THE WITNESSES OF LUKE
The book of Acts was written by Luke as a sequel to his Gospel. He began both with an introduction and dedication to someone named Theophilus. "The former treatise have I made [speaking of the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:1-2). Who is Theophilus? "Following a literary custom of his day, Luke gives his work a formal dedication. Theophilus, literally 'lover of God,' may refer to a [particular] historical person or to anyone who loves God" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2057).
Understanding that Luke and Acts are connected books makes each of them a stronger witness. "Because the Gospels were grouped together in the [Bible], Acts stands separate from luke. Yet readers of Acts will be helped if they bear in mind its many connections with the Third Gospel. Among the most important...themes is the fulfillment of God's promises in the ministry of Jesus and the life of the church. From the annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:35) to the mission of the church (Acts 1:8) to Paul's journey to Rome (Acts 27:24), Luke underscores the absolute reliability of God's word. Another overriding theme is the work of the Holy Spirit, which plays a prominent role in Jesus' ministry (Luke 4:1), in the empowering of the church (Acts 2:1-13), and in guiding the church's witness (15:28; 16:6-7). A third connection between the two volumes is that important figures in Acts duplicate aspects of Jesus' life, [such] as when Peter raises the dead (Acts 9:36-43; Luke 7:11-17) or when Paul's final journey to Jerusalem and Rome echoes that of Jesus to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21; Luke 9:51-52)" (Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Associate Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary, writing for the Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2057.)
Richard Neitzel Holzapfel notes that women as witnesses is a theme carried over from the Gospel of Luke. Once again, only a woman was witness to two great events: The birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-19) and the birth of the Christian church (Acts 1:1-14).
Temple the Focal Point
He also points out that the temple is a point of focus in both books. When Jesus was just a child, his parents came up to Jerusalem for the Passover and lost Jesus, thinking he was with relatives in the same traveling company. It was three days before they found him in the temple teaching the priests the things he had already learned at such a young age from God (Luke 2:46, JST footnote). The temple mount was 40 acres, 4 times the size of Salt Lake City's Temple Square. There would have been approximately 180,000 people on the temple mount during Passover, although it can actually hold twice that number. And yet, little Jesus said to his parents, in essence, "Why did you have such a hard time finding me? You should have known I would have been at the temple!" (See Luke 2:41-50.)
The temple is at the beginning of Luke's account of Jesus' life, and the temple is at the end: Each day at the 9th hour (3:00 p.m.), the Jews would pray with their hands over their heads. At the end of his Gospel, Luke notes that as Christ hung on the cross, "there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost" (Luke 23:44-46). So as the Jews were praying with their hands over their heads at the temple at Passover, Jesus died on the cross, with his hands over his head, and God the Father heard Christ's prayer, opened the veil between heaven and earth, and allowed Christ, the great and new High Priest to enter his presence so that all others who desired might do the same.
The final words of Luke's first book are that after Christ's ascension, the disciples "were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen" (Luke 24:53).
Working of Miracles
The first healing done by the apostles that is recorded by Luke in his second book, was at the Feast of Pentecost, when "Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1), when there would have been a large number of people at the temple praying, and performed a public healing of a man well-known to have been lame from birth. It was just like the miraculous healings performed by Christ: it was a bold and irrefutable witness that they had power from Christ. Upon seeing the man begging, Peter answered, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6).
(Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, "Temple Worship and Symbolism in the New Testament," CES Scripture Symposium held in Logan, Utah January 25, 2003, taken from my personal notes, 8:161).
Importance of Preaching the Gospel to all the World
The Gospel of Luke ends with Christ's injunction that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witness of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:47-49).
The first words of the book of Acts are reminders of that promise and the commandment that they should be witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and into the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:3-8).
The Witness of Angels
As two angels witnessed to the women at the tomb, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?", two angels witnessed to the apostles, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:10-11).
THE JOY OF THE ATONEMENT PREACHED TO THOSE WHO CRUCIFIED CHRIST
The first place the Apostles were commanded to preach the gospel was in Jerusalem, so that is where they started. (That would seem to be obvious, but we are not always so obedient. Think of Jonah, for instance.)
There was a huge crowd of "devout men, out of every nation under heaven" who had gathered to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. ("Devout" doesn't necesarily mean "believers in Christ"--the Pharisees were the most devout of all.) These were Jews whose ancestors had previously been scattered to other nations as Israel had been conquered, so they spoke many different languages. And Jerusalem was the place where Christ had recently been unjustly tried, convicted, and condemned during the last great gathering, the Passover. It would not seem to be a fertile ground for missionary work.
