The Book of Acts is an adventure thrill ride from start to finish, but we tend to skip over a lot of the incredibly compelling details. Let's take a look at some of the most intriguing things in Acts and develop a new appreciation for this fascinating book.
1. Luke wrote Acts
There's never been much contention about the authorship of Acts. There are many reasons why the church has always accepted Luke as the author:
- The Book of Luke was written for a man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3). At the beginning of Acts, the author mentions Theophilus and references a former writing that appears to describe the Book of Luke: "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach" (Acts 1:1).
- Both books share the same level of detail and precision. In fact, the Greek used in Luke and Acts displays a greater level of sophistication than the other Gospels.
- Luke and Acts both focus on Jesus's ministry to the Gentiles.
- The author of Acts speaks about himself in the first person (Acts 27:1) demonstrating that he was helping to build up the church. He would have had access to the disciples and eyewitness accounts he used to compile the book of Luke (Luke 1:2).
2. Luke wrote most of the New Testament
If someone asked you who wrote the most in the New Testament, you'd likely be tempted to say, Paul. After all, Paul wrote:
- 1 & 2 Corinthians
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
There's no question that Paul wrote the most New Testament books. Things change, however, when you look at the word count. If you add up all the words Paul wrote, it comes to about 32,000. Definitely a respectable amount. But Luke wrote nearly 38,000 words (in just two books!), making him the author of about 27 percent of the New Testament. Paul, on the other hand, is responsible for about 23 percent
In fact, Luke is one of five biblical authors responsible for 45 percent of the Old and New Testaments:
- Moses: 125,139 words
- Ezra: 43,618 words
- Luke: 37,932 words
- Jeremiah 35,306 words
- Paul 32,408 words
3. Luke isn't just a journalist in Acts
When writing his Gospel, Luke plays the part of a reporter, compiling the eyewitness accounts of people who saw Jesus. But in the Book of Acts, he's part of the action.
Luke talks about himself being part of the second missionary journey in Troas and Macedonia (Acts 16:10–17).
After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:10).
Luke was also present on the trip back from Macedonia to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5–21:18).
These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days (Acts 20:5).
He even shows up on the journey to Rome from Caesarea (Acts 27:1–28:16).
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us (Acts 27:1–2).
Luke wasn't a simple historian writing about the birth of the church. He was a hands-on participant!
4. Acts is the link between the Gospels and the Epistles
The Gospels tell the story of Jesus's ministry, death, and resurrection. The Epistles are letters written to various first-century churches and individuals. Acts plays a pivotal role as the linchpin between those two elements.
It's in Acts that we discover how God's plan of salvation would play itself out in the world. We witness the impact of Christ's death and resurrection as the gospel unfurls. And as it spreads, churches are planted, the Epistles stand as records of the work God was doing in individual congregations.
5. Acts covers the first 30–35 years of church history
If you read at an average pace, the Book of Acts can be read in a little over two hours. It's relatively short and action-packed, so it's easy to miss that it covers more than 30 years of church history.
The account begins with the ascension of Christ (30–33 AD) and runs all the way through to 62–64 AD.
6. Acts reveals the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
The Gospel of John records a critical discussion between Jesus and His disciple:
All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, "Where are you going?" Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned (John 16:1–11).
This advocate that Jesus is talking about is the Holy Spirit. We see the fulfillment of this promise in the second chapter of Acts as the Spirit is poured out on Jesus's followers in Jerusalem. And it's just as exciting and as dramatic as you might expect:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1–4).
7. The Spirit transforms the disciples
The night Jesus was arrested, He took the disciples to pray with Him, but they were too tired to keep watch. Then when the authorities take Jesus captive, the disciples scattered, frightened for their lives. In all the excitement, Peter famously denies three times that he even knows Jesus.
Of course, spending time with their resurrected Savior had a big impact on the faith of all the disciples, but their most dramatic change occurs after the Spirit comes. Almost immediately, they become explosive examples of the gospel’s power.
8. Peter gives the first evangelistic sermon
Immediately following the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2, there's a lot of confusion. All of the sudden a bunch of disciples from the Galilean region are praising God in languages previously unknown to them. It must have sounded chaotic because people start ridiculing them by saying they're drunk (Acts 2:13).
Peter, who up till now has mostly been known for putting his foot in his mouth, stands up and addresses the crowd. And what comes out is a sermon so powerful that over 3,000 people respond to the gospel and get baptized.
9. Acts is about the church's birth
Acts's story really begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and Peter's dramatic sermon; the result is a flame that spreads all across the Roman Empire. After the church is planted in Jerusalem, the believers are spiritually empowered and guided from there into "Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This, in a nutshell, is the entire theme of Acts.
Even though Acts talks about the work of the disciples, it's the Holy Spirit that's center stage. It's through the Spirit's empowerment that the disciples have the vision, courage, and motivation to grow the church—despite heavy opposition and persecution.
10. Peter and Paul are the main characters
Right out of the gate, Luke focuses on Peter:
- He decides that Judas needs to be replaced (Acts 1:15–22)
- He preaches the first sermon (Acts 2:14–36)
- He heals a paralytic (Acts 3:6–7)
- His disapproval leads to a dramatic end for Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3–10)
- He prays for people to be filled with the Spirit (Acts 8:17)
- He raises a girl from the dead (Acts 9:34)
- He receives a vision from the Lord about Gentile inclusion in the gospel (Acts 10:11–15)
We also witness opposition to Peter as he's imprisoned (Acts 5:17–18) and flogged (Acts 5:40). But even in all of this, Peter still rejoices that he's worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ (Acts 5:41).
