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Studies in Acts

There is rich variety in these 13 studies in Acts.

Acts 1:9-11 - The Ascension

Let's describe the ascension. In this debatable and unexpected descriptive terms like those on the cards below (regarding the ascension of Jesus) are often the most helpful because they are the most thought-provoking and lead to great questions and surprising discoveries.

A key first question: Is the ascension of Jesus presented in a glorious way in Acts 1:9-11? Most assume that it is, but is it really? If not, why not? Perhaps the biblical record is not especially spectacular so that the disciples would not be discouraged by seeing God's glory depart. Moreover, Luke presents Jesus as a perfect and prayerful man as well as God. So a less than super spectacular ascension scene fits well with this. It encourages us to pray like Jesus did (1:14).

Was the ascension victorious? (The resurrection was, of course, but our short ascension passage does not say that it was a victory.) 2. Did Jesus ascend to heaven by his own power or was he raised by the Father's power? (The emphasis is different if Jesus was passive rather than active.) 3. Was Jesus' ascension necessary? (Of course, it was, but why?) Finally, 4. What other event(s) in the Bible is / are similar to Jesus' ascension? (The closest parallel may be the translation of Elijah, but there are significant differences.)

Jesus was taken up by the Father (1:2, 9). So he was passive in 1:9. Therefore his deity and power are NOT stressed. His perfect humanity is stressed instead. Some believe the cloud in 1:9 refers to divine glory, but this view is questionable since nothing special is said about the cloud.

Of course, Jesus returned to heaven as God the Son, but the infinite difference in glory between the Lord and the disciples is NOT stressed. There is no fiery chariot in Acts chapter one like there was when Elijah was taken to heaven. Probably this was to better encourage the disciples and us. -- (Seeing God's glory depart must have been discouraging in Ezekiel chapter 10.)

The ascension of Christ in Acts chapter one is inseparably linked to the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter two. The ascension was necessary so that the Holy Spirit could come. Though WE ARE NOT APOSTLES (1:21-22) and do not have miracle-working gifts like Peter and Paul had, WE ARE still guided and enabled by God's Spirit today. God uses us as we humbly let Him work in our lives day by day. This is very encouraging!

For more encouragement, read Romans chapter eight, where the Spirit is mentioned more than anywhere else in the Bible. Also notice which spiritual gifts are mentioned in Romans 12:3-8. (Speaking in tongues is NOT one of them!) Moreover, the Spirit did not come to replace the Son as the object of our testimony. He came to help us bear witness to Christ (John 16:13, Acts 1:8).

Acts 4:1-37 - The Early Church vs. The Jewish Leaders

How would you describe the early church in Acts chapter four? Many terms in the Describe It Yourself card set are appropriate. It was big, caring, courageous, confident, effective, evangelistic, instructive, knowledgable, prayerful, serious, spiritual, and truthful, for instance, but these many terms can be summarized well with just three terms. The early church was biblical, bold, and brotherly.

How would you describe the Jewish leaders in Acts chapter four? Many terms in the Describe It Yourself card fit them well, since they were angry, arrogant, coldhearted, critical, dangerous, defensive, fearful, hostile, negative, powerful, selfish, skeptical, social, tricky, ungodly, vocal, and worldly. Yet these many terms can be summarized well with the three terms shown below. The Jewish religious leaders were political, proud, and perverse.

Contrasting these two summaries, it is obvious that the early church was the positive, polar opposite of the Jewish religious leaders. First and primarily, the church was biblical but the Sanhedrin was political. Second, the prayerful church was bold because of their biblical faith, but the Jewish counsel members were proud and condescending based on formal religious training (4:13). And third, the early church members shared with one another in a brotherly manner, but the coldhearted Jewish rulers did not really care about the man who had been healed (4:16-17). So they and their rulings were perverse.

Today as well, smaller and newer biblical churches often contrast sharply with larger and older religious organizations that are run by highly educated but proud officials who are more concerned with power struggles and authority within their group than with biblical truth.

Acts 8:26-39 - Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

This is the first of three W.A.L.K. Bible Studies in Acts. As always the third (L) step is what makes this method of study special. So what was the evangelization of the eunuch like or unlike?

Acts 12:1-24 - Peter Saved from Herod's Prison

This is the second of three W.A.L.K. Bible Studies in Acts. As always the third (L) step is what makes this method of study special. So what was Peter's prison break like or unlike?

Acts 13:4-13 - Sergius Paulus

It is shocking that Sergius Paulus is hardly mentioned in the New Testament, since he is the highest ranking Roman official to believe in Jesus in the Book of Acts.  This study is the first of three Lesser-Known but Significant Leaders studies in this book.

