Acts Series (summary)


There are many ways to divide the contents of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, and the sections presented here are just a convenient way to breakup this summary of our journey.

Our journey through each chapter was really insightful, because so few of us have ever taken the time to take the whole journey. Now the geography makes much more sense, likewise the progression of the gospel and the people and events that Acts follows.

The following summary is not intended in any way to be comprehensive, and watching the video messages from each week is highly recommended – this is just a short commentary after the event.

You may find it helpful to read this summary with a copy of Acts in front of you.

Our entire series on Acts is available here.


Chapters 1-2: Pentecost

Ch1 is clearly preparation for the events of Pentecost, and ch2 tells of the events of that special Pentecost. We do not hold the sound of the wind or what looked like tongues of fire to be prescriptive of the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless to be taken literally of that occasion.

It does appear to have been quite brief – there is nothing to suggest it was prolonged, rather they spilled out onto the street and drew a crowd. We’re told 3,000 believers were added to their number that day – that is, they became believers in Jesus.

I have always thought how difficult it must have been to cope with the sudden influx of people, but that doesn’t even begin to address the real issue. We’re told the crowd was made up of people from all over the Roman Empire (at least). Those travellers who came to faith were soon going home, very new in their faith and they didn’t have Zoom and the internet to stay in touch.

There would have been a problem with the number of new believers in Jerusalem, but there was a much bigger problem of how to support new groups of believers throughout the empire. So 1) there was much teaching done (they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching), and 2) there must have been an increase in people returning to Jerusalem for more training, and the commencement of more trips away by the apostles and other leaders to visit these groups of Jewish Christians. I find it impossible to imagine otherwise.

The events of that Pentecost began the first spread of the gospel, but only among Jews.


Chapter 3-8: Post-Pentecost

There then follows a series of stories of things that happened in the early days of the church (“the Way”) in Jerusalem and then Judea and Samaria. There was the first recorded clash with the Sanhedrin, following the first recorded miraculous healing of the apostles (3-4:22). There was the great sharing of possessions and its possible downfall (4:32-5:11). Then followed the persecution that began with Stephen being stoned (6:8-7), the scattering of the believers while a young Saul lead the persecution of believers in Jesus in  Jerusalem and beyond (8).

These chapters seem to sample life among the believers and the progress of the gospel in those early years. In ch8 it samples Phillip with many miracles and signs, Peter and John joining Phillip in Samaria, and then Philip’s amazing experience with the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is not to say that Philip was the only one doing these things, but Acts follows him in ch8. I presume others were having different experiences in other places.

But to that point it had all been to Jews. That was about to change.


Chapters 9-12: Movement towards the Gentiles

Ch9 opens with Saul’s conversion as he travelled to Damascus. It is a very important turning point because 1) it greatly diminished the persecution from the Jews, and 2) it prepared the ground for the movement towards the Gentiles – we just don’t discover that yet.

Immediately following Saul’s conversion, we join Peter in Lydda (miracle) and then Joppa (miracle). That put Peter in place for the whole dramatic episode with Cornelius, a Roman Centurion – a Gentile.

Cornelius had a vision where an angel told him very specifically to send for Simon Peter in Joppa – street address included. Peter had his vision of a net of animals being lowered from heaven 3 times, and the instruction to eat.

So Peter went to Cornelius, preached the gospel to those Gentiles, they believed and the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. This was a huge turning point, and beyond Ch2 is probably the best known event in Acts.

This set the stage for the under-appreciated events in Syrian Antioch, where the gospel was first openly preached to Gentiles (11:19-26). Men from Cyprus and Cyrene (not apostles, nor with their permission) came and preached in Antioch to the Gentiles. It went so well, Jerusalem sent Barnabas to help, and it continued so well, Barnabas went and fetched Paul (Saul) from Tarsus. These few verses launch the ministry to the Gentiles, and make possible all of what is still to come in Acts.


Chapters 13-14: Paul’s first missionary journey

Then Paul and Barnabas headed off on the first evangelism tour of which we have record. They cannot have known what to expect. There was no guidebook for this. They went, prayed and worked it out as they went, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

They travelled across to Cyprus, an island quite close to Syria, then north to the mainland, up as far as Pisidian Antioch, then East(ish) in the direction of Paul’s home town, as far as Derbe.