About halfway through Acts, the focus starts to shift to Paul and his missionary journeys. (More about that soon!)
11. Acts tells the story of the first Christian martyr
We don't know a lot about Stephen, but Acts does tell us that the disciples ordained him as a deacon in the early church:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them (Acts 6:1–6).
But Stephen soon began to stand out, making himself an essential member of the early church.
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8).
Stephen gets dragged before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish tribunal) for blasphemy against Moses and Yahweh. When asked if the charges were true, Stephen gave a beautiful and impassioned defense of Christianity (Acts 7:1–53). The leaders were so furious they dragged him out and stoned him.
Before he died, Stephen prayed a prayer similar to Christ's on the cross. He prayed for the Lord to receive his spirit and to forgive those responsible for killing him.
As Stephen was stoned, the people present took off their tunics and laid them at the feet of a Pharisee named Saul.
12. Acts reveals the conversion story of Paul
Saul of Damascus was a staunch opponent of the gospel. When the crowd stones Stephen, Saul was there watching over everyone's belongings. Soon he was going from house church to house church and dragging off and imprisoning Christians.
On his way to Damascus to round up more Christians, Saul had an unexpected encounter:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything (Acts 9:3–9).
From this point onward, Saul becomes a follower of Jesus and a significant force in the growth of the church.
Interesting sidenote: In much of the New Testament, Saul is called Paul. Many assume that this is due to a change in his name similar to Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter. But that's not the case. Even during his conversion, Jesus calls him Saul.
In Acts 13:9, Luke tells us that Saul was also called Paul. It's that simple. Like many in the first century, Saul had two names. As he becomes more involved in Gentile churches, the Latinized "Paul" becomes a more popular way to address the apostle.
13. Acts documents three Pauline mission trips
Spurred by the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, Paul was constantly on the move. And while the three missionary journeys in Luke don't account for all of Paul's travels, they're quite significant.
The first journey
- Paul and Barnabas (with John Mark as a helper) start from Antioch's seaport Selucia where they sail to Cyprus (Acts 13:4–12)
- From there they go to Pamphylia (John Mark returns home) and the other Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:13–52)
- They go down to Lycaonia, via Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 14:1–23)
- They return through Pisidia and Pamphylia, spending time in Perga (Acts 14:24–25)
- Lastly, they go down to Attalia and take a ship back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24–26)
All told, the first journey lasted about two years and took them a little over 1,200 miles.
The second journey
- Paul and Silas begin by revisiting the locations in Paul's first journey (Acts 15:36–41)
- They work in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium (Timothy joins them, Acts 16:1-5)
- Paul, Silas, and Timothy go through Phrygia and Galatia, and then to Troas (Acts 16:6–8)
- God gives Paul a vision calling him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9–12)
- Paul goes to Achiah and works in Athens (Acts 17:15–34)
- He moves on to Corinth where he meets Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1–17)
- The journey then takes him to Ephesus (Acts 18:18–21)
- He takes a ship to the church in Caesarea and then returns to Antioch in Syria (Acts 18:21–22)
This is a three-year journey that takes Paul over 2,700 miles.
The third journey
- Paul heads to Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23)
- Paul ends up in Ephesus (Acts 19:1–41)
- Paul then heads back to Macedonia, Greece, Troas, and on to Miletus (Acts 20:1–38)
- From Miletus, Paul sails to Caesarea and then back to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1–17)
This third journey was shorter in distance to the second (only about 2,500 miles), but it lasted the longest—clocking in at around four years.
14. Acts was completed before Paul's death
Rome wouldn't put Paul to death until after Acts is completed, but Acts's narrative demonstrates a growing awareness about Paul with Roman officials. When Christians eventually become Roman scapegoats, Paul is an obvious focal point.
Here's how Paul's story ends:
During a trip to Jerusalem, Paul visits the temple with four Jewish converts. It doesn't go over very well and a riot breaks out. Paul is seized by a mob and savagely beaten as they drag him out of the temple area. But when Roman soldiers show up, the mob disperses. The soldiers question Paul, and he escapes a scourging when they find out he's a Roman citizen (Acts 21:26–22:29).
He's then taken to governor Felix in Caesarea until they can decide what to do with him. He holds Paul as a prisoner for about two years, hoping for some kind of bribe. After Porcius Festus replaces Felix in 60 AD, Paul requests to have his trial heard by Caesar. Paul is sent off to Rome. (Acts 22:30–25:12)
On the journey to Rome, Paul and several other prisoners are shipwrecked. They end up staying on the island of Malta for some time before being continuing the journey to Rome. (Acts 27:1–28:14)
While in Rome, Paul is under house arrest. He lives by himself and is guarded by only a single guard. He spends a lot of time preaching to Romans from his cell. This is the last we hear about Paul in the Book of Acts.
From there Paul journeys to Crete (Titus 1:5), beginning his final missionary journey. Then he goes to Nicopolis (Titus 3:12) and likely to Spain (Romans 15:22–28). But in the end, he is thrown in prison again under orders from Nero. He's killed around 68 AD.
15. The book is done but the mission continues
Luke couldn't keep writing indefinitely. So he had to bring the Book of Acts to a close. But that doesn't mean that Acts is over! The church has continued Acts's story for thousands of years and will continue until Jesus returns.
Jesus told the disciples that His message would leave Jerusalem and travel to the ends of the earth, and every one of His followers has been at work seeing this command to completion since that day.
Empowered by the Spirit, we're all laboring to be witnesses of God's majestic plan, proving that despite opposition and oppression, God’s Word endures and His love transforms.
Leave us a comment and tell us about your favorite story or verse in Acts!
All Scripture references quote the New International Version unless otherwise noted.