The ongoing ministry of Christ

The full name of the book of Acts is The Acts of the Apostles.  Luke himself didn’t give this name to the book, of course, but this is the name by which it came to be known in the early church.[1]  The name is indicative of the subject matter, although it’s a bit misleading because there is very little information given about the ministry of any of the other apostles except Peter and Paul—and Paul wasn’t even one of the original twelve.

Because of the prominent role played by the Holy Spirit, some have suggested the book should be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit.[2]  There is some merit to this.  Clearly the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in the book. 

I think the book might best be called The Continuing Acts of Jesus Christ.[3]  Why?  Because in it we find Jesus continuing the ministry he began while he was on earth.  This is how Luke himself viewed the situation. 

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  
– Acts 1:1-2

The implication of saying that his first book (the Gospel of Luke) dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach is that Luke thinks of this second book as dealing with what Jesus continued to do and teach.  This is clear from a number of passages.  For instance, on one occasion Peter testified before the Council:

If we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.
– Acts 4:9-10

In chapter 9 we find the following miracle:

There he [Peter] found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed.  And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.”  And immediately he rose.  And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
– Acts 9:33-35

The acts of healing performed by the apostles were really the acts of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he was pleased to perform through them.  This was in accord with the promise Jesus gave them on the night before his passion when he said.

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
– John 14:13-14

However, it was not just in acts of healing that Jesus continued his work.  Scripture makes it clear that it was he who poured out the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  Peter said,

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
– Acts 2:32-33

Remember that John the Baptist had said, “I have baptized you with water, but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 1:8). 

Jesus’ continuing activity after his ascension included bringing people to faith.  Consider how Luke describes the conversion of Lydia. 

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.  One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
– Acts 16:13-14

Jesus does not sit idle in heaven awaiting the second coming, but is actively engaged in ministering in and through his church—which is his body—blessing the preaching of the gospel and opening the hearts of unbelievers.  It would be a very discouraging thing indeed to think that the work he has called us to in making his gospel known and bringing the nations of the earth to the obedience of faith has to be done in our own strength or by our own ingenuity. 

[1] According to Munck, it was Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.xiii.3) who gave this name to the book (The Acts of the Apostles in The Anchor Bible, p. xvii). F. F. Bruce has suggested the title, History of Christian Origins (The Book of Acts in NICNT, p. 3)
[2] See I. Howard Marshall, Acts in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 1980), p. 32; F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 31
[3] Compare Marshall, p. 60 and Bruce, p. 30


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