When the Canon of the New Testament was beginning to take shape, the two books were separated so that all the Gospels could be located at the beginning of the list.
This occurred as early as the second century A.D.
The Gospel of Luke relates the story of Jesus from his birth to his ascension; while the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the early church from the ascension of Jesus to the preaching of the Gospel in Rome by Paul.
As with the authors of the other three Gospels, not much is known about Luke. The Greek of his Gospel is some of the best found in the New Testament, which indicates he was most likely a well-educated person, a Gentile convert to Christianity.
Acts 27:1-28:16 reveals that Luke was a companion with Paul on his journey to Rome.
These chapters change from the use of the third person 'they' to the use of the first person 'we.'
Luke wrote the Third Gospel and Acts in the city of Antioch, Syria. Antioch was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire with a great variety of people. There were Jews and Gentiles as well as rich and poor. This helps us to understand Luke’s audience as being composed mostly of Gentile converts of a mixed socio-economic background. This greatly influenced the way Luke constructed his Gospel.
More will be said of this as we make our way through the Gospel.
Source Material for Luke
In 1:1-2 of the Gospel, Luke admits that he was not an eyewitness to what Jesus said and did.
Rather, Luke relied on those who were eyewitnesses. This means that Luke made use of other sources in the preparation of his Gospel.
A major source was the Gospel of Mark. Almost sixty-five percent of Mark is found in Luke. Mark comprises about thirty-five percent of Luke’s Gospel.
Another twenty percent of Luke’s Gospel is very similar to material found in the Gospel according to Matthew. This has led scholars to believe that Luke and Matthew made use of a similar source.
This source has been called the “Q” source after the German word for source, “Quelle”. Most of the material from the “Q” source contains sayings of Jesus.
The remaining third of the Gospel has been called the “L” source after the evangelist himself. However, it cannot be determined whether Luke composed this part himself or relied on other sources that are unknown to us.
The Third Gospel has been dated around 80-85 A.D.
Such a date is based on several criteria. First, the Gospel of Mark has been dated around 68-73 A.D. Since Luke used a considerable portion of Mark’s Gospel, Luke could not have written it before Mark wrote his Gospel.
Luke 21:20-24 gives a fairly accurate description of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. This is another indication that Luke wrote after 70.
At the same time Luke omits any knowledge of two significant events: the persecution of the Christians by the Roman emperor, Domitian, in 81-96 A.D.; and the bitter struggle that arose between the early church and its Jewish roots in 85-90 A.D.
Thus, a date between 80-85 is considered the most appropriate.
Important Themes in Luke
Throughout Luke's two-volume work, certain important themes keep reappearing.
The first of these is universal salvation. Jesus came to save all people. Therefore the Gentiles as well as the Jews can be part of the church of Jesus.
A second important theme is Jesus’ great mercy and forgiveness. This theme is especially seen in Jesus’ concern for the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast.
In the ancient world, women were often seen as second-class citizens and so it was in the society in which Jesus lived. No other Gospel goes to such lengths to include women as does the Third Gospel.
More than any other Gospel, the Holy Spirit plays an important role in Luke’s Gospel.
This theme also continues in the Acts of the Apostles. The actions taken by the characters of the narrative are frequently influenced by the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Closely associated with this theme is prayer.
Throughout the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, people are often seen at prayer. When important events take place, the characters turn to God in prayer. When important decisions need to be made, the guidance of God is sought through prayer.
In the course of the discussion of Luke and Acts, these themes will be pointed out as they appear.
Division of the Narrative
The narrative of the Third Gospel can be divided into six main divisions: The preface (1:1-4); the infancy narrative (1:5-2:52); Jesus’ preparation for ministry (3:1-4:13); Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:14-9:50); Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27); Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry (19:28-21:38); Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (22:1-24:53).
The outline of the Acts of the Apostles will be discussed after the Gospel.
Next week, we will look at the first two sections of the Gospel: the infancy narrative and Jesus’ preparation for ministry.
The Lucan Preface
The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel that begins with a short preface addressed to a specific individual, Theophilus. Theophilus was probably a well-known Christian convert.
When Luke wrote, c. 85 A.D., many of the apostles and first generation Christians had already died, with their deaths went the people who had been eyewitnesses to the things that Jesus had said and done.
Therefore, Luke wrote to Theophilus in order to provide him with an accurate account of what Jesus had taught.
Luke himself was one of these second generation Christians and so he authenticated his Gospel by saying that he had done a careful study among those who were knowledgeable about Jesus.
