Understanding Acts: The Resurrection and Reign of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke was about what Jesus began to do; the Book of Acts is about what Jesus continues to do by his Spirit through his church. This is first and foremost because Jesus is raised from the dead. That is the foundation to the entire book and the consistent message of the apostles (see Acts 1:22; 2:32). In fact, the resurrection is the event that validates the identity of Jesus (see Romans 1:4). He is “both Lord and Christ” because he is raised from the dead (Acts 2:36). Peterson writes, “The ultimate indication of his true identity are his resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, understood from a scriptural perspective (2:24, citing Psalm 16:8–11; 110:1; 3:13, 15; 10:40–43; 13:30–37, citing Psalm 2:7; 16:10; Isaiah 55:3)” (59).

So Jesus is raised, but we should not think for a moment that because Jesus is not mentioned in Acts as rubbing shoulders with his disciples that he is somehow not part of the story. Jesus is still very much at work in the events of his people, both from heaven where he reigns and through his Spirit on the ground. Speaking of Jesus’s ascension to heaven, Alan Thompson writes, “The focus is not on [Jesus’s] absence and consequent inactivity, but rather on the place from which Jesus rules for the rest of Acts” (49). Chester and Woodrow explain,

Christ ascends into heaven at the beginning of the book of Acts, but he is not then absent from the story. On a number of occasions he intervenes from heaven and these prove to be key moments in the story. In Acts 7 Jesus appears to Stephen: “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55) (Locations 577-583).

Over and over again in Acts we see that Jesus is taking a prominent role in how the events unfold. It is the Jesus himself who knocks Saul off his horse in Acts 9. As Thompson puts it, this whole event “shows the power of the Lord Jesus not only to overcome his threat but to enlist Saul as his most devoted follower” (53). In amazing irony, Jesus turns his most ardent human opposition into his most zealous missionary. In other instance of conversion, Jesus is said to be the one who opens Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14). And then later in the story, when Paul is in Jerusalem and finds himself discouraged in the barracks, Luke writes, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome’” (Acts 23:11). Jesus is the one who speaks comfort to Paul.

So whether in conversion (he opens hearts) or in sustaining the mission (he encourages us), Jesus is at work in his church. He is at work in the Book of Acts, and he is at work now — exalted at the Father’s right hand from where he has sent his Spirit.

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