“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised.” Acts 1:4b, GNB (Good News Bible)
This is the 14th memory verses that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The “Table of Contents” is available in the series introductory article.
Immediate Literary Context
Verse 4 is part of the introductory passage of Acts, which is covered by verses 1 – 5:
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
As is suggested by the opening phrase, the author of Acts is the same as one of the gospels. That author is not John, but rather Luke which may confuse some readers since the ordering of the New Testament has John as the fourth and last gospel before Acts, separating Luke from Acts. The Greek name Theophilus means “someone who loves God”, and in this way, Luke’s audience is not just the individual he knew as Theophilus, but also believers like us who also love God.
In these opening verses of Acts, Luke summarises Jesus’ ministry after the resurrection. He records that Jesus spent 40 days on earth after Easter. Luke wrote that his Gospel was about everything that Jesus began to do, and everything that Jesus began to teach. After he had returned to his Father, Jesus continued to do things and teach. Luke’s second book thus describes these things. Jesus continued his work by his Holy Spirit, by means of his apostles. The Greek word ‘apostolos’ means a person with a message. An apostle is empowered with special authority from the person who commissioned him. Therefore an apostle could act for the person who sent him. So, the apostles too would be leaders of Christians, as Jesus was their leader. Jesus chose his 12 disciples to be his apostles. By this time, Judas would have been replaced.
When we look at what Jesus continued to teach during his 40-day post resurrection life with the disciples, he continued to teach about the Kingdom of God/Heaven. God’s Kingdom had come as a result of Jesus’ life, death and now resurrection. Of all the conversations and experiences during that six week period, Luke draws our attention to these significant words of the Lord, which form part of our memory verse:
Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
At the start of verse 4, Luke mentions that Christ was eating with them. Although more of a subtle point, it nonetheless demonstrates the humanity of Jesus, even during this time after his resurrection – Jesus needed to eat. The power of these first words of Jesus recorded by Luke is really the Father’s promise. The Father had promised that power from above would come to the disciples.
In reality, verse four is also contextualised by the next verses, up to verse eight, which collectively demonstrate that God was promising the disciples/apostles the gift of His Holy Spirit as a means to help them in the ministry of teaching and sharing the Kingdom of God throughout Judea, Samaria unto the ends of the earth.
Wider Literary Context
The book of Acts is an abbreviation of the fuller title, just like the majority of New Testament books are a shorten form:
- Gospel according to Matthew > Matthew
- Acts of the Apostles > Acts
- Letter to the Church in Rome > Romans
One exception exists to this naming convention – the book of Revelation is named as such because it is the first word of the book.
Luke was one of the best educated disciples of Christ since his profession was that of a doctor. As a gentile, he worked and travelled with Paul. Luke was very careful about what he wrote. He knew that some things were true. And he wrote only those things. At the beginning of his *Gospel, he wrote this. ‘You have heard many things. I am writing this account so that you will know the truth about them’. Luke’s journeys with Paul mean that some of the events recorded in Acts overlap with the letters Paul would write to the various churches around the Mediterranean. He constant use of “we” and “us” indicates his presence along Paul in the work of sharing the Gospel. After Luke had arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17), he stayed in Judea. He stayed there for two years. Then he left to travel to Rome (Acts 27:1). He went to Rome with Paul. While Luke was in Judea, he probably spoke to other witnesses. They told him about the other events that he describes.
Luke had several reasons why he wrote Acts. People were telling false stories about the believers. They were afraid that Christians wanted to make trouble. Luke wanted the Roman rulers to know that this was not true. He wanted to show that Christians helped other people to behave well. Luke was trying to show that it was good for the Roman government. Luke wrote about many miracles. God gave to Christians the power to cure people. Further, God rescued Peter from prison by a miracle. So, anyone who opposed the Christians was opposing God. He also wanted to show to the Jews that the Christian faith was not a separate religion. Instead, it made Judaism complete, because Jesus is the Messiah, and had come to fulfil the law, not overturn it.
However, Luke had one main reason why he wrote this book. The good news about Jesus had travelled from Jerusalem to Rome. Luke wanted to record how that happened. Rome was the most important city in the known world centred around the Mediterranean. Luke showed that the gospel was for all people in every nation. Not only was it for Jews but it was also for the Gentiles.
The structure of Acts can be divided into six parts. In this design, each part ends with a report that more people were joining the church.
1. Acts 1:1-6:7
In the first part, Luke describes how the church grew in Jerusalem. This part ends like this:
So, God’s message spread. The disciples in Jerusalem continued to increase quickly in number. And very many priests obeyed the faith.