It is easily overlooked that Paul is left for dead after being stoned at Lystra. It is not beyond reasonable that he actually died (stoning was pretty terminal), and after prayer he revived, but Luke leaves that unclear – perhaps he himself was unsure on that point.

But they travel as far as Derbe, then retrace their steps but bypass Cyprus, back to Syria and Antioch.

While this is the first recorded mission trip, it would be naïve of us to think there are not other mission trips happening, if not already, certainly soon after. Luke follows Paul’s journeys, but clearly there must have been many others whose details we do not have.


Chapter 15: The Council at Jerusalem

Chapter 15 tells us of these people who came to Syrian Antioch saying Gentiles believers had to be circumcised, according to the Law of Moses. This has to be understood as saying they had to convert to Judaism, for what other meaning could this have? So it is a question far beyond circumcision.

Indeed, the whole shape of Christianity as mostly Gentile across the world owes itself to the decision recorded in Acts 15.

However it is all too easily forgotten – the decision meant that Gentiles were (and are) not bound to the Law of Moses; they asked only “to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. (Acts 15:29a)”. Even then, not bound to them as law, but ”You will do well to avoid these things (Acts 15:29b).”

It is good to listen to the Old Testament of the Bible, but also good to remember Acts 15. If we are Gentile, we are bound to Jesus and not the Law of Jesus. This is little understood.


Chapters 16-18: Paul’s second missionary journey

Paul fell out with Barnabas, over whether John Mark would go with them on the second journey. So Barnabas and John Mark sailed for Cyprus (perhaps repeating the first journey) while Paul took Silas and travelled around to Cilicia and beyond, probably via his home town of Tarsus.

In ch16 we’re told they repeated the pattern of Derbe, Lystra and Iconium, but after that we’re not given detail until Troas. It appears they worked their way North(ish) through Galatia then west between Asia and Mysia which leads to Troas.

Asia Minor would have been the obvious move (south), but the Spirit had prohibited that, so it appears they were uncertain until Paul had the vision of a man of Macedonia, so they headed North-West by water, landing at Neapolis and moving on to Philippi. And so their journey through Macedonia and Achaia (Greece, today) began.

Paul followed his pattern of going first to the Jews in each place, and after they threw him out he would go to the Gentiles. Sometimes he would get chased, have confrontations, and so move on.

He went down to Athens ahead of the rest, since it was unsafe for him. Curiously we never hear of Athens again, so it suggests he did not leave a church behind there – at least not one that endured.

The big achievement on this journey was the last – Corinth. There he met Priscilla and Aquilla, who are from Rome, among the Jews expelled by the Emperor Claudius in 49AD. This is the earliest record of Paul doing ministry alongside a woman (her name appears before Aquilla, so it is a safe assumption she was the ministry leader of the two), and that is a significant thing to note. They achieved a lot in Corinth, and Paul stayed 18 months.When he left, there is a curious matter of Paul cutting his hair because of a vow. Many suggest it was the Nazarite vow, which would normally be ended with hair cutting and sacrifices in Jerusalem. But it remains unclear why he cut his hair before setting sail, except perhaps because he intended a short visit with the believers in Ephesus on the way home.

He set sail for Caesarea via Ephesus, and promised to return to Ephesus as soon as he was able. Priscilla and Aquilla stayed in Ephesus, and Paul returned to Jerusalem. There he met with the church, possibly made sacrifices to go with the vow he had completed earlier, and returned to home base – the church in Syrian Antioch.


Chapters 19-20: Paul’s third missionary journey

While we don’t know how much actual time he spent in Antioch, the text gives no time at all. We’re still in ch18 when Paul headed off again, initially retracing his steps through Galatia and Phrygia (it seems safe to assume Cilicia first), but then continued west through Asia Minor and on to Ephesus on the coast.

He had to correct/complete the understanding and experience of some disciples regarding the Holy Spirit (it doesn’t say the whole church) in the wake of Apollos’ teaching, then followed his pattern of going to the Jews, then the Gentiles.

We are told that Paul taught the gospel from the Hall of Tyrannos for 3 years, that remarkable miracles occurred through this time, and people came from all over Asia Minor to hear him speak. It was clearly the most fruitful time of all his travels.

It is a worthy note that most believe he wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth during this time in Ephesus.

When he moved on, he travelled up to Macedonia and travelled all the way down to Corinth, revisiting all the churches along the way. We’re not told how long he stayed in Corinth, but he wrote his letter to the Romans church during this time.

