Acts 1

1. The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

To start out this book, we see the author, Luke, tying this account back to the former account he had written. That account, of course, is the book of Luke, which we have already studied. This account, the Holy Spirit reveals to us through Luke, was written regarding what the Lord Jesus began to do and teach. In other words, it was not a complete account, for it did not finish recording His work at that time. Now, the book of Acts will record for us the continuation of that work, and the things the Lord accomplished through His apostles who represented Him on earth.

This fact, I believe, is important in understanding the whole book. These apostles were not just acting on their own, but were doing the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not just their words, but also their very works were inspired. As Paul recorded in Romans 15:18-19:

18. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient— 19. in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Paul was not just talking about what he had preached for Christ, but also of the very things that Christ had done through him. Thus, Christ was revealed not just through his words, but also through his acts. And this was not just true of Paul, but was also true of all the apostles who acted at that time. That is why it is the “Acts of the Apostles” that are recorded here. Their very actions were done on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Luke dedicates his book to a certain man named “Theophilus.” This name means “beloved friend of God,” and probably describes the character of Theophilus. We can recognize Theos as the Greek word for “God,” and philus is related to phileo, which is the Greek word for a friendship-love. Thus, Theophilus was a man who had a friendship love for God, and probably whom God considered as a friend as well. Yet I think there is also a lesson for us in this name, for if we too seek to be friends of God, we need to learn and believe the things written in this book. Perhaps ultimately the Holy Spirit wants all who consider themselves “beloved friends of God” to read, understand, and believe the things written in this book. I am not saying that there was not a real man named “Theophilus,” for there may have been. Yet I think all who wish to be friends of God can take up this book and learn what it is that God would have us to know through what He has written.

The word translated “account” here is the Greek word logos, the same word used to tell us that the Lord Jesus Christ is the “Word” in John’s gospel. This book too is the logos of God. It is the written word, and Jesus Christ is the living word.

2. until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,

This was where Luke’s former account had stopped, at the day in which He was taken up. We could see this if we were to look back at Luke 24. Now, the Holy Spirit through Luke will continue that account, although in these first few verses, he will review, and cover some of the same ground that was covered in the last chapter of Luke. This review is important, however, for Luke will bring out some new facts about this time that will help to set up what we now will read in the book of Acts.

Notice that it was through the Holy Spirit that the Lord Jesus had given His commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen. All that the Lord Jesus did was done in the power of God. Here, the word “the” does not appear before “Holy Spirit.” I believe an important truth to understand as we go through the book of Acts will be the truth regarding the name “the Holy Spirit” in the book of Acts.

In English we have just one phrase, “the Holy Spirit.” This is a translation, however, of four different phrases in Greek. First of all, the word order is sometimes “Holy Spirit,” and sometimes “Spirit Holy.” In English, of course, we have a set word order, and adjectives always are supposed to come before the noun they modify. In Greek, however, there is no set word order as to whether an adjective should come before or after the noun. Therefore, writers were free to put these words in whatever order they chose. Thus, they would put first the word they wanted to emphasize. Therefore, in the phrase, “Spirit Holy,” we have emphasized that we are talking about the SPIRIT, the holy (one). This is actually the more common phrase in Greek. When the author wanted to emphasize His holiness, however, the opposite phrase would be used, and we would have “Holy Spirit,” as if he was saying the HOLY Spirit, emphasizing how holy He really is.

Yet this is just two phrases. The other two are dependent upon whether the word “the” is used or not. Thus, we can either have, “the Holy the Spirit” and “the Spirit the Holy,” or else we can have “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit Holy.” In Greek, whether or not the “the”s are used is totally arbitrary in most cases. In a few cases, grammar demands the use of the “the”s, and then we cannot tell for sure what was meant. In the majority of cases where the “the”s were optional, and in every case where there are no “the”s, I believe that the phrases with the word “the” included emphasize the PERSON of the Holy Spirit, and the phrases without the word “the” emphasize the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, when He appears most plainly distinct from the other parts of God, has to do always with His power and work. He is the Giver, and He is associated with His gifts. He is the Worker, and He is associated with His work. He is the Source of power, and He is associated with the power. Thus, when the phrase is “the Spirit the Holy,” the Giver is emphasized, whereas when the phrase is “spirit holy,” the gift is emphasized. We might say that “Holy Spirit,” without the “the”s present, carries more of the idea of “holy power” than anything else, although of course that power is always connected back to the person of the Holy Spirit Who gave it. That goes the other way too, and the Person of the Holy Spirit must always be associated with His power and work. The difference is one of emphasis, and whether we are guided to focus upon the Worker or upon the work.

