Aug 27 2008

17- THE BOOK OF ACTS part 1

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The Acts of the Apostles

(Part 1 of 5 parts)

The book of Acts tells us the story of the Church from its foundation until 30 years after.  We can call this book the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  Through the Acts you can feel the work of the Holy Spirit in establishing the Church, her worship, her missionary work, and the life of her children.

It is also the book of preaching and evangelization 1, i.e. the spread of the kingdom of God all over the world.  It is, therefore, a historical record of the fulfillment of the teachings of the Lord regarding His kingdom and its power to expand, as the leaven and the mustard seed (Mt. 13:31-34).

Author of the book:

St. Luke who is the writer of the Gospel of St. Luke.  The Acts of the Apostles was originally a part of the Gospel but at the end of the first century, the four gospels were collected together and the Acts became a book by itself.

Who is St. Luke?

He was a citizen of Antioch, Syria.  His profession was a physician.  He accompanied St. Paul in his second missionary trip (from Troas to Philippi, Acts 16:10 – 17) and third trip (from Philippi to Jerusalem, Acts 20:5 – 21:18) and also accompanied him in his last trip to Rome as a prisoner and stayed with him during this time until his martyrdom in Rome after the martyrdom of St. Paul.  The Church celebrates his commemoration on the 22nd of Coptic month of Paapi (which corresponded to November the 1st in 2002).

When was the Book written?

Most probably in the year 62 AD, during the time he spent with St. Paul in prison.

To whom was the Book written?

To a dear friend of him, named “Theophilus” (i.e. The lover of God).  It is said that he lived in Alexandria, while others believe that he is a symbolic person.

The period between the Resurrection and the Ascension:

+ Forty days in which Jesus appeared to His disciples alive with many proofs telling them about matters related to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

+ The number of these appearances to the disciples, as recorded in the gospels and in 1 Co 15:5-9, is more than 10 times in Judea and Galilee.

+ He appeared also to Mary Magdalene, the other Marys, the disciples of Emmaus, and a second time to the disciples (the 2nd Sunday after the Resurrection) and another time at the sea of Tiberias. + The appearance of Christ alive after His death, was a confirmation of the Resurrection, its power, and glory, and a confirmation of His saying: “I am with you always and to the end of the Ages” (Mt 28:20).  In this period, Christ was teaching His disciples about the Kingdom of God, which is the subject of their preaching to the world and then he commissioned them to go and preach the Gospel in: 1- Jerusalem (Acts 1 – 7), 2- all Judea and Samaria (Acts 8 – 11:18), and 3- to the end of the world (Acts 11:18 – 28).

+ After Jesus Christ had told them that, He ascended to heaven at the Mount of Olives, while they were watching His Ascension (Acts 1:9-11).  The number of the believers was 120 persons and they were consistently praying in the Upper Room and agreed on the selection of Matthias to replace Judah the Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26).

CLASSIFICATION

1- Classification of Acts according to the Subject:

The book of Actsconsists of 6 particular phases; each phase has its unique character:

The First Phase: The descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, which is the beginning of the Christian Church in the world.

The Second Phase:The persecution of the growing Church and the martyrdom of Stephen the Deacon.  Saul was present at his killing and approved it.  This phase ends by Saul’s conversion to Christianity as the Lord appeared to him on his way to Damascus.

The Third Phase: The beginning of the ministry of Peter the Apostle among the Jews and the persecution which begins by the killing of James the brother of John and ends by the selection of Saul (Paul) as the apostle of the Gentiles.

The Fourth Phase: The beginning of the ministry of the Apostle Paul, and the convening of the First Council in Jerusalem.

The Fifth Phase: The evangelization along the coasts of Greece.

The Sixth Phase: St. Paul’s arrest and his trial before the Sanhedrin, the attempt to kill him, and his appeal to Caesar, which ends by his martyrdom in Rome.

2- Classification of Acts according to the Apostolic Characters:

The First section concerns the acts of St. Peter (Acts 3 – 12).

The Second section concerns the acts of St. Paul (Acts 13 – 28).

3- The Historical classification:

The First section: The beginning of the Christian Church by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

The Second section: The spread of the Church outside of Jerusalem.

The Third section: The ministry of Peter the Apostle among the Jews.

The Fourth section: The ministry of St. Paul among the Gentiles and his imprisonment in Rome.

This classification will be followed in the present study.

SECTION 1

1- The Beginning of the Apostolic Evangelization

The Apostolic evangelization started after the descent of the Holy Spirit by the sermon that Peter the Apostle gave, which included fourtopics:

1- The testimony of the prophecies on the Holy Spirit and the speaking of tongues.

2- The testimony of the prophecies on Jesus of Nazareth.

3- The testimony of the prophecies and eyewitnesses on the Resurrection of the Lord from the dead.

4- An invitation to repentance and faith in Christ.

Those who heard were convicted in their hearts with the Spirit; they repented and joined the Church this day, and their number was three thousand.  This was the first fruit of the Church of the circumcised (i.e. the Jews), which are the children of Abraham in truth who were circumcised by the Holy Spirit and believed in Christ.

2- The Characteristics of the First Church

1- A Growing Church

It started with a small group, not exceeding 120 persons, which was joined by 3000 individuals after the first sermon of St. Peter, then another 5000 souls after his second sermon.  In this way, the Church extended according to the words of Christ, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven (yeast), which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal (flour) till it was all leavened” (Mt. 13:33).   The Church grew not only in number of members but also in knowledge, faith, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, “the Churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5), “the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

2- A Persecuted Church

Persecution is the war of the devil against Jesus Christ in His body, which is the Church.  Therefore, the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:4).  The persecution of the Jews to the Church was first directed against Peter and John because of their preaching of Christ. They arrested them and presented them to be tried before the Sanhedrin, that is the highest court of the Jews, comprising 70 members headed by the High Priest.  This was the first time that the Disciples of Christ spent in prison.  Later on, St. Stephen (one of the seven deacons) was also arrested, and condemned to death by stoning.  Thus, he was the first to receive the crown of martyrdom in the Church.  Because of the persecution, many Christians were scattered everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4).  This was the beginning of an endless chain of persecution, which testifies that the Church is not of this world, and that it is preaching the Cross that her children bear.  But thanks to God, because when the Church is persecuted she grows and multiplies.

3- A Church preaching repentance

The Church received this commandment from her Master when He started His ministry preaching the good news of the Kingdom saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:14-15).  The day that the Church deviates from calling for repentance, she gets off track and looses her goal, which is the salvation of the souls.

4- A Praying Church

She started in the Upper Room where they were gathered as one soul.  Hence, prayer became the blessing of her life and the strength of her ministry:

A-             Through prayer the disciples knew God’s will to choose one to replace Judas, “They prayed and said, you, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen.”

B-            Through their prayers, the Lord sent His Angel and saved Peter from prison, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the Church was praying earnestly for him” (Acts 12:5).

C-             Through prayer and fasting the Holy Spirit told them to separate to Him Paul and Barnabas for the ministry, “Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:3).

D-             Through prayer and fasting Paul and Barnabas elected priests in every Church (Acts 14:23).

(To be continued)

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“And He said to them,

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

(Mk 16:15,16)

“Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”

(Acts 8:4)

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make any copies from these notes and distribute them to your relatives and friends. The fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspondence. Write to us: PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

Footnotes:


  1. Therefore, the Fellowship hopes that all members will study this Book with more diligence, since preaching is a major goal of the Fellowship.  That is why this “Introduction” of Acts will be published in 5 parts.

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