1:1. Theophilus (v 1) is unknown to us except from Luke’s two prologues. From the Gospel of Luke we gather he was a believer in Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 1:4). His name is found in papyri sources as early as 3 BC indicating this was his pagan name given him by unsaved parents. The title “most excellent” (Luke 1:3) is dropped here in Acts. If Theophilus lost his position or office, maybe even due to his Christian faith, he would receive much comfort from a book such as Acts relating as it does the suffering of the early Church and its leaders. Paul, who figures so largely here, is to be shown how many things he must suffer for Christ’s name (Acts 9:16) and the record of Acts contains much of this. Theophilus (“friend of God” or “God-beloved”) was well named by his parents, for God was to call him to knowledge of the truth and then to honor him as the addressee of these two books.
Acts is the record of Christ’s original company of “friends” who “go and bring forth fruit” that lasts (John 15:16). It is the record of their fruit-bearing and how the circle of divine friendship is enlarged by them—an enlarging which continues to this day. Every true Theophilus will benefit by this book, for it tells the way in which we may bring forth lasting fruit. Inattention to its principles leads to fruit that does not stand the test of time. The existence today of the Church founded in Acts is a testimony to the abiding fruit of that first circle of friends.
Note the phrase, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach. Not to teach and to do, for in our Lord’s life thirty years of doing preceded about 3 ½ of teaching. The thirty years are crowned with the Father’s approval (Matt 3:17). There is no place in God’s service or in the ministry of the church for one who teaches God’s Word without first doing it (cf. Jas 1:21-2:26; 3:1ff. See also Matt 5:19).
When Luke describes his Gospel as an account of all that Jesus began…to do and to teach, he implies that Acts is a record of all that Jesus continued to do and to teach. It may most appropriately be called “The Acts of the Risen Christ.” Here are the things Christ does in His disciples, whereas Luke’s Gospel records what He did while with them. The coming of the Spirit in Acts actually introduces the reality of the indwelling Christ (cf. John 14:17, 18 and 17:21-23). By the Spirit, Christ now lives in His body to continue to do and to teach (e.g., Eph 2:17). Thus, Acts, which comes to no definitive climax, initiates the continuing work of Christ, a work which goes on in the world today.
1:2. The day in which He was taken up is one of the most pivotal of human history. It is dispensationally significant. The Gospel of Luke goes up to that day and Acts proceeds from it. That day is the dividing point between these two “treatises” and the dividing point between two ages. Despite the transitional features of Acts, the Church Age looks back to this day. The Spirit whose baptism created the Church could only be given as a result of this day (John 7:39). The statements of Acts 1:2 which are made in connection with this day are basic to all which follows from it in the remainder of the book.
Our Lord had given commands to His disciples. These are specified particularly in verses 4 and 8. It was in the process of obeying these instructions that the Church came into being on the day of Pentecost. The Christian Church is not the product of human ingenuity or human planning or organization, but of obedience to divine commandment. The Church was not planned by the disciples as a “practical” post-ascension program, but it results from obedience to their Lord’s commands. An organism which has its birth through obedience to divine commandment can never be conceived of as capable of continuation through human plans and expedients.
The Lord gave commands to the apostles. The first reference to the disciples in Acts is not as disciples but as apostles. The word apostle (apostolos) occurs only six times in Luke, but thirty times in Acts. The eleven are viewed here in that capacity which becomes prominent in Acts, as ones who are sent by their Lord (cf. John 17:18). As the Christian Church is based upon divine commandment, so it is also upon divine commission. The program of the Church has ever been carried on by those sent of God, divinely raised up and commissioned by Him. In its fullest sense John 17:18 refers to all believers and we are apostles in this sense (though not in the technical sense). We are sent into the world, and this fact results in the growth of the Christian Church.
He commands through the Holy Spirit. We may surely conclude that every utterance of the Lord was through the Holy Spirit. The fact that our attention is especially called to it here indicates its importance. The Spirit’s special influence is implied. What if the disciples had disobeyed our Lord’s initial instructions? They might have reasoned that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for them to be at this time (cf. John 20:19). With the story of the soldiers (Matt 28:13-15) making the rounds, they might have reason to fear the Roman power. Had they failed to obey the Lord now, as they had when He was arrested, the Church could not have begun, for its foundation was to be in Zion (cf. 1 Pet 2:6; Isa 28:16). But the Holy Spirit enforced the commandment upon their hearts and thus secured their obedience. The work of the Church could not have begun—much less proceeded—apart from the inner conviction and compulsion of the Spirit in the hearts of those divinely commanded and commissioned by God.
The phrase through the Holy Spirit might be construed with whom He had chosen (hous exelexato), but this seems much less natural. Kirsopp Lake suggests that the tense of “[He commanded them] not to depart” in 1:4 implies the apostles intended to leave Jerusalem, but the Lord told them to give up that intention at that time.