(Note that sometimes the phrase occurs with only one “the,” such as “the Holy Spirit” or “the Spirit Holy.” In this case, we take the meaning as being the same as with a “the” in front of both words, and referring to the Giver rather than the gifts. It is a less complete phrase, but the Person of the Spirit seems to still be emphasized.)

Now in this verse in Acts 1:2, the phrase is “spirit holy,” and so it is the power of the Holy Spirit that is meant. The Lord had given these commandments through the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that Jesus Christ didn’t know what commands to give until the Holy Spirit told Him. Rather, this means that His commandments to them were given through the Divine power of God. This does not make Christ less than God, but equal to Him.

The Lord Jesus gave these commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen. Needless to say, this word “apostles” is going to be a crucial one as we study through the book of Acts. Let us examine this word a little more closely. This word is actually apostolois in Greek, although its simplest (singular) form is apostolos or “apostle.” This word means a “sent one,” and is connected to the Greek verb apostello, which means “sent.” Yet if we stop there, I believe we will be missing some of the truth. There is another word for sending, which is pempo. This word means a simple sending. The word apostello is more than just a simple sending. There is more to it. An apostello sending is a sending with power or authority.

Now if I were to give you the money to go on a trip to Cambodia on a vacation, I would be sending you there. The Greeks would represent this by the word pempo. Yet if the President of the United States should send you to Cambodia as the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, that too would be a sending, but a far different sending than when I sent you there on vacation. The President would be sending you with authority, and his office and power would be behind it. This kind of sending the Greeks would represent by apostello. This word more precisely means a commissioning, a sending with authority. One who was sent with authority became an apostle.

Now understand that being an apostle thus was not a title that you had, like we give men titles like “president” or “CEO” or “pastor” today. It was not an office that you held, but rather a job that you did. Your commissioning could be for a long or even indefinite period of time, or it could be for a short period of time. You could be sent to do many things, or you could be sent to do only one thing. What was important to this word is that you were sent. These apostles, then, were the ones He had chosen to commission with His authority to do His work on His behalf.

Moving on, we read that these are the apostles whom the Lord had chosen. This word “chosen” is the Greek word eklegomai, which is sometimes translated as “elected.” These men were elected by the Lord Jesus, not to be saved or to believe, but rather to perform the special service which He had called them to. This is the way the word “elected” is always used. It does not have to do with being elected for salvation. It has to do with those who already believe, and they are elected for service.

3. to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Here we learn that the Lord presented Himself alive to His disciples after His suffering. Of course, this is referring to His suffering on the cross. His disciples were well aware of this suffering. They knew about it, they had mourned greatly because of it, their hearts had been broken through it and their hopes dashed. John had even seen the Lord die upon the cross. So these men knew all about His sufferings. Yet these same men saw the Lord Jesus alive, and many infallible proofs were given them of this fact. These were not men who could have been fooled about the Lord’s death, if there could be such a thing as failing to die upon a Roman cross. Nor are these men who could have been fooled by one claiming to be the Jesus Christ that they had known. These men knew the Lord, and His appearance to them after His sufferings was indisputable evidence to them that He had indeed risen from the dead.

We read then that the Lord was seen by His disciples during forty days. We know from other passages such as John 20:26 that He was not with them constantly during this time, but, as it says here, was seen by them during this period. Yet what He did with them at this time is crucially important. For we read in Luke 24:44 some of the words of the Lord to His disciples during this time.

44. Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

During this time, the Lord was teaching His disciples. Moreover, the things He was teaching were not misunderstood by them. They did not fail to learn from the truth the Lord was setting forth to them. Rather, we read that He opened their understanding, so that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Imagine what it would have been like to be among these men, to hear the Lord Himself teaching what the Old Testament had to say about Him, and having your understanding opened by Him so you could see it all! These men, once this teaching was done, must have had great knowledge of the truth.

Now what I have just set forth is of great importance, for it will affect all that comes after this in the book of Acts. That is, if the disciples had their understanding opened and they comprehended the Scriptures, then certainly they must have understood the point of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and how it related to God’s plan regarding Him and His work. This is important, because many seem to view the twelve in particular as generally clueless men who never seemed to really “get” or understand the truths the Lord was trying to teach them. Those who look at it this way always seem to view themselves as being of clearer understanding or possessing more intelligent minds, and thus believe that they understand the truths that these men missed. Yet I believe in the light of Luke 24:44-45, it is absolutely wrong to think of the disciples, from this point on, as being clueless regarding what the Lord’s ministry and purpose had been all about. They knew it and understood it from then on, for the Lord had revealed it to them.