Luke's Infancy Narrative
Like Matthew, Luke begins his Gospel with an infancy narrative but it is quite different from Matthew’s.
In fact, Luke really has two infancy narratives because he also tells the story of the birth of John the Baptist.
Luke skilfully sets up a parallel between the two births. An angel announces the births of both boys. Each boy will have a canticle sung about his birth. Mary will sing what has come to be known as the Magnificat and Zechariah will proclaim the Benedictus. Finally, both Jesus and John will be circumcised on the eighth day.
Despite the similarities between the births, Luke is careful to point out that the birth of Jesus is by far the more important. A brief look at chapters one and two of the Gospel will demonstrate this.
A Close Reading of Luke 1-2
Zechariah, a priest, is ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem when an angel announces the birth of John. Zechariah is literally dumbfounded by the news because the angel makes him mute for not believing that God is able to bring him and his wife, Elizabeth, a child in their old age.
The scene shifts to Nazareth, a small village in the north about fifteen miles west of the Sea of Galilee.
The angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus. Like Zechariah, she is surprised by the news and asks the angel how this can be possible since she is a virgin.
However, unlike Zechariah she has complete faith that God can bring this about.
By unhesitatingly receiving Jesus, the Word of God, into her womb, Mary becomes the first disciple of her son. Through the angel’s announcement to Mary, the reader is informed that this child will be no ordinary child; he will be called Son of God.
All this will take place through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Reading the New Testament: Luke-Acts
A Close Reading of Luke 1-2 Continued
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth confirms what the angel said. As Mary approaches her relative, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaps for joy in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. Elizabeth is also inspired by the Holy Spirit to recognize the baby that Mary carries will be the Messiah.
Luke tells the birth of Jesus in great simplicity.
He is careful to place the birth of Jesus within an historical context by mentioning that Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was governor of Syria.
After Jesus’ birth, Mary wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. The reader is struck by the poverty of the newborn Son of God.
But this is not the main aspect of the birth that Luke wants to convey. Rather, the evangelist is emphasizing the royalty of the child by making a reference to the Book of Wisdom in which King Solomon says, “I was nursed with care in swaddling clothes. For no king has had a different beginning of existence.” (Wisdom 7:4-5)
Always concerned with the poor and marginalized, Luke has the birth of the Messiah announced first to shepherds by an angel from heaven. In first century Palestine, shepherds were among the poor of the land. They were also considered to be thieves and were generally regarded as outcasts. It is for people such as these that the Messiah has come into the world.
A Close Reading of Luke 1-2 Continued
The angel’s proclamation of the birth of Jesus includes the gift of peace. Once again, Luke is making a subtle claim about who this child really is.
The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, was well known for having established peace throughout his empire. Through the announcement of the angel to the shepherds, Luke is saying that while the Emperor has established civil peace, it is only Jesus who will be able to bring the true and lasting peace that finds its origin in God.
Luke presents Mary and Joseph as people who obey both civil and religious laws. They travelled to Bethlehem in compliance with the Roman law for the census.
In a similar way they faithfully fulfil all the religious laws that apply to Jesus’ birth. On the eighth day Jesus is circumcised and given the name that the angel had told to Mary at the annunciation.
Also according to the law, Jesus is presented in the Temple. Here, by means of the prophetic oracle made by Simeon, Luke makes it clear what the destiny of this child will be. Jesus will bring about the salvation of the world but only through suffering, suffering which Mary will also experience.
In keeping with Luke’s custom of generally balancing the masculine with the feminine, Anna appears on the scene to confirm Simeon’s prophecy of salvation through Jesus.
Luke completes his infancy narrative with Jesus’ journey to the Temple for Passover. This story provides us with insight into the early years of Jesus’ life. Already, at the age of twelve, Jesus is aware of the mission his father has given him. A mission that even takes priority over his relationship with Mary and Joseph.
The next time Jesus goes to Jerusalem in the Third Gospel it will be to die on the cross and to rise from the dead.
Luke 3:1 – 6:49: The Baptism of Jesus
Luke prepares for Jesus’ ministry with two events, his baptism in the Jordan River followed by the temptation in the wilderness.
The mission of John the Baptist as the precursor of Jesus is introduced by a quotation from the prophet, Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.”
To prepare for the coming Messiah, John calls all to repent of their sins. When the people ask him what they must do, his response is in harmony with typical Lucan themes. They must share what they have and treat each other with justice.
