KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The Acts of the Apostles is the Biblical account of the establishment of the Early Church, and the primary source of information about the expansion of Christ’s message in the first century. Traditionally ascribed to Luke, it continues the narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ recorded in the Book of Luke and the other Gospels. Chapters 1-7 describe the ascension of Christ into Heaven, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter’s sermon following the outpouring, and the subsequent actions of the Apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit that established the church in Jerusalem.
At His ascension, described in chapter 1, Jesus commanded His disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit. They were to begin their ministry as Christ’s witnesses only after they had received this power from on high, for the Holy Spirit would equip them to spread the Gospel, beginning at Jerusalem and then expanding out to all points of the earth.
Chapter 2 records the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost upon the disciples who had tarried together in the Upper Room with hearts in perfect unity. Shortly after being filled with the Holy Ghost, Peter boldly faced the crowds, who were amazed at what was happening, and preached a Spirit-anointed sermon. About three thousand people were converted and baptized in water the same day.
A miracle of healing at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple is the key event of chapter 3. A lame man asked Peter and John for money, but through Jesus’ Name, they gave him a much greater gift — the ability to walk, though he had been lame from birth. Following this miraculous healing, Peter preached another sermon, recounting how Moses and Samuel had prophesied the coming of the Messiah who would fulfill the covenant of blessing to Israel, and asserting that Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. More souls received salvation after that sermon, and the congregation grew to about five thousand.
While numbers were increasing, the fledgling church faced great adversity. Chapter 4 records that in reaction to the healing of the lame man, Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. This governing body of elders, rulers, scribes, and priests demanded to know “by what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” Peter fearlessly responded that it was “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified.” He and John were released after being commanded to never preach again in the Name of Jesus, but in spite of that warning, the Apostles continued to proclaim Christ in synagogues without fear. The believers gathered in homes for fellowship, prayer, and communion. They were unified spiritually and demonstrated Christian love, with many selling their possessions and sharing with those in need in the church.
In addition to facing adversity from without, the body of believers faced challenges from within. Chapter 5 records what happened when Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter about their offering, and in doing so, lied to God. Judgment was swift and sure; both husband and wife died when they were confronted, and were buried within a few hours. As a result, great respect and reverence for God came upon the new church.
The influence of the Gospel spread, and multitudes began coming from cities around Jerusalem, bringing their sick to the Apostles to be healed. Once more the Apostles were imprisoned but were miraculously delivered by an angel. Again they were commanded to cease from preaching in the Name of Jesus, and once more they refused, saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
In chapter 6, a dispute arose concerning the daily ministration to needy members of their group. Stephen was one of seven chosen to remedy this situation. His messages, which were “full of faith and power,” stirred up more opposition, and Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin and accused of blasphemy.
Stephen’s powerful sermon as he faced his accusers is recorded in chapter 7. It was not a defensive message, but rather a bold proclamation of truth going back to God’s covenant with Abraham, and recounting God’s blessing through the eras of Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He asserted that the people had continued to reject God and ultimately had even put to death the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Stephen’s accusation enraged the people, and he was condemned to death by stoning, becoming the first Christian martyr of the Early Church.
Prior to Jesus’ ascension to Heaven, He promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be witnesses for Him, “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” After receiving the promised power, the disciples began to witness and evangelize, and as a result, the Early Church was established in Jerusalem and grew rapidly.