The divine choice (whom He had chosen) displays the divine wisdom. Though we might have imagined that men of education, wealth, or influence would be needed for the worldwide mission of the Church, the divine choice centered upon eleven unlearned and little-esteemed Galilean fishermen. It is not our qualifications for the work of God which matter, but whether or not He has chosen us to do it. The worldwide spread and the centuries-long continuance of their work is the evidence of the divine choice (cf. John 15:16). Their fruit has remained because their mission originated with God. Whatever is of human origin withers (Isa 40:6-7; Acts 5:38-39), but that which is of God endures forever (Eccl 3:14).
The Lord was taken up. This phrase is climactically placed last in the sentence in Greek, for above all the Christian Church is inseparably linked with an ascended Christ. The divine approval of Him whom earth rejected is the key to the existence of the Church (cf. 1 Pet 2:6-8). The disciples witnessed the ascension that their confidence in His name might be increased (cf. John 14:12-13). We testify to God’s approval of Him—to His ascended glory—while He is absent When He so comes in like manner the history of the Church on earth will be over.
1:3. The resurrection was strongly verified to the disciples, a fact which gave force to the kingdom expectations which the Lord discussed with them. Ernest Haenchen, a radical liberal, affirms that the kingdom of God in Acts refers to “the kingdom of God which will begin with the Parousia,” and adds, “Since the kingdom of God is the state of perfection toward which Christians are advancing, Luke can describe it simply in 1:3, 19:8, 20:5 and 28:23 as the content of the Christian proclamation” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 141 n. 2). This is probably essentially correct, though the kingdom does have a present aspect (cf. Col 1:13). Yet in this context the eschatological element is clearly in view (cf. v 6).
Compare He presented Himself alive (parestēsen heauton) with Rom 6:13: “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Jesus presented Himself that the disciples might present themselves alive to God.
Jesus Promises to Send the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8)
1:4. There are three possible renderings of the difficult synalizomenos. First, “eat (salt) with” (i.e., “to eat with”). Perhaps this option is as good as any, but why not the more usual synesthio? Second, synalizein, “to gather together,” (i.e., “being gathered together with [them]”). But the singular is awkward, as is also the present tense. Third, a variant spelling of synalizomenos, “spend the night with” and then simply “to stay with.” (Lake states that aylizō is common as a military term = “to bivouac”). This meaning would be very suitable in context either as “to stay with,” referring to the forty days, or “to pass the night (in the open),” with reference to a night spent on Olivet prior to the ascension (cf. aylizō in Luke 21:37). A final decision is difficult.
1:5-6. The allusion to John recalls John’s prediction of the nearness of the kingdom (cf. Matt 3:2) and leads to the question of verse 6. If the baptism was near, was the kingdom also?
1:7-8. Jesus neither affirms nor denies that it is, hence the possibility remains open, for the kingdom is subsequently offered. They are not to know God’s program (v 7), but they are to know His power (v 8).
Only the apostles are martyrs in the technical sense of this term (v 8; cf. 1:22). In a secondary sense, of course, so are we, but in reference to the Christian martyria, the technical use is the only one found in Acts.
The power (dynamin) which the official witnesses are to receive apparently refers to the miraculous manifestations which in this book are mainly, though not exclusively, apostolic. Stephen, who also works miracles, is called a martyros at 22:20, but Philip is not. Stephen, of course, saw Christ in heaven (cf. 7:55). For the connection of dynamis with miracles, cf. 3:12 and 4:17, and note 4:33, which in context is formally parallel with 2:43.
Jesus Ascends to Heaven (Acts 1:9-11)
1:9. Our Lord deliberately ascends in full view of the apostles because the work He has just given them depends on His going to the Father (cf. John 14:1-2). A crucified and risen Christ is necessary to salvation; an ascended and glorified Christ is necessary to service. Our Lord’s ministry was confined to Palestine. The disciples also ministered there (in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria) but they did more, for their witness was to the uttermost part of the earth. Thus the “greater works” of John 14:12 are not only so in terms of quality or quantity, but also in terms of geographical scope. Only an ascended Lord in heaven can direct this worldwide ministry, through His Spirit shed forth.
1:10-11. The testimony of their eyes is confirmed by the testimony of heavenly witnesses (two men stood by them). Thus they are assured by word that their sight had not deceived them, making the ascension doubly sure to them.
The angelic witness also affirms the Second Advent. No time is specified for His return so that this hope might be a vital reality attended by expectancy. The angels do not exhort to fulfillment of our Lord’s instructions, they simply announce the fact of His return. At a moment when the sense of separation and loss might have gripped them, this hope is introduced. Having seemingly lost Him through the cross only to have Him restored in resurrection, and after enjoying this reality for forty days, the ascension apart from such hope might have been saddening indeed.