Finally, we read here that what the Lord taught His disciples was the kingdom of God. He was not teaching them about a new religion He was going to start called Christianity. He was not teaching them about some organization He wanted them to form called “the church.” Nor was He focusing on what He was going to do in heaven, or proclaiming it as their future home. Instead, He was speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. He was telling them about God’s government of the world, the very government that John the Baptist and the Lord Himself had proclaimed throughout their earthly ministries. Nothing had changed here. He had not left the “physical kingdom” behind for some “spiritual kingdom” in their hearts. Rather, He was teaching the very same thing He had taught from the beginning. Thus, from this point on, these men who had their understandings opened understood the kingdom and what it was that the Lord wanted them to do regarding it. In light of this, it is only a mark of pure, personal ignorance for men to claim from this point on that the disciples did not understand what the Lord had been teaching when He told them about the kingdom of God. They knew it and they understood it in a way that men in general today utterly fail to do. It is the scholars and preachers of today, not the disciples, who do not understand the kingdom or what Christ was talking about. That is clear from the fact that the disciples had their understandings opened. We can only pray that our understanding likewise will be opened, so that we too can know what it was the Lord was talking about, and what His ministry was all about.

4. And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me;

Now we are told of a specific instance when the Lord was assembled together with His disciples. At this time, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem. In Luke 24:13, we see how some of the disciples that had followed Him were starting to scatter from Jerusalem after the Lord had died. Now that He has shown Himself as risen from the dead, however, He commands them to remain there. That is not to say that they were there from His resurrection throughout these forty days, however, for the command given to them by the angels was to meet Him in Galilee. (Matthew 28:10 and Mark 16:7) They certainly did go there and meet Him, as we can see in Matthew 28:16 and John 21:1. However, at this point in the forty days they are back in Jerusalem, and their command is to remain there and to wait for the Promise of the Father.

What was this promise of the Father? The Lord assures them that it is the same promise which they had already heard about from Him. If we look at the first book of Luke, we can see clearly what the Lord was referring to in Luke 24:49.

49. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

Here, the Promise of the Father is defined as “power from on high.” This “power from on high” is the same as the “spirit holy” we talked about earlier: the power and gift of the Holy Spirit. These apostled men had been promised that they would receive this power, and now the Lord commands them to remain at Jerusalem until this promise is fulfilled.

5. “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Now the Lord turns their minds back to the baptism of John. “John” means “Jehovah is a Gracious Giver,” corresponding to Jonah in the Hebrew. This verse is a reference to John the Baptizer. John truly had baptized men with water. Yet now, the Lord contrasts this with a new baptism which they were to undergo which would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

Here, we come upon this important word “baptism.” Our understanding of this word is also going to be very important as we study this book of Acts. Many believe that baptism means a water ritual. Yet how could that be, when the Lord here contrasts a baptism which is a water ritual with another baptism which is not? For certainly the baptism with the Holy Spirit was not a water ritual.

The truth is that the word “baptism” is not a translation of a Greek word at all. Instead, it is a transliteration of a Greek word. In Greek, this word is baptismos, and you can see that the translators have just changed the ending to turn this into an English word. So what we have in our Bibles is a Greek word transliterated to English. Our question then has to be, “What does the Greek word baptismos mean?”

Now some have suggested the words “dip” or “immerse” as translations of the Greek word baptismos. Yet I do not believe that these are accurate translations of the word. If baptize means “immerse,” then how could the Lord Jesus “baptize” His people with fire, as we read He will do in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16? Surely He would not wish to immerse those who obediently received the baptism of John in fire?

It is true that the original, and we might say the basic, meaning of the Greek word “baptism” was “to dip.” Yet this word developed over time, and was used in new situations and given new meanings and connotations. This is not an unusual thing, but is common with many words. A great example is the word “broadcast,” which originally meant just to scatter seeds, as a farmer would do when planting a field. Yet I do not think many people would even recognize this as a definition of “broadcast” anymore, but rather think of the transmission of information over great distances. So this word has changed and developed in meaning, though certainly we can see how its basic definition has guided how it has been used and what it has developed to mean.

The same is true of the word baptismos. While it initially meant merely “to dip,” it eventually developed a deeper meaning, more than likely through its use by the dyeing industry. When you dye a piece of cloth, you will start off with a white or off-white cloth and a dye of blue, red, purple, or some other color. Then, you “dip” the cloth in the dye, and when it comes out, it is no longer a white cloth. Now, it is a blue or a red or a purple cloth. The act of dipping it in the dye caused these two separate elements, the cloth and the dye, to be permanently identified with each other. The dye and the cloth are now identified or merged together, and what was once colored dye and a plain white cloth are now together to make a colored cloth.

