Understanding Acts: The Sovereignty of God

There are so many turns of phrases and fascinating pieces in Acts that it's not easy to narrow down the themes to a few. It is a brilliant book and wonderfully written. Almost like  a microcosm of the Bible as a whole, you can keep reading Acts and see new things every time. It is that rich. But there are some larger themes worth highlighting for how obvious they are, and how often they’re repeated. 

The Sovereignty of God

Acts features a handful of important characters, for example, Peter and Paul, who both appear in different sections of the narrative and share similar experiences. But the book is  mainly about God himself. Alan Thompson writes, “Luke is drawing attention to the continued outworking of God’s saving purposes specifically in the inaugurated kingdom of God through the reign of the Lord Jesus . . .  The focus of the book of Acts is actually on God.” (The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 29).

The prominence of God is primarily seen in his sovereignty behind and in the middle of the events that unfold. Just as in the history of Israel, and in the earthly ministry of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, God is still working for his people. One small Greek word shows up several times to drive this point home. The word is dei, which is translated, “it is necessary.” It shows up 22 times in Acts! — and another 18 times in Luke. Paul uses the word often to stress what commentators call “divine necessity” (once again, HT: Thompson). It is Luke’s way of saying that something happened the way it did because it was part of God’s plan — it had to go this way. For example:

Acts 1:16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

Acts 17:2–3 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

We see the sovereignty of God especially clear in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter proclaimed,  “This Jesus,delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up. . .” (Acts 2:23–24). Like Peter, the apostle Paul makes the same case in his sermon in Acts 13:27–29. The Jewish leaders didn’t recognize Jesus. They were blind to the Scriptures, and though he was innocent, they killed him (verses 27–28). But, in their ignorance, they actually fulfilled the Scriptures by condeming him (v. 27). “And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead” (verse 29). Writes Thompson, “Although the wickedness and culpability of those involved in Jesus’ death are not diminished, the purpose and plan of God are said to have been carried out” (35). 

Not only that, scholar David Peterson explains, "Foundationally, God is presented in three key speeches [in Acts] as the creator and sustainer of all life (4:24; 14:15, 17; 17:24–25), the disposer of time and space (14:16; 17:26–27), and the judge of all (17:29–31; cf. 10:42)" (The Acts of the Apostles, 54).

So, the point?

Peterson, leaning on J.T. Squires, writes that Luke's insistence on God's sovereignty and the divine plan is

to offer encouragement to his readers as they live out their faith in a post-apostolic situation; to offer them a theological grounding for their missionary activity (it is an integral part of the divine plan) . . . (Peterson, 56).

Knowing God is sovereign propels us to get on with the work . . . because it's his work.

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