Post-Ascension Prayer (Acts 1:12-14)
1:12. Olivet is a place evidently much loved by our Lord for He frequently resorted there. How natural and human that He should choose a favorite place as the last earthly spot where His feet should stand. But there is also symbolic significance in this reference to Olivet and its distance from Jerusalem.
Olivet is located in reference to Jerusalem in terms of a Sabbath day’s journey. Thus its very location is presented in terms reminding us of God’s rest and the limitations on man’s activity. Spiritually, by virtue of the Lord’s ascension from it, Olivet becomes linked with divine rest, for in ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of God, the Lord Jesus signified the final completion of the sacrificial work of redemption. The Savior sits in a rest never permitted to the priests of the Old Testament because of the unfinished character of their work (cf. Heb 10:11, 12). As God looked out upon creation and found it good, so the divine eye rests upon Jesus, the true hilasterion (propitiation or mercy seat; cf. Rom 3:25; Heb 9:5) and finds perfect satisfaction. Divine righteousness finds its final vindicating token in the ascension, for the Sinner’s Substitute is received up into the divine presence (cf. John 16:10 and Rom 3:25-26). Thus, the Father, too, rests in the completed work of the cross. And just as the original Sabbath became man’s day of rest, so the divine rest signified by the ascension can be entered into by burdened, toiling sinners who come to the Savior in faith (cf. Matt 11:28).
In other words, Olivet and Jerusalem were separated by a distance which (by rabbinic interpretation) could be traversed by a man not working. Thus the mount of the ascension can symbolize a salvation available by faith apart from works and centered in a risen, ascended Savior. From this symbolic spot the apostles return to Jerusalem to make that salvation known.
1:13-14. The first post-ascension activity of the disciples is prayer. There is no previous record of the disciples actually praying (they fail to pray in Luke 22:40-46), though no doubt they did, and the first mention thereof is reserved till here. From henceforth prayer becomes a prominent feature of their lives. Closely linked with the ascension are new privileges in prayer (cf. John 14:12-14), privileges unknown to them previously (cf. John 16:23-24). The ascension adds new meaning and depth to prayer. Hence prayer becomes prominent in Acts.
Asking in the name of the Lord Jesus means to stand before God in that name. Thus the ascension means two things:
1. Christ represents us in heaven in prayer before God.
2. We represent Him on earth in prayer before God.
Note two features of the prayer the disciples engage in:
1. They continued (persevered) in prayer (ēsan proskarterountes)
2. Their prayers were united: These all (homothymadon)
Collective prayer of this nature is honored by God (cf. Matt 18:19). We do not know what they prayed for, yet there is no reason to doubt that their prayers involved a request for the promise of the Spirit (1:4-5), for true prayer builds upon God’s promises and claims them (cf. Dan 9:2, 3ff.). I regard this as certain. Compare Luke 11:13 and also Luke 3:21-22. Luke (alone of the evangelists) seems to think of the coming of the Spirit as an answer to prayer. All God’s promises are answers to prayer, even the Second Advent. Yet such prayer, i.e., specifically for the baptism of the Spirit, is out of place today in the light of 1 Cor 12:13, though we may well pray for new realizations of His power. It is not mainly important here what they prayed for, but rather that they prayed. The Christian Church was born in a prayer meeting.
Note that this transpired in an upper room. The life of prayer—either individual or corporate—secures a spiritual elevation above the level of the world. The prayerless life soon sinks to the level of the “street” in terms of outlook and viewpoint, expectation, and hope. The soul is morally uplifted by seeking the face of God (cf. Lake, Beginnings IV, p. 10, for Jewish thought about upper rooms). The upper rooms of the Bible are without exception the scene of great spiritual events (cf. Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12; Acts 9:37, 39; Acts 20:8). Every life needs an “upper room” of prayer.
Thurston suggests that the upper room may have been a room built into the outer wall of the Temple. Women were permitted to enter that area. Moreover, the Sanhedrin met in a chamber built into the Temple wall, suggesting that there were rooms able to accommodate one hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15). The view seems not to be widely accepted. Finally, it may be observed that they had actually gone to Jerusalem to wait (cf. v 4), but found themselves praying. The impatient heart is usually prayerless (cf. Luke 18:1-8), but the waiting heart is a praying heart. Waiting is a spiritual exercise deeply beneficial to the soul (cf. Isa 40:31; Ps 27:14). The Lord told His disciples to wait and it led to prayer. Waiting involves expectancy (as here), and expectancy begets prayer!
Note that it is with the women. They are not among the official witnesses of His resurrection (v 13), but through prayer they play an integral part in the witness.