Have you ever felt like having a little guidance in your Bible reading would help you learn and understand more than you currently do?
Or maybe you heard an idea presented in a sermon and thought to yourself, “How on earth could I have missed that?!”
Learning and observing themes in certain books of the Bible can have a tremendous effect on your understanding of the book and whole Bible story.
The book of Acts comes at a special time in the Bible story and there are some unique things to watch out for as you read.
Christ had just risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and given the apostles the Great Commission. How do the disciples combine their experience of the risen Christ, the Old Testament prophecies about Christ, and the call to make disciples of all nations?
1. Highlight these three themes in different colors:
- The Holy Spirit
The purpose of highlighting these themes is to see how prevalent and powerful each of the themes are throughout the book. When you see the connection between these three themes and the events of Acts, you will see them in a new light and understand what God wants to teach you about them.Highlighting the Holy Spirit will encourage you to seek more the Spirit’s power in your own life.
Highlighting prayer will drive you to your knees and pray bold prayers to our loving and living God.
Highlighting the bold witness of the apostles will encourage you to be a bold witness and remember the life changing power of the gospel to save sinners.
2. Make note of Old Testament passages quoted.
The book of Acts marks a monumental shift from the anticipation of the Messiah’s coming to the proclamation of the Messiah’s coming. Making note of the use of the Old Testament in the book of Acts will give you insights into the amazing prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ and what the Jewish world was expecting in their Messiah.
This will deepen your appreciation for Christ and your understanding of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, and how He can claim in John 5:39 that, “All Scriptures testify about Me!”
Example: In Acts 2:14-41, Peter addresses Jews in Jerusalem quoting Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110 to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The passage ends describing the powerful results: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).
3. Make note of how conversions are worded.
Christians describe conversion to Christianity in a number of ways: some people say that a person “came to Christ,” “went forward during the altar call”, or “prayed the prayer of salvation.” Some of these phrases can be theologically inaccurate. Over time the phrases you use will shape your understanding of true Christian conversion.
Because using a certain type of language over and over again can shape our theology, we should use the words of Scripture as a model to describe conversion so we are expressing conversion like God does.
For example, phrases like “The Lord opened her heart…” (Acts 16:14), “…for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39) and “and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48) emphasize God’s work and sovereignty in salvation. Our salvation is not a personal choice, but rather it is a gracious act of our sovereign God.
4. Follow along with Maps.
The book of Acts describes the true history of the early church and the spread of the gospel. The implications of this are that the people and places mentioned in the book are historically true and present a factual picture of the events that “turned the world upside down“, as Acts 17:6 says (see additional fact #2 below).
This can also help us realize the length the apostles went to proclaim the gospel to all people, Jews and Gentiles.
The ESV Study Bible includes maps on many of the pages in the book of Acts that help illustrate the various places mentioned in Acts and routes taken by the Apostles as they proclaim the gospel. This will help you place yourself in the shoes (or sandals) of the apostles and understand the kindness of God in the Gospel being for all people.
Many other Bibles also contain maps at the back where you can see the great lengths traveled by the apostles to share the good news of Christ.
3 Bonus facts to enhance your study:
1. Consider Acts as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Many commentators see it as one story in two parts, the Gospel of Luke being part 1 and Acts being the follow up volume. Luke is primarily about the work of Jesus Christ during His lifetime, while the book of Acts starts with the ascension of Christ highlights the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church.
2. Luke and Acts are both well respected by many historians. A Nobel Prize winning historian named Sir William Ramsay was so impressed with the historical accuracy of Luke that he renounced atheism and became a believer. In his book The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Ramsay writes, “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness…Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians” (page 222). As a Christian, it should be no surprise that a book inspired by the Holy Spirit is historically accurate!
3. The book of Acts is unlike any other biblical book. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when He was in the flesh, while much of the rest of the New Testament is made up of letters written by the apostles to the early church after the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Acts describes the amazing transformation of the disciples from doubters who denied Christ, to world changers filled with the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts does not finish the story of God’s amazing work through His church. It continues today.
You can do a lot more than just read the book of Acts. As you engage your faith, you’ll begin to see Christ and the church that he gave his life for in a new light. God’s Word ignites our hearts for worship and for reaching out to our world with the Gospel. The same Holy Spirit dwells in us and gives us power to be a light and impact in this dark world.
The first four tips were shared by D.A. Carson, Research Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in a class lecture. The ideas are his used with permission. The explanation/bonus tips are original.
A suggested resource from Dr. Carson and David Morlan is The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In, a small-group DVD set based on the theme of the 2013 Gospel Coalition National Conference.