Daily Bible Study Tips –

Acts, Chapters 1 - 2

Overview of Acts

Acts 1:1-17, 21-22
Acts 1:1-8, “You shall be witnesses.”
Acts 1:15-26, Matthias is chosen as a witness.
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Judas
Acts 2:1-21
Acts 2:14, 22-32
Acts 2:14, 36-41
Acts 2:42-46
Acts 2:47

Comments on Acts Chapters 3 – 8
Comments on Acts Chapters 9 – 17

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Acts 1:1-17, 21-22

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.  The first few verses of Acts briefly summarizes what happened in Luke, and then it goes on to tell the rest of the story.  No one knows whether Theophilus was a specific, real person.  The name means "Lover of God."  There may have been an individual of that name who commissioned Luke to write a history, or this may have been Luke's way of saying, "Dear Reader."

Acts 1:1-8, “You shall be witnesses.”

Several years ago, when Albuquerque first started working on the problem of reducing water usage, we looked at the city's 5-year goals and at our own water usage, and we discovered that we were already below the 5-year goal for households.  Even so, we got a call from the city water utility, asking if we would like to have someone come out and show us how to conserve water.  The man who came was very cute; he measured the flow from the shower by collecting water for 1 minute into a plastic bag, and then he said, "Do you have a plant that we could use this water on?"  Every gallon counts, so we bustled around and found a plant.  After he left, my husband said that obviously they were practicing by going out first to the "friendlies."
Jesus appointed his apostles to be witnesses in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  As far as we know, all of the earliest Christians were Jews, and Jesus had said earlier that he had come to rescue the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mathew 15:24).  Naturally, the first group that the apostles were to witness to was the people of Jerusalem and Judea.  These were the people who had been chosen by God for a special destiny.  They were the people who most earnestly looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.  They were the "friendlies."
The next group, the Samaritans, were semi-friendly.  Although, as we've seen earlier, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans, the Samaritans did (and still do) accept the first five books of the Bible – the books of Moses, so they did worship God.  The Jews didn't like the way they worshiped God, but at least they didn't worship the Canaanite pantheon.  In fact, some Samaritans had already become disciples of Jesus (John 4), and the disciples knew this.
Finally, the apostles were directed to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, which means the Gentiles.  A few Gentiles had been worshiping the God of the Jews for quite some time (e.g., Luke 7:2-5), but the vast majority of Gentiles worshiped a variety of gods that ranged from unethical and immoral to violent and depraved.  These Gentiles were non-friendly, but the apostles were sent to witness to them anyway.

Acts 1:15-26, Matthias is chosen as a witness.

Let's sing!
There were twelve disciples Jesus called to help him:
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John,
Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus,
Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholomew.
He has called us, too. He has called us, too.
We are His disciples, we his work must do!
Notice that there is no mention of Matthias.  After Judas betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide (Bible study ain't for sissies), the eleven decided that they needed a replacement for him.  I suspect that they were uncomfortable with the idea of "11 disciples."  They were all Jews, and 12 is the "right" number for most things in Judaism, going back to the 12 sons of Jacob.  The disciples were determined to choose as a replacement someone who was an eye-witness to the entire ministry of Jesus.  Matthias was chosen, and then we never hear of him again.
What's the difference between a disciple and an apostle?  "Disciple" means "student."  "Apostle" means "one who is sent."  There were the 12 disciples who were chosen as apostles, and there were many other disciples who were not selected as apostles (e.g., Luke 6:13).  Apostles who were not among the 12 disciples include Matthias, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14), and James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19)

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Judas (5/20/09)

It's difficult to know what to think about Judas. Jesus chose him to be a disciple, so I have to believe that he had the potential to be a leader in the church. He was the keeper of the group's money, a responsible position. Ultimately he chose to betray Jesus to men who, he had to know, hated Jesus and wanted to kill him. Why? We don't know. Judas has been getting a lot of press lately, but the fact is that we don't know why he did what he did, and all the books in the world can't tell us.
The Gospel of Judas, which you've probably heard of recently, seems to date from some time in the second century, although the earliest (and only known) copy is from the late third or early fourth century. This so-called gospel was rejected by the church (in the writings of Irenaeus) very early on, around 180 A.D., because it is a Gnostic heresy, and it was lost until the 4th-century copy turned up in 1983. Irenaeus called it "a fictional history," so if you decide to read it, or if you have already read it, just remember that it is a work of fiction and wasn't written by Judas at all. It was not "suppressed by the Church." You may routinely ignore that type of statement, which you may have also heard recently from various fiction writers and conspiracy theorists. The strong Church bureaucracy that would have been required to repress a book simply did not exist in the second century! Furthermore, what happened when the copy was found? It was translated and published. So how is that suppressed?

