The Book of Acts gives the history of the Christian church and the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as the mounting opposition to it. Christianity spread from Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, to Asia, Africa, and Rome in Europe, the Gentile capital. It first went to the Jews, but they, as a nation continually reject it. It spread from believing Jews to non-Jews (Gentiles).
Spreading the gospel was not without hardship. The apostles were imprisoned, beaten, and prosecuted.
The first chapter begins with Jesus Christ going up into the heavens. Before he does, he commissions his apostles to be his witnesses.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The promise of receiving the Holy Spirit was fulfilled ten days later at the Jewish holiday of Pentecost.
On Pentecost, in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, the disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
During the forty days that Jesus appeared to his disciples after His resurrection, He had told them not to leave Jerusalem until they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17
Jesus’ followers had all gathered together when suddenly they heard a mighty roaring, like a violent wind blowing all through the house where they were staying. They saw what appeared to be flames on each person. At that point, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
The disciple, Peter, gave a speech about how Jesus is the Son of God. He told the crowd that salvation comes through Jesus. So many in the crowds were moved by what Peter said that over 3,000 people accepted Jesus as their savior that day!
The original church focused on the teaching of the apostles, time together, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2: 42-47
Peter preached the gospel boldly and performed many miracles and many Jews who heard Peter’s preaching joined the Church.
Peter and John were tried by the ruling council of the Jews. However, the Holy Spirit filled them and they spoke the Word boldly. The apostles perform miracles and taught in the temple. Multitudes of men and women joined the church.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
“But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” Acts 4:19-20:
The Jewish leaders grew weary of the followers of Jesus adding thousands of new converts to their movement after the death of Jesus. Miracles continued to take place. Now the apostles were on trial.
Then Gamaliel, a wise leader from among the Jewish religious elite, spoke of several past movements that had resulted in nothing. This man acknowledged God was real and could be at work. If God was behind the activities of these followers, nothing could stop them.
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.5: 38-39
The apostles are arrested by the ruling council of the Jews but are released by an angel to speak in the temple. They are again taken into custody for trial and are released after being flogged. Each day afterwards, they continue teaching in the temple and from house to house.
Stephen, a most outspoken preacher of the gospel, was the first follower of the Christianity to be killed for preaching the gospel.
The church in Jerusalem continued to grow.
Jesus’ witnesses spread his gospel in Judea and Samaria.
The persecution, trial, and murder of Stephen set the stage for an all out persecution of the church in Jerusalem by the ruling council of the Jews.
The persecution scatters Jesus’ disciples and spreads the church into Judea and Samaria, where they preach the Word. The Lord uses the persecution for the good purpose of spreading his church and the preaching of his Word.
Philip takes the gospel as far as Caesarea in northern Samaria.
Dramatic Conversion of Paul
“As he [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’”Acts 9:3-6
Saul seemed to have made it his life’s work to wipe out all of the followers of Jesus. Saul received permission from the temple priests in Jerusalem to round up and imprison any Jews he could find who were believers in Christianity.
Saul was actually travelling to the city of Damascus to search the synagogue there for believers in Jesus when a brilliant light from heaven flash around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice ask him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you?” Saul asked. It was Jesus himself who was speaking to Saul. God had chosen him to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to gentiles (anyone who is not a Jew) everywhere.
Paul preaches the word of Jesus to the Jews in Damascus, Syria.
“Therefore the church throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria was having peace, was being built up and proceeding in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and was being multiplied in numbers.” Acts 9:31
Peter spreads his gospel in Judea and Samaria.
Christianity was not just for the Jews. Peter’s ministry to the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household plainly shows that in the church of Jesus there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Peter defends his ministering to the Gentiles, which he did by the Spirit’s direction.
Disciples preach the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria. The church of Antioch is made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
Peter escapes from prison with the aid of an angel.
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish. Acts 12:24
Chapters 13-28: Ministry and Journeys of the Apostle Paul.
Paul, one of their worst persecutors, became a believer in Christianity. Paul traveled thousands of miles spreading the gospel of Jesus. He suffered much persecution because of his teaching about Jesus. He was arrested and imprisoned in Rome. It was from his prison there that Paul wrote many of the letters to the churches scattered around Europe.
Paul’s First Missionary Journey
Paul makes his first missionary journey to Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Galatia. Jewish and Gentile disciples are united into one church.
Paul and Barnabas are commissioned at Antioch, Syria, by the Spirit to be missionaries to the Gentiles.
Many Gentiles believe and the Word is spread throughout the whole region. Unbelieving Jews there instigate a persecution and drive out Paul and Barnabas.
Paul brings the Word to Jews and Gentiles in Galatia, where a great multitude of Jews and Gentiles believe. Again, unbelieving Jews arouse the Gentiles, incite a persecution, and drive out Paul and Barnabas. Unbelieving Jews stone Paul. They leave him for dead.
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
Paul and Barnabas preach and teach in Antioch, Syria, the mother church, until they part company to strengthen the churches. Barnabas takes John Mark with him to Cyprus. Paul takes Silas to the churches in Syria, Cilicia, and Galatia.
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. Acts 19:20
Paul takes his gospel to Rome, the Gentile capital of the world.
Paul defends his ministry by speaking to the Jews, but they react violently and Paul is taken into Roman custody.
The Lord stands beside Paul to encourage him and to tell him that he must witness the Word in Rome. Paul appeals to have his case tried in Rome. Festus agrees to send Paul to Rome.
Paul arrives in Rome and is held under house arrest. He has the freedom to have the Jewish leaders in Rome brought to him. Paul speaks the Word to them. Some are persuaded by Paul’s teaching, but others refuse to believe.
The preaching of the word had reached Rome, the capital of the Gentile world in Europe.
So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. Acts 16:5
He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! Acts 28:31