The final two verses of the last chapter form a common concluding statement that Luke has used five other times in the book of Acts. In fact, these two verses brilliantly achieve at least three things: (1) they bring us full circle, back to the beginning of Acts; (2) they tie together the overarching theme of the whole book; and (3) they invite the reader to join the long line of gospel witnesses who have gone before.
The book of Acts begins with one of Jesus’s Great Commission statements (Acts 1:8). Matthew 28:18-20 is the longest and most detailed of Jesus’s commissioning statements, but there are actually at least three of them (Matt. 28:18-20; Jn. 20:21-23; and Acts 1:8). All of these overlap significantly with one another, providing us with a clear understanding of what Jesus wanted His disciples to do in the world after His departure.
After Jesus’s death and resurrection, He appeared many times to His disciples and hundreds of others (1 Cor. 15:5-7), and Jesus reiterated His promise to send the Holy Spirit to them when He departed (Acts 1:5). It was the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of God who would empower those who believed in Jesus to “be [His] witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This, then, was their mission – to bear witness to Christ.
And when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit did come! He came to that small band of disciples (about 120 of them) in Jerusalem who were awaiting His arrival (Acts 1:15, 2:1-4). On that very day, Jerusalem heard the gospel by way of those Christian witnesses, and they all continued to teach and preach the gospel there from that point on. In fact, Luke concludes his first section of Acts in chapter 6, verse 7. There he wrote the first of six statements that all repeat the same refrain: both the word of God and the Church of Christ prevailed. At the close of the first section, Luke wrote, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7). Notice that “the word of God” was being preached and the Church was prevailing.
Then the next section of Acts (chs 6-9, roughly) follows the gospel and Church expansion in Judea and Samaria (the next concentric circle of the commission in Acts 1:8). Persecution sent Christian witnesses out from Jerusalem, and more sinners were converted as a result. Acts 9:31 concludes Luke’s second section with yet another statement of a growing and prevailing Church. Luke wrote, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
The third section of Acts ends with chapter 12, but it includes (in chs 10 and 11) the longest argument for and explanation of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in His gracious salvation. We see the gospel begin to invade that third ring of the concentric circle (Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth). And at the end of ch 12, we read about the miraculous death of an earthly king who had set himself at war against Christ and His people. And again, Luke tells us, despite the persecution, “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24).
The fourth section of Acts starts with ch 13, and this is where Luke began to focus almost entirely on the missionary efforts of the Apostle Paul. It was Paul whom God called to be the missionary to the Gentiles (or non-Jews), and these were the people “at the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit worked through Paul so mightily that there arose a crisis in the church in Jerusalem. They were debating the question, “What do we do with all these Gentiles?”
That fourth section concludes with a detailed record of the decision made by the Jerusalem council to welcome Gentile believers as “brothers” in Christ (Acts 15:23). And this publicly declared unity between believing Jews and believing Gentiles was celebrated among the churches Paul revisited to “see how they are” (Acts 15:36). Finally, Luke wrote yet again, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5).
The fifth section of Acts starts around the beginning of ch 16, and it follows Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. Luke highlights Paul ministries in Corinth and Ephesus, and he tells us about the continued work of the Holy Spirit in converting sinners and establishing churches through the preaching of the gospel. At the end of this fifth section, Luke wrote, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20).
And this brings us to the sixth and final section of Acts, which is concluded right there in the last two verses of the book. After Paul had decided to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome (Acts 19:21), he did make his way (slowly and painfully, but surely) to Rome. But this was not merely Paul’s desire, it was by command and provision of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was the specially called witness that Christ Himself was putting in front of Jewish councils and Roman governors and kings.
And finally, in Rome itself, Luke says that Paul “lived there two whole years,” he welcomed “welcomed all who came to him” (not only Jews but also Gentiles), and he proclaimed or preached “the kingdom of God” and taught “about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (v30-31). Just like each section before, Luke closed this one with a summary statement about the word of God being preached and both the word and the Church of Christ prevailing.
Thus, the overarching theme of the book of Acts is that the Spirit of God works through the word of God which is preached and taught by the people of God to build the Church or the kingdom of God in the world. And God’s Spirit does this building and multiplying and prevailing work without the help of worldly prestige, attractive gimmicks, economic power, or civil endorsement. He does it through His word as it is preached and taught by those who believe it, which is the fulfillment of Jesus’s Great Commission statement in Acts 1:8.
That’s how these verses tie together the theme of the book and bring us full circle. But I said there was a third thing these last couple of verses also do, and that is they invite the reader to join the line of gospel witnesses who have gone before. You know, there is something about the end of the book of Acts that makes it feel abrupt, and it certainly leaves a hanging question: “What about Paul?!” Did Paul die at the end of those two years? Was he set free for a while and die as a martyr sometime later? How about the possibility of a fourth missionary journey?
But this hanging question seems to be purposeful on Luke’s part. It leaves the reader with a sense that the book of Acts wasn’t about Paul to begin with. Even Paul’s detailed imprisonment and miraculous journey from Jerusalem to Rome wasn’t ultimately about Paul. The whole book was and is about God’s Holy Spirit working through God’s word and God’s people to build God’s kingdom!
And this complete absence of a definite conclusion to Paul’s life and ministry offers the reader a strongly implied invite to pick up where Paul left off. Now, I’m not saying that all Christians are capital “A” Apostles, but I am saying that all Christians are little “a” apostles, in the sense that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are to continue to be His witnesses (empowered by the Holy Spirit) to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) and to “the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
And how can Christians today pick up where Paul and the rest of the early Christians left off? Well, we can rely upon God’s Spirit to work through God’s word to convert sinners and to build His Church. We can preach and teach the gospel with the aim to persuade,1 and we can invite repenting and believing sinners to join with us in following and bearing witness for Christ, until He comes.
1 This phrase (“teach the gospel with he aim to persuade”) comes from Mack Stiles’ book called Evangelism, which I wholeheartedly recommend to the interested reader. Get it at the cheapest price from the 9Marks bookstore HERE.
Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.