The Book of Acts An Introduction
The full name of this book is “The Acts of the Apostles,” and it is notable that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has suggested his own title: “The Acts of the Resurrected Christ Working through the Holy Spirit in the Lives and Ministries of His Ordained Apostles.” Elder Holland quotes Acts 1:2, which states that after Jesus was taken up into heaven, “he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen.” Luke, the writer of Acts, is informing us that the Church continued to be directed by God (see Ensign, January 2003).
Acts 1:3 testifies that the resurrected Savior had shown Himself “by many infallible proofs, being seen of them [the apostles] forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Unfortunately, we know very little about what Jesus did and taught during the forty days. (We know that the resurrected Savior ministered among the Nephites in the new world—see 3 Nephi 11-28—but there are not enough clues to tell us when this happened; it could have been before, during, or after Jesus’s forty-day ministry in the New Testament.)
The book of Acts can be conveniently divided into two sections:
- Chapters 1-12: The Church in and around Jerusalem, with Peter as the principal figure and the ministry being primarily among the Jews.
- Chapters 13-28: Paul is the principal figure and the ministry expands throughout much of the Mediterranean world, taking the gospel to the gentiles.
Throughout the book of Acts, look for things that are the same or similar to the Lord’s church today.
Acts 1:8 also provides a fit summary, wherein Jesus told the apostles on the Mount of Olives: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” In verse 9 Jesus was “taken up,” ascending to His Father. What do verses 10-11 prophesy for our day?
Acts 1 The Apostles and Their Witness and Work
What does Acts 1:4-5, 8 tell us about first priorities for the Church of Jesus Christ? Then, after Jesus departed, the eleven apostles met together “with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (verse 14; it is thought that “his brethren” refers to Jesus’s half-brothers—other sons of Joseph and Mary—who converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ).
In verses 15-17, 20, they take up the calling of a new apostle, to replace Judas. Note the criteria:
- Someone who has “companied with us all the time” that the Lord was among them (verse 21; one who was an eyewitness of Jesus’s ministry and teachings).
- “A witness with us of his resurrection” (verse 22; one who saw Jesus after His resurrection). The LDS Bible Dictionary states that an apostle must be “a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world, particularly of His divinity and of His bodily resurrection from the dead.”
Two men were identified as being qualified, and Matthias was chosen through inspiration (verses 23-26).
We are led today by true messengers who are living apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. President Ezra Taft Benson declared, “As one of those called as special witnesses, I add my testimony to those of fellow Apostles: He lives! He lives with resurrected body. There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured, or know better by personal experience, than the truth of the literal resurrection of our Lord” (New Era, December 1980).
Acts 2 The Church Expands
About ten days after Jesus concluded His forty-day ministry; making it about fifty days since Passover, the Jews gathered again to Jerusalem in great numbers for “Pentecost,” the feast celebrating the first harvest of wheat (see Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:16-18; Deuteronomy 16:10). Less than two months after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, significant events occurred, and Peter—as the senior apostle—led the way:
- While the apostles were again meeting together (Acts 2:1), what spiritual manifestations and gifts were shown forth, in verses 2-8, 12-13?
- Peter responds to the multitude’s question, “What meaneth this?” (verse 12), and his powerful response is cited in verses 14-36.
- Find the things Peter taught about Jesus Christ, in verses 22-24, 32-33, 36. Note Peter’s words that show him to be a special witness of the living reality of Jesus.
- Read the reaction of the people in verse 37. When we feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, we are prompted to do something—thus the question, “What shall we do?”
- How did Peter answer, in verses 38-40? Note the astonishing results, in verses 41-47. What things do you see in verses 42-47 that you also see in the latter-day Church?
Acts 3 Healing and Teaching
The apostles are developing a ministry that mirrors what they observed in the life of the Savior. What impresses you in the story in verses 1-10? What did this episode lead to, in verses 11-12? Read Peter’s teachings in verses 13-21, 26. Note Peter’s boldness and forthrightness. What bold testimonies have you heard from prophets of God? Do you share your testimony of Jesus Christ and your faith in Him?
Acts 4 Faith and Unity Amid Opposition
It seems inevitable that officials would attempt to silence Peter and John, as they did with Jesus. They were especially “grieved” over the doctrine of resurrection being taught (verse 2). But there is no way to stop the message of the Savior of mankind rising from death:
- Read verses 1-7. Again, the question of authority arises, and the Jewish religious rulers are desperately trying to hold onto their counterfeit authority.
- Read Peter’s teachings and testimony in verses 8-12, followed by the reaction and decision of the rulers in verses 13-18.
- Imagine yourself being in company with Peter and John on this occasion. If you had been brought forth to speak, what would you say? Read what Peter and John said, in verses 19-20 (see also Jeremiah 20:7-9), and note the council’s actions in verse 21.
- Read the prayer of the church members, in verses 23-24, 29-30. We too must include in our daily prayers the well-being and divine guidance of those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.
- What else do you learn about the followers of Jesus Christ, in verses 31-35? In our day, we also covenant to live the law of consecration.
Acts 5 “They Ceased Not to Teach and Preach Jesus Christ”
In relation to the law of consecration, read what happened with Ananias and Sapphira in verses 1-11. How can we better give our all to the Lord and His work? (Read also 2 Nephi 25:29; Omni 1:26.) Regarding Ananias and Sapphira, some may consider this to be harsh, but perhaps the Lord needed to make an example for this new church as it struggled to become established—and He simply brought them into the spirit world where He could best deal with them there. Meanwhile, the boldness, miracles, and growth continue:
- Verses 12-14 What do these verses say about those who were joining the church? Note that the JST changes verse 13 to say that those who were not joining the church were the “rulers” (see also 1 Corinthians 1:26).
- Verses 15-16 The gift of healing is one of the gifts of the Spirit (see Moroni 10:11; D&C 46:19-20). Note the abundance of this gift, as recounted in Acts 5:15-16. Have you experienced or witnessed the gift of healing?
- Verses 17-28 This remarkable episode highlights the opposite extremes of wickedness and righteousness, while assuring that the Lord and His work can triumph over any opposition. Read again verse 28, along with Matthew 27:24-25. How have you experienced and overcome opposition or persecution related to your faith?
- Verses 29-32 Again, Peter’s powerful testimony.
- Verses 33-40 What is the essence of the statement and proposal of Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin)? Note that verses 38-39 could appropriately be applied by those who oppose the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the latter-day Restoration, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Verses 41-42 Ponder the stunning disposition and works of Peter and John. Are you prepared to represent and testify of Jesus Christ in all things? How do we “rejoice” even while suffering persecution? (see also Luke 6:22-23).