Jesus’ baptism becomes another occasion for his true identity to be revealed. The heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends upon him as a voice is heard saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Since these words call to mind Psalm 2, a Messianic Psalm, Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah.
Luke 3:1-6:49: Temptation In the Desert
Following his baptism, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for forty days.
This is symbolic of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt.
They also were tested during this time but often proved unfaithful to the God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt.
Jesus on the other hand remains faithful to his Father.
After the devil tempts Jesus three times, he disappears from the scene to return at a more opportune time.
This will be at the passion and death of Jesus.
Luke 3:1 – 6:49: Jesus' Ministry
Jesus officially begins his public ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown.
The reading he selects from the prophet Isaiah proves to be a perfect summary of what his ministry will be. He will bring good news to the poor; proclaim the release of captives; recovery of sight to the blind; and the time of the Lord’s favour.
At this very first act of his ministry, Jesus is met with hostility and rejection by the people of his own town who even try to kill him. As a result, Jesus leaves Nazareth and goes to Capernaum, a city on the northwestern coast of the Sea of Galilee. This will become the centre of his ministry in Galilee.
While he is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus drives an unclean spirit out of a man. Unlike Nazareth, the people of Capernaum immediately accept Jesus as one who teaches with authority.
Chapter five presents the call of the first disciples: Simon Peter, James and John. Jesus comes across them fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus tells them to put their nets out into deeper water.
Although they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing, Peter obeys Jesus; and to Peter’s surprise their nets are filled to the breaking point. Jesus takes this opportunity to call Peter and his two companions to be disciples.
The narrator concludes this passage by saying that the three men brought their boats ashore and left everything to follow Jesus. This is the first of several times in the Gospel that Luke will make the point that in order to follow Jesus the true disciple must be willing to forgo all possessions.
Conflict Between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees
5:17–6:11 presents five incidents that initiate conflict between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees.
The difficulty in each of the situations arises from Jesus’ failure to observe one of the religious laws of his day.
In the first event, Jesus heals a paralytic and forgives him his sins, an act the Pharisees see as infringing on the authority of God.
After Jesus calls Levi to be a disciple, Jesus dines at his house with people the Pharisees consider to be sinners.
On another occasion, the Pharisees confront Jesus with the complaint that his disciples do not fast and pray, as they ought.
On a Sabbath, the Pharisees observe the disciples picking and eating corn, an activity which was forbidden on that day.
The last situation also involves the Sabbath. Jesus cures a man with a withered hand, another act the Pharisees deem inappropriate to be performed on a Sabbath.
This last act of Jesus proves to be the breaking point for the Pharisees. Filled with anger, they begin to discuss what should be done with Jesus. Thus Luke sets in motion the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders that will eventually result in Jesus’ death.
The Sermon on the Plain
Following his confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus retreats to the mountains and spends an entire night in prayer. Throughout the Gospel, Luke comments on the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life.
The next morning, Jesus selects the twelve men who will be his apostles and then he goes down the mountain to teach a great crowd of people who had gathered there. This teaching is often called the Sermon on the Plain and is very similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.
Luke even begins with four beatitudes, which are addressed to those who are actually poor, hungry, mournful and hated now. The four beatitudes are balanced with four woes that are directed against those who are wealthy, well fed, have no worries and have a high social standing.
The sermon continues with a summons to love your enemies and to judge no one.
Jesus concludes his teaching with the parable of the two builders. One built his house with a strong foundation on rock; while, the other built his house with a weak foundation on sandy soil. When the storms came, the house with the weak foundation was washed away but the house with the strong foundation weathered the storm.
Jesus tells his audience that the one who hears his words and acts on them is like the wise builder who built a sound foundation on rock.
The Ministry in Galilee Continued: Luke 7:1 – 10:42
A theme central to Lucan theology is the compassion of Jesus. Following the Sermon on the Plain, Luke presents three striking stories of Jesus’ compassion.
The first story is the healing of the centurion’s servant. This story not only illustrates Jesus’ compassion but it also makes two other assertions. The centurion is a Gentile, that is a non-Jew, a person who should be avoided at all costs. Ironically, this man shows greater faith in Jesus than many of Jesus’ own people.
The narrator of the story makes the observation that Jesus is amazed by the faith this man has. Because of its positive attitude toward the Gentile soldier, the early Christian community used this story to help legitimise its ministry to the Gentile people.