But Peter and the apostles were now filled with power through the Gift of the Holy Ghost (John 20:22) and the Melchizedek Priesthood and were no longer afraid of the people or the leaders. Their testimonies had been strengthened; they did not hesitate to risk their lives to obey their Lord and Savior. As the small group of believers assembled for Pentecost, they appeared to be on fire. There was also a great sound as the rushing of a mighty wind.
The word spread that there was a spectacle to see, and people gathered, and were shocked to hear the gospel being preached by Galileans, and yet being heard by each man in his own language. By obeying the command to first preach in Jerusalem, the Apostles were aided by a great manifestation of the gift of tongues, by which the gospel then could be spread throughout the many surrounding nations as the listening Jews returned home with the message.
Peter boldly proclaimed to them, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death; because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2:22-24). Peter did not mince words! Peter then referred to the writings of the great King David, whose place of burial was well-known, and told them that Christ had been the Messiah and Savior who was to come through David, and he no longer remained in the sepulchre, but was resurrected. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
Imagine hearing this and having the awful realization dawn that it was true!
"Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
It was too late to reverse the decision of the court! It was too late to stop the crucifixion! It was too late to become a disciple of Christ rather than an enemy! It was too late to switch sides!
Or was it?
No. It wasn't, and it isn't. It is never, ever too late.
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-39).
The Lord called his own condemnors and promised them the remission of sins and the Gift of the Holy Ghost? Right after they crucified him? Why?
"[The Lord] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he sayeth: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey without money and without price...Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men, and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance" (2 Ne. 26:24-25,27).
Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which he wrought in the Garden of Gethsemane before being crucified, even those who crucified him were freely offered not only resurrection, but the remission of their sins. In fact, the apostles were commanded to preach it to them.
Any of us who may feel that our sins are beyond the power of the Atonement, or that we would not be able to qualify to inherit Christ's kingdom because of what we have done or who we are need only read this chapter in Acts to realize that the Atonement will work for us as well. A great example of trust in Christ and the power of his Atonement to cleanse, to heal, and to sanctify any sinner is shown in the lives of those who, after calling for his crucifixion, then turned to him in repentance. A great example also of the diligence Christ expects of his disciples to "feed my sheep" no matter who they are or what they have done is shown in the bold preaching of Peter and the apostles.
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). (See also Acts 3:12-26 for a similar speech.)
Why did these people now recognize the truth when they did not accept the Savior when he was there himself? "Here is the happy success and issue of this [preaching]. The Spirit wrought with the word, and wrought wonders by it. These same persons that had many of them been eye-witnesses of the death of Christ, and the prodigies that attended it, and were not wrought upon by them, were yet wrought upon by the preaching of the word, for it is this that is the power of God unto salvation. They received the word; and then only the word does us good, when we do receive it, embrace it, and bid it welcome" (Matthew Henry's Commentary--The New Testament, Acts, p. 13).
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH
Although most of the leadership of the Jews still did not believe, the early Christian church was solidly established in Jerusalem with a base membership of those disciples who had followed Christ during his ministry, and these who had received the word at Pentecost. Their story is almost as amazing as that of the conversion of the entire Nephite nation which was happening in the Americas at exactly the same time (3 Ne. 11-26).
In just a few verses here, Luke details why and how the Church worked so well. Look for the elements of success. (The blue comments come from Matthew Henry, p 13-14.)
- And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine..."They were diligent and constant in their attendance upon the preaching of the word."
- And [the apostles'] fellowship... "They kept up the communion of saints."
- And in breaking of bread... "They frequently joined in the ordinance of the Lord's supper. They continued in the breaking of bread, in celebrating that memorial of their Master's death, as those that were not ashamed to own their relation to, and their dependance upon, Christ and him crucified."
- And in prayers. "They continued in prayers. After the Spirit was poured out, as well as before, while they were waiting for him, they continued instant in prayer; for prayer will never be superseded till it comes to be swallowed up in everlasting praise [in the next life]."
- And fear [great reverence for God] came upon every soul... The despising of the Savior while he was among them changed to a state of awe.
- And many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. Miracles did not cease when Christ left the earth, nor will they as long as his Church is here.
- And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. "This was to destroy, not property...but selfishness."
- And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple... "They kept close to holy ordinances, and abounded in all instances of piety and devotion." "They met in the temple...for joint-fellowship with God is the best fellowship we can have with one another."
- And breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. "They abounded in thanksgiving; were continually praising God. This should have a part in every prayer, and not be crowded into a corner. Those that have received the gift of the Holy Ghost will be much in praise."
PARALLELS IN THE LATTER-DAY CHURCH
We can see many parallels between their church and our church, and also the church Christ established among the Nephites. (You may want to ask the class to identify parallels, and then write them on a chart on the blackboard as they think of them. They may come up with different ones than I have.)