Thus, through this usage, I believe that the word baptismos came to take on the meaning of an identification. Yet this is not just any identification, but a dye-and-cloth type of identification: one that is meant to be permanent and results in a merger.

I think the best illustration of this idea of “baptism” that we can come up with is a marriage. In a marriage, you take two individuals who were completely independent of each other, and you merge them together into one family. This is demonstrated in many ways, one of which is that the woman often even takes on the man’s name, so that she could be referred to as “Mrs. John Smith.” These two people are now identified with each other and merged in partnership with each other. Of course, it is up to them then to act as a unit, and to make that merger and that identification a reality in their lives. So, according to the Greek use of the word “baptism,” we could call marriage a baptism of two people with each other. They are identified with each other, even to the point that they are merged together into one family. This is what “baptism” means in Greek.

So what was it that John was identifying or merging people with? He was using a water ceremony, but this was just a symbol and a ritual that went along with the true baptism. Surely there is no value in being identified or merged with water! We learn what John’s baptism was really all about in Mark 1:4, where we read:

4. John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. I have discussed this word “repentance” in my studies of Matthew and Mark. The word in Greek is metanoia, coming from two Greek words. Meta is a Greek word that means “after,” and noia is a Greek word that means “mind.” The idea of calling upon someone to be metanoia is to make up your mind now, so that no matter what comes after, you will not change it.

The idea of metanoia is clear in the wedding vows. There, a man and a woman pledge that “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,” that they will remain married to each other. Of course, when getting married, neither one of the two knows what the future might bring. It could be that riches are in their future. It could be that instead they will face poverty. It could be that they will live out their lives in relatively good health. Or it could be that one will soon be diagnosed with a chronic illness. It could be that things in their lives will go better, or it could be that things in their lives will go worse. Yet this wedding vow promises that, no matter what comes after, these two people will stay married to each other. If they mean that vow, then what they have is truly an “aftermind.”

A better translation of this word metanoia than “repentance” would be “submission.” In other words, John was identifying people as submissive to God. John’s baptism was a promise, just like the marriage vows. Those who participated in his baptism were claiming to have the aftermind. Of course, when the situations that came later actually happened, it would be made clear whether they actually did have an aftermind or not, just as the marriage that follows the wedding vows proves whether the person who made those vows truly meant them or not.

So John’s baptism had been an identification with a submissive attitude to God. Yet what of this new baptism with the Holy Spirit that Christ tells His disciples about here in Acts 1:5? First of all, we need to analyze the phrase “the Holy Spirit” here. As I discussed in verse 2, there are four different phrases used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, we need to know if the definite article “the” really occurs in Greek or not. If “the” is there, then the emphasis is on the person of the Holy Spirit, whereas if it is not, the emphasis is on His works and His power. Well, in this case, the definite articles are not there. The Greek calls this a baptism “in spirit holy.” In other words, they were to be identified, not with the Person of the Holy Spirit, but instead with His work, His gifts, and His power.

Understanding this is very important, for this casts this whole baptism in a very different light from that in which most like to present it. If the point of this verse was that people were to be baptized with the Person of the Holy Spirit, then this is something that could be done internally and invisibly, and be merely something God does in a person’s heart when he is saved. Yet identification with the power of the Holy Spirit could not be this way. One who is identified with power has to demonstrate that power. I could not claim to be a powerful person unless I was able to demonstrate the power I hold. In the same way, no one can rightfully claim to be baptized with the spirit holy of God without being able to demonstrate that holy power in his life and actions. To claim to be identified with holy power, I need to be able to back up that claim with demonstrations of that power. Otherwise, my claim is just an idle boast. So it is with those who try to claim that they have received the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They need to be able to demonstrate this power, or what they claim is just empty bragging.

Now some do claim to evidence such power. Yet let all such ever be ready to answer those who question the power they claim to have. The power of the Spirit is a clear demonstration. It is not something that can be faked, or something that can be claimed and yet not deliver when it is called upon to do so. We have every right to ask those who claim to be identified with God’s power to demonstrate that power. If they cannot do so, then they are not speaking the truth.

These men, however, had no reason to doubt whether or not they would receive power from God. The Lord Jesus had promised them that they would, and not many days from then. These men had every right to expect that great power would be granted to them, and they did indeed receive that power, as the Lord said, not many days from when He made this statement to them, as we will learn about in Acts 2.

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