2. Acts 6:8-9:31
In this second part, Luke shared how the good news reached Samaria because of Stephen’s death. This part ends like this:
Meanwhile, the church all over Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a peaceful period. The Holy Spirit made the church strong and he encouraged the Christians. They respected the Lord and more people joined the church.
3. Acts 9:32-12:24
In part 3, we are introduced to Paul and how Paul encountered Jesus. This happened on the road to Damascus. Then the gospel reached Antioch, the capital city in Syria. Peter acceptance of Cornelius into the church was significant because Cornelius was a Gentile. As part of this, God revealed to Peter through the dream of food that His Gospel was indeed for the world and gentiles, beyond the chosen people who were the Jews.
God’s message continued to grow and it continued to spread.
4. Acts 12:25-16:5
Luke describes how the gospel spread through more countries. It ends with the words:
So, the Christians became stronger in the faith and more people joined the churches daily.
5. Acts 16:6-19:20
Through these stories and journeys, the good news about Jesus reached Europe. Paul started a new church in Corinth, Greece. To this church Paul would write two letters – 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Paul also started a new church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a very important city. It was in the same country that is called Turkey today and Paul’s letter to Ephesus we read today as the book of Ephesians. This part ends like this:
In this manner, the Lord’s message continued to increase in power and it spread widely.
6. Acts 19:21-28:31
In the final part, Luke tells us that Paul reached Rome. When it ends, Paul is in prison. There, ‘he preached boldly about God’s kingdom. He taught the facts about the Lord Jesus Christ and nobody tried to stop him.’
Alternate Three-Part Structure
An alternate view suggest a three-part book:
- Chapters 1 – 12
- From Jerusalem to Antioch
- The history of the planting and extension of the church among the Jews by the ministry of Peter
- Chapters 13 – 21
- Paul’s missionary journeys
- The history of the extension and planting of the church among the Gentiles
- Chapters 22 – 28
- Paul in Rome
- The journey from Antioch to Rome and continued ministry to the Gentiles
Since Luke ends Acts with Paul’s arrest in Rome, but remains silent on what we know today were the acts of Nero in persecuting the believers, there is a possibility that Luke finished writing this book around 62 AD – Nero had many Christians killed two years later in 64 AD.
Interestingly, whilst the time period and experiences overlapped, Luke consistently did not make reference to the numerous letters that Paul wrote to the other churches. In part, it is believed that Luke’s focus was on writing a history of the planting of the church, and not to its training or edification, which was the contrasting purpose and motivation for Paul’s writings. The relation, however, between this history and the epistles of Paul highlights many undesigned and unintentional coincidences, all proving the authenticity of the New Testament writings.
As part of drawing out words of application, Jesus also significantly associates waiting for the Holy Spirit (memory verse) with John’s baptism. John’s baptism was for the repentance of sins whereas the baptism of the Holy Spirit was for the empowering of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Water is the natural medium for John’s baptism but Jesus was now telling them to wait for a spiritual medium of baptism – “power from on high.” In other words, the immersion into the Holy Spirit was to be released from heaven to earth with spiritual power. Both the power of heaven would reside within us as well as having a Christ-like character and capability.
One of the main realities of the resurrection of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is new life. Resurrection power is promised to every believer in Christ and we receive it in the same way that Jesus gave it, by accepting his sacrifice on the cross as an atonement of our sins. However this is only the beginning of new life. God gives us both the ability and the power to accomplish this through His Holy Spirit. There is a process that every believer goes through of emptying one’s self in order to receive more of His life. This is the process of sanctification and it is a work of the Holy Spirit which is accomplished through our cooperation.
The significance of Christ’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit is plain and simple. God the Father sent his Son to suffer and die in order to redeem us from our sins. Since Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins has been passed onto us his followers. The power we have received in the Holy Spirit is for one basic purpose – to be witnesses to this fact, that Jesus is alive.
- We must not stop there but proclaim how he has brought New Life to us, forgiven our sins and placed his Spirit‐life within us.
- Definitely we must be Christ‐like in our lives, revealing a godliness and holiness in the midst of a world hell‐bent on destruction.
- We need to desire and put into action the gifts of the Spirit of God for the sake of the lost and for the sake of the faithful.
- We need to give up our self‐driven lives and receive the empowering life of Christ through the Holy Spirit by moving with him in obedience to his Word.
- Submitting to God brings constant renewal in a person’s life; and will bear much spiritual fruit for God.
- We are often faced with decisions, the consequences of which, may lead to more or less of the life of Jesus in us. How we think is very important because what we think leads to actions and words. Actions and words sow to the flesh or to the spirit.