He intended to head back to Jerusalem, but learned of a plot against him. So instead of sailing straight back, they journeyed back up through Macedonia, and took their time until they finally passed by Ephesus with only a brief meeting and goodbye, expecting not to meet again. By now, Paul expected the worst and was prepared to meet it.


Chapters 21-26: The prelude to the journey to Rome

The return to Jerusalem contains a surprising amount of detail – places they stopped, people they saw, who they stayed with – it’s a bit like slow motion.

When they did arrive in Jerusalem, Paul followed a very Jewish method of demonstrating his Jewish orthodoxy, however it all soon came unstuck. He got to speak to the mob, and interestingly they didn’t get upset at his testimony about his conversion experience with Jesus, they got upset when he said he was sent to the Gentiles.

He was effectively arrested and narrowly avoided a beating by pulling out the “Roman Citizen” card. He then got to speak to the Sanhedrin, but because of a plot to kill him, then got transferred to Caesarea.

There he appeared before the governor Felix, and of course he testified about Jesus to Felix. We’re told that over 2 years, Felix talked to Paul often, but after 2 years, Felix was replaced by Festus, who kept Paul in prison.

Then Paul appeared before Festus, and under threat of being returned to Jerusalem, Paul appealed to the emperor (Nero).

As a matter of convenience, King Agrippa was visiting, so Paul also appeared before him and his sister Bernice/Berenice, resulting in the comment that he could have been released if he had not appealed to the emperor.

Anyway, the scene is now set for the next phase, because appearing before the emperor required a trip to Rome – the very thing Paul had wanted for some time.


Chapters 27-28: The journey to Rome

The journey to Rome is fascinating, in the detail provided. It is provided in first person, suggesting Luke was on board.

It is significant that the centurion, Julius, is introduced by name. Clearly he treated Paul very well, and by the end of the trip I wonder if Julius had become a Christian. In 27:3 Julius allowed Paul to go to his friends until they set sail again.

Follow the course on the map below – it is very interesting and detailed. I never realised how close Fair Havens was to Phoenix. I had no idea of the sandbars Syrtis, but the location and danger is well documented.

So they were blown along for 14 days without control or knowledge of their location. That is a very long time to be caught in a storm, and they could have ended up anywhere.

When it came down to the end and the eventual shipwreck, an angel appeared to Paul and told him how they would survive. He then communicated that to everyone and – get this, he took some bread, led a small communion service – then when daylight came they proceeded with the shipwreck.

So they arrived in Malta, which is surprisingly close to their destination, given 14 days lost in the storm. On Malta Paul survived a venomous snake bite, healed the chief official’s daughter, then cured all who were sick on the island – not a bad effort for a prisoner. We can be sure he told everyone about Jesus while he was doing it.

They stayed in Malta 3 months before setting sail for Rome. Again, the route is well known and there is no further misadventure.

Curiously, so close to Rome at Puteoli, Julius allowed Paul a week with the believers he found there (28:14). There may have been other reasons, but by Luke’s account I feel that Julius and Paul were by then close friends, possibly even brothers in Christ. Of that we are not told, perhaps for Julius’ safety.

And so it is that Paul eventually arrived in Rome as a prisoner.  We’re told he lived for 2 years in his own rented house, able to have visitors and freely share the gospel unhindered (28:30-31). It is known that Paul was released sometime around AD60, under Nero.


I learned of an interesting suggestion during this series, that perhaps Luke investigated and wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles as part of Paul’s defence in Rome, and that Theophilus (Luke 1:1, Acts 1:1) was either defending Paul or was an official in the Roman court hearing Paul’s case. It would explain why Rome and all representing Rome are represented very graciously by Luke.

It is understood (inferred from his letters) that Paul later travelled to Spain, and revisited some of the churches he established, before the end. The details of those travels are not recorded, so specifics are unknown.

Things became much worse for Christians under Nero after much of Rome burned in AD64. While not documented, it is almost universally held that both Peter and Paul were executed in Rome under Nero, some time after the AD64 fire.

One thing I gained from our journey through Acts was how real the whole thing was.  They were very ordinary people, following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.  They had very real issues, encountered very real people, and they really did change the world in Jesus’ name.  It also happened one step at a time.  If God can do that with them, then there is still hope for us.