But anyway, Judas made his choice. By the time he realized that he had chosen poorly, Jesus was on his way to Calvary. A few weeks later, the disciples asked the Lord to choose a replacement for Judas.

Acts 2:1-21 (5/28/09)

Our reading from Acts describes the arrival of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit first came upon the Church, the disciples began speaking the Gospel message in many languages – languages they did not normally understand, but which were the mother tongues of the many foreign listeners in Jerusalem. A few years ago at Thanksgiving, we sat down and got ready to say grace.  My granddaughter assumed that she would be saying grace, as usual when we got together for dinner, but my husband explained that first he would pray, and then she could pray afterwards if she wanted to.  He prayed for longer than usual, as is his custom at special events, and after we all said "Amen" he turned to her and said it was her turn to pray.  We all expected "God is great, etc.," but apparently she realized that such a short blessing was not suited to the occasion, and what we got was far more wonderful.  The only way I can explain it is to say that she began speaking in tongues.  She prayed for about a minute, and none of the rest of us understood a single word that she said.  Then she said "Amen" and looked up with the most beautiful, beatific smile I have ever seen. 
Pentecost is one of the five major festivals of the Jewish calendar, and in the first century, Jews came from all over the world to worship in Jerusalem.  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the community of Christian believers, and they began speaking in tongues.  At my family's dinner table, only two people understood my granddaughter - she and God.  The astonishing thing about Pentecost was that each person who was listening understood what was being said, because each one heard his or her own language.  Whether the Spirit allowed each speaker to speak an unknown language or each hearer to hear a known language isn't completely clear.  One thing is certain:  On Pentecost, every person present received the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Reader Question: What holiday were the Jews celebrating at Pentecost?

Acts 2:14, 22-32

The men and women who were witnesses of the resurrected Christ were changed.  A few weeks before, they had been fearfully hiding out in locked rooms.  In today's passage from Acts, we see them boldly speaking out in public.  Then, they had not understood the scriptures; now, they are interpreting the scriptures.  Then, they hadn't been at all sure what was going on, or whom they were seeing.  Now, they are confidently proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Acts 2:14, 36-41

A few years ago a friend of mine (this is a true story – it really happened to my own friend) was on a mission trip to India.  The mission team was hosting a gospel meeting in a huge arena that held thousands of people, mostly Hindus and followers of similar pagan religions.  After the preaching, one of the speakers invited everyone who wanted to renounce all other gods and give his life to Christ to stand up.  Essentially everyone in the arena stood up.  The speaker, assuming that they had misunderstood, said, "No, no.  I meant that if you want to renounce all other gods and give your life to Jesus Christ, you should stand up.  Everybody else can sit back down."  Essentially nobody sat down.  So then the mission team had the spectacularly wonderful problem of baptizing thousands of people and putting them in touch with local churches.  This was Pentecost all over again.

Acts 2:42-46

After the ascension, Jesus' followers had to change what they were doing.  The small group that traveled with Jesus and heard his teaching directly expanded into a large group that taught and reminded each other of what Jesus said.  They changed from a small wandering band that had little or nothing to a large group in Jerusalem that had property and shared it.  Most importantly, they went from being students to being evangelists.  In short, they had to become the Church.  Some of the earliest Church practices, such as sharing everything in common, did not survive.  Others, such as collecting and distributing money to the needy both inside and outside the Church, have continued and are a distinctive characteristic of today's Church. 

Acts 2:44-47 (10/13/11)

One of Luke’s recurring themes in the book of Acts is that the Church was growing. Luke concludes his story of Pentecost and the generosity of the early Christians by saying that the Lord added to their number day by day. In Acts 6:7, he says that the number of disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly. In Acts 16:5, he mentions in connection with Paul’s missionary trip to Derbe and Lystra that the churches increased in number daily. Some scholars divide Acts into nine “panels” using these and half a dozen similar references to church growth as markers.

Although I don’t personally find the “panel” divisions convincing, the discussion did draw my attention to Luke’s interest in church growth. You probably don’t always agree with what I say in the study tips or what your pastor says in the sermon. I hope that you will use what others say, or your own reactions to what others say, to enhance your reading of the scripture.

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Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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