Acts 17:2-9 - Jason

Jason played a key role in the beginning of the church at Thessalonica. He was apparently a wealthy believer with good connections. (He may be the same as the Jason in Romans 16:21.) This is one of 20 studies in the Lesser-Known but Significant Leaders series.

Acts 17:16-34 - Paul's Message at Athens

There were two basic and closely related points in Paul's evangelistic message to his scholarly and philosophical audience at Athens. First, he told them to seek God (17:27) instead of just being religious (17:22). They desperately needed to do so because their idolatry showed that they were woefully ignorant of the Creator. Though they were constantly seeking to know new things (17:21), they had not seriously considered the most basic truth about all things and all people.

Even some Greek poets had said that the Creator must be personal since people are (17:28-29). Using this as extrabiblical support, Paul taught that the Creator was to be sought because he is knowable and near rather than metallic or far away.

Second, Paul taught that everyone, everywhere needs to repent because God has acted and appointed a time and a Judge, the God-Man, to judge the world righteously (17:31). In God's wisdom, everything from earliest times had been leading up to this, since time is linear rather than cyclic (17:31) as most Greeks believed. The resurrection of this special Man (Jesus, 17:18, 31) was the great proof that the special righteous Judge had come.

In all this, Paul stressed that his two related points apply to all people. He had been accused of being a proclaimer of foreign gods (17:18) since Greeks did not believe in physical resurrection, but his message was universal in scope. All men everywhere needed to repent (17:30).

Since God is righteous and we are not, and because God is actively working in all things to bring about his will for creation, we each must repent. Seeking to know God, rather than merely seeking to gain knowledge for knowledge sake, is a key aspect of this repentance.

Acts 19:1-41 - Paul's Ministry in Ephesus

Paul's ministry at Ephesus was long and large, since he ministered in and near the city for three years (20:31). Thus it became his longest ministry in one location. What else should be said about it? It can be described by filling in the blank lines on the worksheet below. (Click on it to enlarge and print out copies.)

After filling in the blanks on the worksheet, it is good to think about the most important descriptive phrases. Perhaps the most important point is that the Lord, through the Apostle Paul, was victorious over the worship of Diana, the Roman name for the Greek goddess Artemis, which had dominated the idolatrous city for centuries. This victory is seen in the fact that Paul's persuasive message about Jesus as Christ and Lord was reasonable (19:8-9) in contrast to the mindless rioting of the idolatrous mob, as well as in the large numbers of people who turned away from idolatry (19:23-27).

Acts 20:17-38 - Paul's Exhortation to the Ephesian Elders

In a way, Paul's ministry to the Ephesians continued through the ministries of the elders that he addressed during his brief stop in Miletus as he traveled toward Jerusalem. His message to them was amazingly complete as well as concise and wonderfully balanced. How else would you describe it? The worksheet below will help you and your study group do so.

After filling in the blanks on the worksheet, it is good to think about the most important descriptive phrases. The balanced nature of his message is perhaps the most important thing that should be said about it. There was a strong negative warning about false teachers in 20:29-31. Yet his message was also centered positively in the Scriptures and the gospel (20:21) of the grace of God (20:24, 32). This was in line with Ephesians 2:8-9, that salvation is by grace through faith rather than by works.

It has never been popular to include a negative warning about false teaching like Paul did (20:29-31). So his farewell message was not about how to build mega churches by leaving out the negatives. His exhortation was balanced and healthy, about church health, rather than about one-sided (positives only) church growth. Even his positive emphasis on grace in 20:24 and 20:32 was in part a warning against the false gospel of salvation through works that Jewish false teachers taught.

That said, Paul purposefully omitted some things in his concise exhortation. He said nothing about the apostolic miracles of healing that he had performed while in Ephesus. (See 19:11-12.) This was because the elders were not apostles. They were evangelists, pastors, and teachers but not miracle workers. (See Ephesians 4:11.) Thus, Paul's exhortation is also for us today and is not just for pastors. All church members need to rightly understand the nature of ministry.

Acts 23:11-24 - Paul's Nephew

This is one of 20 studies in the Lesser-Known but Significant Servants series.  It shows that lesser-known people, including children, are an important part of God's work.

Acts 24:1-22 - Tertullus, Paul's Accuser

From ancient times lawyers have been better known for their speaking ability than for their honesty. Tertullus is a prime example. This is one of three studies in the Lesser-Known but Significant Leaders series based in the Book of Acts.

