit plays a role in this, for the letter sent out on the matter says, in part: “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 15:28, 29.
Silas accompanies Paul during his second evangelizing trip, and en route Timothy joins them. In a vision, Paul is entreated to step over into Macedonia to provide help. And, true to the self-sacrificing attitude of the apostle and his associates, they take this as their assignment in God’s service. Are we similarly motivated when afforded opportunity to expend ourselves in Jehovah’s service?—Acts 16:9, 10.
At Philippi, Kingdom witnessing results in an uproar, and Paul and Barnabas are imprisoned. An earthquake frees them, but they do not rush away. Instead, they preach to the jailer and his household, whereupon these all become baptized believers.—Acts 16:11-34.
Next, it is on to Thessalonica, and then Beroea. The Beroeans ‘are more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they receive the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily to see whether the things they are being told are truly so.’ (Acts 17:10, 11) Should this not prompt us to be diligent students of God’s Word—modern-day Beroeans as it were?
Upon arriving in Athens, Paul witnesses boldly in the marketplace and is taken to the Areopagus by philosophers. There he gives a grand witness to Jehovah’s creatorship, to the oneness of the human family, and to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The result? Some become fellow believers. (Acts 17:16-34) Going on to Corinth, the apostle finds so much interest in God’s truth that he remains there for 18 months.—Acts 18:1-17.
After returning to Antioch and spending some time there, Paul begins his third evangelizing trip. In Ephesus he witnesses boldly, and God keeps performing extraordinary works of power through him. The ministry in Ephesus proves fruitful, but it also leads to an uproar in this city teeming with worshipers of the goddess Artemis. But the apostle departs unharmed.—Acts 19:8–20:1.
On his way back to Jerusalem, Paul calls together the older men of the Ephesus congregation. He reminds them of his self-sacrificing service while in their midst. He had been busy as a Kingdom proclaimer and could point to his ‘teaching publicly and from house to house.’ What a fine example for those shouldering responsibility among Jehovah’s people today!—Acts 20:17-35.
Persecution Does Not Stop Kingdom Witnessing
Although Paul is warned against setting foot in Jerusalem, he does not turn back. (Acts 21:10-14) James and other older men of the congregation rejoice greatly when Paul tells them about God’s blessing on his ministry among the nations. But when the apostle appears in the temple, what a different reception he gets! Jews from the province of Asia stir up the entire city against him, and Roman soldiers rescue him just in time. Later, in a divided court of Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul raises the question of the resurrection, setting them one against the other. As the dissension becomes increasingly violent, Roman soldiers snatch Paul away. He is secretly sent to Governor Felix at Caesarea. Before the governor he defends himself against his accusers. But the apostle is kept in custody for two years. He later appears before Porcius Festus, gives a bold witness, and appeals to Caesar. (Acts 25:11) Still later, Paul appears before King Herod Agrippa II. Although Agrippa recognizes Paul’s innocence, the apostle has appealed to Caesar and therefore is sent on to Rome.
The trip to Rome is interrupted by a violent storm. The ship runs aground and is wrecked, but, even as an angel has assured Paul, all those aboard are able to make it safely to shore on the island of Malta. Three months later Paul and his traveling associates set sail for Rome. In the Roman capital, for two years Paul remains ‘in his own hired house and receives kindly those who come to him.’ For what purpose? So that he might witness to them, for we are told that he was busy “preaching the kingdom of God to them and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.”—Acts 28:30, 31.
So it is that Acts concludes with an account of faithful Kingdom witnessing. Yes, the book of Acts highlights the grand Kingdom hope. And this inspired account should move present-day servants of God to be like their first-century counterparts—bold witnesses of Jehovah in action!
For details, see Aid to Bible Understanding, page 32, and “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” pages 198, 199. Both books are published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Like Peter at Pentecost, all faithful Christians are bold witnesses of Jehovah