Spanning roughly thirty years of early Church history and covering dozens of unique stories, geographical locations, and complex theological realities, the book of Acts is what John Calvin called “a kind of vast treasure” (Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles: Vol. 1, 20).
"a kind of vast treasure" - John Calvin
Although it is incredibly immense, the twenty-eight chapters of the book of Acts can be divided into four major sections.
Part 1: Foundations For Mission
Based on Acts 1:1 - 6:7
The beginning of Acts picks up the narrative where the gospel of Luke left off. Jesus commissions his disciples into the mission of God and then ascends into heaven. The disciples are commanded to wait in the city of Jerusalem until Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit in power. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes in a dramatic way and fills 120 disciples with power and boldness for mission. The Apostle Peter stands up and proclaims the gospel, resulting in over 3,000 people meeting Jesus. The early Church grows into a multiplying gospel community that loves God, loves people, and pushes back darkness. As the Church grows and expands, suffering and persecution begin to set in. In addition, the messiness of real discipleship in a growing church becomes more and more of a reality, reminding us that the early Church was far from perfect. Despite the Church’s struggles from within and from outside struggles, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” - Acts 6:7.
Part 2: Stories of Mission
Based on Acts 6:8 - 12:24
By the grace and power of God, the Church experiences much missional success in Jerusalem. But the command to take the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth hasn’t been attempted. In preparation for the Church to become a trans-local movement, a few key events take place. The first key event is a powerful sermon preached by Stephen, one of the first deacons in the Church. Stephen’s sermon, recorded in it’s entirety in Acts 7, leads to his brutal martyrdom by the Jewish religious leaders of the day who were deeply offended by the truth he proclaimed. In addition, the uproar surrounding Stephen’s sermon sparks the largest amount of persecution the Church had encountered to date, causing the Church to scatter throughout parts of Judea and Samaria. As the people of God scatter, so does the mission of God. The second key event is the conversion of Saul, arguably the fiercest human antagonist of the early Church. Saul, who is also called Paul, becomes perhaps the greatest missionary the Church has ever seen. The third key event is the conversion of Cornelius, a prominent Gentile soldier. Through the conversion of Cornelius and a large group of Gentiles, Peter comes face to face with God’s desire for all people from all cultures and backgrounds to come to know Jesus.
Part 3: Places Of Mission
Based on Acts 12:25 - 20:38
The key events that take place between Acts 6-12 lay the foundation for the mission of God to become a radically diverse trans-local movement. The church at Antioch sends out Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey in Church history. In Acts 15, a crucial conference is held in Jerusalem to discuss the conditions for Gentile membership in the Church. This becomes the watershed moment for the Church as the gospel is made crystal clear and God’s mission to have a people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language is preserved. Paul launches out on his second and third missionary journeys, strengthening existing churches along the way.
Part 4: A Life Of Mission
Based on Acts 21:1 - 28:31
As the book of Acts comes to a close, the focus zooms in on the Apostle Paul. The scene, however, moves away from Paul on the offensive and moves towards Paul on the defensive. While in Jerusalem, Paul is assaulted, arrested, and experiences a total of five trials. The first trial takes place in Jerusalem in front of a Jewish crowd at the Temple, the second before the Supreme Jewish Council in Jerusalem, the third and fourth before Felix and Festus (procurators of Judea) in Caesarea, and the fifth, also in Caesarea, before King Herod Agrippa II. Paul spends two years in prison and is then transferred to Rome where he spends an additional two years under house-arrest. During this time he is writing New Testament letters such as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, and proclaiming the gospel to all who will listen. This somewhat anticlimactic ending reminds us that the story that started in Acts 1 doesn’t end in Acts 28. Jesus is continuing his mission on planet earth through his Church.