Acts 24:1-27 - Paul as a Great Defensive Player

Everyone knows that defense is very important, but in sports it is usually the players who score many goals who get the attention. The same is the case in evangelical churches and in church history as well. Therefore Acts chapter two in which thousands were saved is much better know and far more popular than chapter 24 in which Paul defended the Christian Faith against powerful opposition.

Was Paul fruitful in chapter 24? Felix, Drusilla, and others clearly heard the gospel (24:24-26), but as far as we can tell nobody was saved at that time. Nevertheless, Paul's defensive ministry was fruitful in the long run, because the Way was differentiated from the religious corruption among the Jewish leaders and the secular corruption among the Roman rulers.

A key simple but important aspect of Paul's ministry is that he was still alive and serving God at the end of Acts despite multiple plots against him. He was the top opposition target of the Jews (24:5). Yet, they were unable to kill him, because God protected him. Today as well, Paul is the chief target of Jewish apologists. Yet, the survival of Paul and the world-wide advancement of the Christian faith throughout history (24:5, 14, 24) shows that those who oppose Paul's message are fighting against God (5:39, 23:9).

Nevertheless, Christianity has been hindered through corruption. Whenever and wherever the church has become corrupt, morally or through compromise, the gospel has lost credibly. This is why Paul refused to bribe Felix (24:26) and carefully guarded his conscience against personal sin (24:16). Christians need to do so today as well. The modern evangelical church needs to be reminded that defense is important.

Acts 25:1-27 - Paul as a Good Testimony (A)

Speaking is important, but in chapter 25 Paul did not say much, in contrast to the next chapter in which he gave a lengthy testimony. How then was the apostle a good testimony in chapter 24 as well as in chapter 25? The simplest answer is that Paul's position as a prisoner and his few words in the chapter showed that It was the Jewish authorities and Festus who were corrupt (25:1-11) rather than the apostle. Paul's life and words were consistent; theirs were not (25:3,16). Although Festus spoke of upholding prisoner's rights (25:16), he did not actually do so (25:9-10). This forced Paul to appeal to Caesar which was the wise thing for him to do (25:10-11). Yet it is all, God himself protected Paul (23:11). The emperor at the time was Nero, who, of course, was not to be trusted.

In chapter 25, Paul was somewhat like Joseph in Genesis 40:23-41:39 because he had to patiently wait for God's time. Though Paul was clearly innocent like Joseph had been, he had to wait for God's time to come.

Festus spoke of Paul as just "a certain man left a prisoner by Felix" (25:14), and he did not mention his case to King Agrippa until after many days. How then was Paul the main character in the chapter? Again, this was like Joseph who was forgotten until God's time for him to speak and take charge came after years in prison. In a way Paul's time to speak came quickly in chapter 26, however, it was before and during the great storm in chapter 27 that Paul's importance as God's spokesman became even most clear.

Acts 26:1-32 - Paul as a Good Testimony (B)

A good testimony is truthful. So Paul revealed his sinful past (26:9-11) rather than being deceptive like Festus who tried to hide his corruption (25:9, 23-27). Moreover, Paul's truth telling was evangelistic. Was it effective, however? King Aggripa did not confess Christ in 26:28 even though Paul had boldly and persuasively confronted him.

A good testimony is effective, but how can such be measured? If the only way to measure effective evangelism is by counting the number of converts immediately after a message or testimony is given, then Paul's outreach to Agrippa in Acts chapter 26 was a total failure. However, the long-term, impact of Paul's words must not be overlooked. His testimony and outreach to Agrippa have been effectively used again and again for nearly two thousand years!

A good testimony is interesting. So the action-packed and fast-moving nature of Paul's condensed account does not disappoint. For instance, his conversion in 26:15 is immediately followed by his commission as an apostle in 26:16. He was saved to serve. So no mention is made to the three years that he spent in Arabia (Gal. 1:15-18). Likewise, the role of Ananias is not mentioned, unlike earlier in 22:12-16.

A good testimony is informative. For Luke's readers, Paul's testimony helps explain the rise of Christianity. The foundation for such was the reality of Christ's resurrection (26:6-8, 22-23) to which the appearance on the Damascus Road (26:12-15) was a great, personal proof. As the Lord appeared to Moses in a special way in the burning bush, He also appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road.
     In addition, Christianity spread quickly through Paul's ministry because the Lord was with him in a special way, both enabling and protecting him. Though the Jews often tried to kill him, they were unable to do so (26:17, 22). So Paul's testimony was not just about the apostle himself.

