The final words of Jesus to his disciples, as he stood on the Mount of Olives before disappearing from their sight were: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This commission to his followers is clear enough but if you continue reading the book of the Acts of the Apostles you start to realise that it is charting the outworking of that command.
After the introduction in chapter 1, the narrative tells of remarkable events in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when Peter and the apostles spoke to the gathered crowds. Regardless of their native tongue, the people heard a remarkable claim – God has created something new, he has raised Jesus his son from the dead! He had been seen alive again and this was the evidence that he was God’s Messiah, not just for Israel but for “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21). Acts chapter 2 to 7 recount the impact of this extraordinary claim on the people in Jerusalem.
From chapter 8 to 12 the narrative spreads out from Jerusalem to the surrounding countryside – Judea and Samaria. The first non-Jewish converts start to embrace the universal call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (e.g. Cornelius in Acts 10). Communities of believers start to develop, founded on the ground-breaking concept that no temple or building is required to worship God, the very community itself is the temple – a living temple!
The spread of the message of this new way of living which breaks down barriers (between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female) now starts to snowball. Acts chapters 13 to 20 describe the missionary journeys of Paul through the Roman Empire. His church planting achievements are astonishing, but the work for Paul was all consuming, fraught with both physical danger and the emotional stress of guiding the young Jesus-communities. Despite all this, Paul had one further ambition – to take the Gospel of Jesus to the very centre of the Empire that stood for the opposite of Jesus – to take the Gospel to Rome.
Acts chapters 21 to 28 tell of the unexpected turn of events that eventually brought Paul to Rome, where, even while under house arrest, he actively preached the Gospel and supported the church there. And here is where the book of Acts ends. The Gospel had indeed travelled from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria and to the other side of the Empire. It had spread from Jerusalem in the backwater province of Judea to the centre of the world – Rome.
But the book also finishes with this description of the people in Rome who heard Paul: “and some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:24). It’s almost as if the book is begging the same question of its readers – will you be convinced? Read the book of Acts for yourself, follow the extraordinary history of the spread of the Gospel along with the trials and triumphs of the characters that fulfilled their Master’s commission and perhaps be inspired to take it up yourself!
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