Why do you read Acts? To figure out if the gifts of the Spirit are for today or if they’ve ceased? How should we baptism? Believers? Children? What about church politics? How should the church today be run? How should we do missions? How does the Holy Spirit guide us today? Is there one or two fillings? These are important points to consider, but are we missing the main point?
Alan J. Thompson writes the 27th volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology [NSBT] series. The series usually takes a topic and goes through various passages of Scripture (Beale and the Temple, Ortlund and Adultery, Shead and the Word of God in Jeremiah). Here, Thompson writes this volume not to give us a full-blown theology of Acts, but to “see Luke’s ‘framework’ of God’s kingdom and the reign of Christ more clearly” in Acts (13). “Now that Jesus has suffered, died, risen and ascended as he said he would, what happens next? As Jesus’ teaching indicated, the kingdom has come ‘already’; nevertheless, the kingdom has ‘not yet’ been consummated in fullness and there will be a period in-between” (43). Luke shows how God’s New Covenant people live ‘between the times’ by framing the book of Acts with two references to God’s kingdom on each side of the book (1.3, 6; 28.23, 31).
One thing I’m continuing to learn is that I have to relearn a lot of what I’ve learned about the Bible during my youth. The main parts are correct (Jesus is my Savior), but there are many things I’ve taken for granted that I’ve come to realize don’t make much sense. Acts has never held much interest with me.There’s some action, a lot of traveling, and not much theology. At least, that’s what I used to think. It’s the book of Acts that shows us how the Church transitioned from living under the Old Covenant into the New. And it’s Thompson’s book that assists in grasping the broader message of Acts.
In his introduction, Thompson tells us that “Luke is writing to provide reassurance to believers about the nature of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the spread of the message about Jesus, and the nature of God’s people following Jesus’ ascension [Lk 1.1, 4]” (19). Luke doesn’t simply provide us with an early church history for our sake, but instead a ‘biblical history.’ Luke imitates LXX language, fulfillment language (Christology, the mission to the Gentiles, and the Holy Spirit), themes that were central to the OT (Jerusalem, Temple, and Law), certain episodes in Acts have similarities to the OT, and the theological understanding that God is in control and keeps his covenant promises. Luke’s Gospel shows how Christ fulfills the OT, and Acts shows that Jesus continues to reign in heaven and work in his people.
Chapter 1 takes us through the speeches of Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 13) where they cover God’s sovereignty in Israel’s history. God’s work is seen in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and his purposes are accomplished in the life of the church. Acts emphasizes the continuing reign of the Lord Jesus (hence the title of Thompson’s book), and how the kingdom of God, which began with Christ, continues to expand with his people. In the midst of the growth of the church through Jews and now Gentiles, there will be suffering in this interim period (Acts 14.22). Christ reigns, but his kingdom is still ‘not yet.’ Suffering happens in the midst of evangelism and growing the church. God’s people suffer because they follow a suffering Saviour, and churches need encouragement and strengthening.
In Chapter 2 Thompson focuses on the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. “As Schreiner observes… in Ezekiel 37, it is clear that ‘resurrection signifies the fulfillment of God’s promises, the inauguration of the age to come – the restoration of exile and the return of Israel'” (72). All the OT Scriptures pointed to the death and resurrection of Christ. Resurrection was the hope of Israel. Because Jesus was resurrection, the future age begins now. Now forgiveness can be received, along with the Holy Spirit, and salvation.
Chapter 3 looks at how God fulfills his promises of restoring his people. In Acts, both Jews and Gentiles belong together as God’s people because they have received the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word. Thompson starts on Acts 1.6-8 to show how those verses are programmatic to the book of Acts. The disciples ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1.6). Jesus “[affirms] and [clarifies] their role in this restoration” in 1.7-8 (108). ‘Israel’ and ‘Judea’ are seen at Pentecost, ‘Samaria’ points to the northern kingdom (as there has always been a division between the northern and southern kingdoms since Solomon’s son, and now Israel will be united), and ‘the ends of the earth’ (eunuchs and Gentiles) are brought into being God’s people.
In Chapter 4 Thompson tells us why the Holy Spirit plays such an important role in Acts. “The Holy Spirit has been poured out in fulfillment of God’s promises for the last days because God’s kingdom has been inaugurated through [Jesus]” (125). The Spirit is not an ‘additional gift’, but everyone who believes on Christ has the Spirit.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about ‘the end of an era.’ Now that Jesus is reigning, what happens to the old system (the Temple and the Law)? Chapter 5, Jesus replaces the temple. The lame man in Acts 3 is helpless outside of the Temple door, but “Jesus fulfills all of God’s saving promises in Scripture,” and he is sufficient to heal this man (156). Jesus is the cornerstone, he has universal authority, and he has given authority to the apostles.
Chapter 6, with this authority, the teaching of the apostles is held over the law? Why? Jesus came and fulfilled the law, and now the apostles are his authorized delegates who are to proclaim Christ’s gospel. All of God’s blessings are found in Jesus, the one who is now ruling and reigning. Although the law doesn’t have direct authority over believers, we see in Acts that there are some sensitivities to Jews (Timothy is still circumcised in Acts 16 and Paul makes vows in Acts 21, all done to reach more Jews with the gospel).
If you’re a teacher, or a pastor, or if you simply interested in the book of Acts, then you should really consider buying this book. Thompson is detailed, but he works to start true to Scripture and to keep the Luke’s main themes in mind. To be faithful to Luke’s intentions, the expositor must keep Luke’s central themes in mind. Any readers who takes this book into consideration will come away knowing much more about how Christ fulfills the OT and how he sits at the right hand of God, ruling, reigning, and leading his people to victory.
- Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (September 16, 2011)
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