A good testimony is like a bridge which provides a way for those hearing it to join the one testifying in traveling to the Lord Jesus. The Prophets and Moses (26:22), as well as the Gospels (26:26), Acts (9:1-22, 26:12-15), and apostolic Letters (26:16) can all be mentioned as supporting evidence, but there must be a personal element as well.

Acts 27:1-44 - Paul and the Great Storm (W.A.L.K.)

This is the third of three W.A.L.K. Bible Studies in Acts. As always the third (L) step is what makes this method of study special. So what is Acts chapter 27 like or unlike?

Acts 27:1-44 - A Descriptive Study of Chapter 27

How would you describe Acts chapter 27? The worksheet below will help us think deeply about the chapter as we describe it.

One of the most important points is that the chapter is about God's protection. As the Lord protected Paul from the mob in chapter 23, he also protected him through the great storm in chapter 27. The mob was in Jerusalem and the issues involved were Jewish (23:29), but in chapter 27 God's protection and Paul's ministry during the storm would have impressed Roman and Greek readers.

Chapter 27 is especially good for decision makers. Since it shows that failing to listen to God's messenger (Paul) and relying of secular experts instead is very dangerous. (See the "Two Stormy Decisions" study below.) Yet, since everyone is a decision maker, the chapter can be used in evangelism. It shows that those who reject Paul's message endanger their lives, and this is still true today. The chapter is evangelistic in a wholistic sense even though sin and Jesus are not directly mentioned. As a whole it shows that Paul's message is to be believed.Since it is near the end of Acts and between the Gospels and Paul's letters it is part of God's bridge to the gospel in Romans, Ephesians, and other Epistles.

How is chapter 27 somewhat like Joshua chapters three and four? Joshua's status as God's leader after Moses was established through the special way that the Lord lead the people across the Jordan. Likewise, the detailed and memorable account of the journey through the great storm helped establish Paul and his message as being from God. As a mortal, Paul could not calm the sea like the Lord Jesus did (Luke 8:22-25), but God's special protection of Paul shows that he was God's spokesman. The chapter is unusually long and detailed in order to stress this fact. So it is more important than many realize.

Acts 27:5-20, 39-44 - Two Stormy Decisions

This is one of eight I.D.E.A. Bible Studies on decision making. Going against Paul's advice, the centurion disastrously decided to leave the port at Fair Havens (Acts 27:9-12). The focus of this study is this bad decision early in the chapter and the good one to spare the prisoners at the end of the chapter.

Acts 28:1-10 - The Apostle & the Viper

Click here to go to the ANIMALS page.

Acts 28:23-31 - The Ending of Acts

The ending of Acts can be described using many of the Describe-It-Yourself cards. Much of what is in Acts 28:23-31 is / was about Jesus, about salvation, evangelistic, important, instructive, knowledgable, life-changing, persuasive, providential, thought-provoking, and a warning. Much could be said about all these things, but the three contrasting pairs shown below probably deserve special attention.

First, the negative disbelief of many Jews contrasts sharply with Paul's positive prediction regarding Gentile faith. Second, the climactic declaration that the salvation of God had been sent to the Gentiles (28:28)—and the quote along the same line from Isaiah in 28:26-27—contrasts with the open-ended nature of Paul's ongoing preaching and teaching in the final verse (28:31). Third, the disbelief and debate among the Jews was sad (28:24, 29) and unproductive, but Paul was hopeful (28:28) and his ministry was unhindered and forward looking (28:31).

What is your favorite descriptive term or phrase to describe the ending of Acts? Whatever it is, it should reflect the positive and forward-looking way the book ends. Unlike Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, it does not end with the death of a spiritual leader. The work for God continued.

MAKING YOUR OWN STUDIES -- with Describe-It-Yourself cards

You can make your own Descriptive Bible Studies using Describe-It-Yourself cards. All you need to do is: 1.) decide what passage(s) you wish to study, 2.) decide whom or what you wish to describe, and then 3.) use a DIY card set to help you describe what or whom you chose.

For More Information,
Click Here to Go to the
Descriptive Studies Page

There are Four Describe-It-Yourself Card Sets to choose from. Two sets, (A) and (B), are shorter to save time. In two sets, (A) and (M), all the cards have blank lines for extra thought stimulation. Over half of the cards in the Pro (P) set have blank lines as well. Beaginners may enjoy the simplicity of the Short List (B) set, but those with time for detailed studies may like the Mid List (M) or Pro List (P) sets. Yet, the best set for most users is Short List (A).

© 2021 Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan, Alexander, Maine, U.S.A.