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Acts 2: The Holy Spirit comes to the Church

Why is this chapter called great?

The Christian church is one of the largest and oldest of all human institutions. It has spread throughout the world and through the last 2,000 years has been the inspiration for much art, music, culture and politics. How did it all begin?

This chapter in the book of Acts tells the story of how the loose collection of followers of Jesus began to increase their numbers and how they decided that Jesus had a message not just for Jews but for the entire world.

A key verse

"… and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved." (Verse 47, CEV)

Not every religion has made getting converts such a central part of its message as has Christianity. From the beginning, telling people about Jesus and asking them to join the movement is something Christians do.

There was something very attractive about the early followers of Jesus. What they said and how they lived really appealed to people. As you read this chapter, you can try to see why that was.

Acts Chapter 2

Verses 1 to 13: The Arrival of the Holy Spirit. The ministry that Jesus began in Israel will continue and spread throughout the world.

Verses 14 to 42: Proclaiming the Message to the World.

Verses 42 to 47: Life inside the Church. Christians will relate to each other differently than people outside the community.

If you liked this chapter

  • In Acts 8 is the interesting story of Philip’s missionary work including the well known story of his conversation with and conversion of the Ethiopian court official.
  • In Acts 9 Paul is on his way to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus. This encounter changes his whole life.
  • In Acts 10 is the story of the first non-Jewish person to declare his loyalty to Jesus. With this, the early followers of Jesus are set on the path to a universal mission and message.
  • Paul tells some of his own history in the first chapter of the letter of Galatians, beginning at verse 11.

About the book called "The Acts of the Apostles"

  • Both the word "acts" and the word "apostles" may require some explanation. "Acts" means "actions:" the things that they did. An apostle is literally "one who is sent." But "apostle" has a more specific meaning as well: someone who was with Jesus as a follower. Any Christian can be a disciple, but the word apostle is reserved for those who were with Jesus in the flesh. Is Paul an apostle? He never was with Jesus before Jesus was crucified, but he does encounter the risen Lord (Acts chapter 9).
  • Peter and Paul, Jerusalem and Rome, Jews and Gentiles. Acts can be thought of as a book of two people, two cities and two groups of Jesus’ disciples. The book begins with a focus on Peter in Jerusalem and the word about Jesus being spread among the Jews. By the book’s end, we are following Paul on a trip to Rome as he reaches out to the Gentiles (non-Jews) with the message of Jesus.
  • Do you have to be a Jew first before you can become a Christian? That question was not a simple one for the early church. One theme of Acts is how the first followers of Jesus (who were all Jews themselves) came to decide that Gentiles could be followers of Jesus without taking on all the practices and customs of Jews. See chapter 15.
  • Luke. The person we know as Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke, also wrote the Book of Acts. Together these two books make up about one-fourth of the New Testament. Traditionally, Luke has been thought of as the companion of Paul mentioned in Philemon 24. Some parts of the Book of Acts are written in the first person (16.10-17, 20.5-15, 21.1-18, 27.1-28,16) as if Luke was personally present on the trips.

Outline of the book. It is convenient to think of the book having four section:

Chapters 1 to 8: Mission to Jews in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. The story of Peter, Stephen and Philip.

Chapters 9 to 14: The Mission to Gentiles in the Eastern Mediterranean. The story of Peter and Paul.

Chapter 15: The debate over the mission to the Gentiles.

Chapters 16 to 22: The Universal Mission. Paul travels to Rome.

When is this happening?
t’s always difficult to identify precise dates from this time, but the following chronology may help you. There is some uncertainty in these dates, but they aren’t more than a few years off.

4 BC Jesus is born.
AD Paul is born.
30 AD Jesus is crucified.
36 AD Paul is persecuting the church when he is converted to being a Christian.
45-57 AD Paul is traveling around the Mediterranean.
65 AD Paul goes to Rome.

The geography of the early church

The story of Jesus centered in and around ancient Palestine. Territories such as Galilee, Judea, the Dead Sea were the scene for his ministry. He was crucified in Jerusalem. At this time, this area was ruled by the Roman Empire.

In the book of Acts, the story starts in Jerusalem (chapters 1-8), but gradually the focus shifts to Israel and surrounding territories (chapters 9-12), then to modern Turkey and Greece (chapters 13-21) and on to Rome (chapters 22-28).

While Acts only provides hints of it, the message of Jesus also spread outside the Roman Empire. Both the Ethiopian church and churches in modern Syria and Iraq are as old as any churches in "the west" (the Roman Empire).

In Conclusion

In this chapter we’ve seen a number of ways that the group of disciples around Jesus started to form themselves into an organization with a purpose and habits. The Holy Spirit came to provide inspiration to them, they started telling people about Jesus, they took in new members who had not been with Jesus and they started a life together caring for each other.

Here are some questions that you might want to think about:

  • Would it be possible for you to live like the early Christians did? What would it take to sustain it? Have you ever lived in such a close group, even for a short period of time?
  • Can you imagine telling someone about Jesus who had never heard about him at all? What would you say, and how would you say it?
  • What surprised you the most about this chapter?
  • Give me some feedback. What is still unclear or puzzling about this chapter to you? What would you like to know more about?

Last updated 12/16/00; © 2000 John P. Nordin