PARALLELS IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF
IN DIFFERENT ERAS AND LOCATIONS
New Testament Church
Spectacular descent of the Holy Ghost; prophecy of Joel 2:28 proclaimed fulfilled
sound of rushing wind, cloven tongues of fire, speaking in tongues;
Acts 2:17 Joel's prophecy repeated by Peter
3 Ne. 19:9-14
circle of fire, presence of angels
sound of rushing wind, appearance of fire, speaking in tongues
Joel's prophecy repeated by Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith
Huge groups join the church
Acts 2:41; 4:4
3,000 men; 5,000 men
4 Ne. 1:2
the entire nation
missions to England, Canada
All things held in common
3 Ne. 26:19
4 Ne. 1:2-3
Transfiguration; Keys of Kingdom given
Bible Dictionary p. 786
3 Ne. 28:12-15
April 3, 1836
Apostles imprisoned but prisons could not hold them
Acts 12 freed by angel
Acts 16 freed by earthquake; jailer converted
3 Ne. 18:19
Many times; Joseph Smith did convert a jailer; sometimes they did escape or were allowed to
Visited by resurrected Christ
3 Ne. 11:8 and on
D&C 110 in the Kirtland Temple
3 Ne. 18
Twelve Apostles called
Acts 1:13, 21-26 filling position left by Judas Iscariot
3 Ne. 12:1
Voice of God identifying Christ
3 Ne. 11:6-7
Joseph Smith-History 1:17
Healing miracles performed by apostles
4 Ne. 1:5
History of the Church records many
Eventual persecution of church members
All apostles ended up being martyrs
4 Ne. 1:34
That is the reason the church is based in Salt Lake City—they had to flee the U.S. because of persecution
Joyous differences in the Latter-day Church
An apostacy prophecied
No! The church will never again leave the earth
A restoration prophecied
3 Ne. 20-22
JS-H 1:40 this restoration is final
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE REST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
"Sadly, the second half of the New Testament is sometimes neglected by Latter-day Saints. That is unfortunate because the times in which those books of the New Testament were written were not so different from our own. The information in those books and the lessons we can learn from them could become a towering source of peace and power in coping with life's challenges in our own times. These books speak of the former-day Saints having to endure persecution; sexual temptations and perversions of every kind, including prostitution, adultery, fornication, and homosexuality; recurring and vexing welfare problems; famine and economic uncertainties; sorrow and suffering; trials and tribulations; the allure of reason over revelation; false teachers; and apostasy" (D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 1-2).
It will be exciting to study "the rest of the story" during the remainder of the year in Sunday School.
With whatever time you have left, you can play this game.
Ask the class to identify the 12 apostles of the early Church. You can let them look them up, if needed, in Acts 1:13 & 26. Write them on the board. Then ask them if they can name our present-day apostles. As they do, write them on the board. Remember, there will be 15, not 12, with the First Presidency. You can then play a game of knowledge of our apostles. Divide the class into two teams. Show a picture of one of the apostles. One team member is asked to name the apostle. He/she has the option to try or to pass. If the answer is right, the next team member must tell us something about the apostle. (His professional life, his family life, hobbies, his most recent conference address topic, his personality, details of his church service.) This team keeps the turn until they can tell three things about the apostle. If they make a mistake, the opposing team gets to finish their turn, and then start a new one. You can keep score on the board, if it seems appropriate.
This will work pretty well with a large class of adults who are well-established in the church. If you have a small class of youth, you may want to ask for only one thing about each apostle. If you have a small group of new members or children, you may want to post all the apostles' pictures at once, put information about the apostles on slips of paper in a bowl and have team members draw one out and guess which apostle it is. Tell them the correct answer, post the strip by the apostle's picture, and don't keep score.
Sources you can use for information about the apostles:
The Church News Church Leaders Page
Grandpa Bill's General Authority Pages
As Christ was setting up his church in Jerusalem, he admonished Peter to "Feed my sheep." This commandment applies to us today as well as it did to Peter. We are both the shepherds and the sheep, and we must perform each role well. It is our job to help and lift each other in whatever our stewardships may be in the kingdom. It is also our job to listen to and obey those who are shepherds over us, particularly the apostles. We are so blessed in our day; we do not have to leave our jobs and follow the apostles through the countryside, straining to hear over the multitude, and having to rely upon our own memories. We should not treat the words of the prophets and apostles today casually because of the easiness of hearing them. We must be earnest in hearing, and then we can turn around and "feed" the other "sheep."
For a great article on feeding the sheep, by Russell M. Nelson, click here.