After curing the centurion’s servant, Jesus goes to a town called Nain. Here Jesus raises the son of a widow from the dead. Jesus’ third act of compassion takes place in the home of Simon the Pharisee where Jesus is invited to dine. A woman who was considered to be a sinner comes up to Jesus at table. She washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints him with oil. Touched by her faith, Jesus forgives her sins. These three stories of compassion mandate the follower of Jesus to reach out to the outcast, the sinner, and the mourner.
Jesus continues his ministry of teaching and healing throughout the Galilean countryside accompanied by a group of upper-class women whom Jesus had cured from various afflictions. In gratitude, they provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their own means.
Once again, Luke portrays Jesus reaching out to the marginalised. It would have been unheard of in first century Palestine for a group of women to be associated with a group of men in this way. Jesus openly breaks with the conventions of the day to show that the kingdom of God makes no distinction in gender or social class, all are invited to partake in the new era of grace.
Parables and Miracles
As Jesus makes his way through Galilee, he teaches by using two parables: the sower and the seed, and the lamp hidden under a jar. Both of these stories are concerned with how a person hears the word of God. Those who are receptive to the word of God will grow in their relationship with God.
Immediately after Jesus uses these two parables, his mother and brothers come asking to see him. Jesus responds that his mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it. This confirms what he taught through the two parables. A true relationship with Jesus is not based on blood relationships but how receptive a person is to the word of God.
Chapter eight concludes with four miracle stories: Jesus calms a storm at sea, cures a man with demons, cures a woman with a haemorrhage, and raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead.
These four miracles are grouped together in order to reveal Jesus’ true identity. In progressive order they show that he has power over nature, demons, illness, and even life itself.
But this is not a power that Jesus keeps to himself for he now commissions his disciples to go out and to do what he has done: cast out demons, cure the sick, and above all to proclaim the kingdom of God.
'Who Do You Say I Am?'
After the apostles return from their missionary activity, Jesus feeds the five thousand with only five loaves and two fish. He then goes away by himself to pray, an indication that something important is about to happen, and it does.
Jesus confronts his apostles with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “The Messiah of God.” With this reply, Jesus now begins to teach the disciples exactly what kind of Messiah he is.
He must undergo great suffering, be killed and rise from the dead and if the apostles want to be his followers, they must be willing to suffer like him.
Eight days after this declaration, Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up a mountain where he is transfigured. This event reveals to the three disciples the glorification that awaits Jesus after his suffering, death, and resurrection.
9:51 marks a decisive turn in the Gospel. Jesus realises the time is approaching for his death and resurrection and he “sets his face to go to Jerusalem”.
Journey to Jerusalem
As he journeys on to Jerusalem, a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus tells him to love God with his whole heart, mind, and soul and his neighbour as himself.
The lawyer asks who his neighbour is. Jesus responds by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Immediately after this Martha invites Jesus to her home where she becomes upset with her sister Mary for not helping with the work. The scene with Martha and Mary can only be understood when taken in context with the lawyer’s question about eternal life and the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Luke uses the parable and the visit to the home of the two sisters as examples of what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself.
This is Luke’s way of saying that once we have loved our neighbour then we can come before our God and sit at his feet.
Our relation with our God is integrally connected with our relationship with each other.
Jesus Journeys to Jerusalem
As Jesus steadily makes his way to Jerusalem and to his death and resurrection, he often takes the opportunity to teach his disciples what is expected of them if they want to continue to be his followers.
The beginning of chapter eleven is one such teachable moment. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray and he gives them the “Our Father”.
He concludes the prayer with the parable of the midnight visitor to encourage them to always be persevering in their prayer.
Much of what Luke narrates about Jesus’ teaching as he goes to Jerusalem is also found in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
By concentrating on what is unique to the third evangelist, certain themes begin to emerge which are central to Lucan theology.
Jesus and the Pharisees
The first large segment of Lucan material appears at the end of chapter eleven where Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee for dinner.
This is not the first time Jesus has dined with a Pharisee. In last week’s column, Simon, the Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner.
Luke portrays Jesus as a person who frequently accepted dinner invitations and it is within the context of a meal that some of Jesus’ most important teachings are given.
As Jesus sits down to eat, he is ridiculed for not performing the ritual washing before dinner. This prompts Jesus to openly condemn the Pharisees’ preoccupation with external, religious regulations while neglecting true justice and charity, which should have been the purpose of these practices.
After the meal, the Pharisees’ animosity towards Jesus grows and they begin to look for ways to catch him in what he says.
The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, which began early in his ministry, intensifies. Jesus publicly warns the people, who come to hear him speak, to avoid the example set by the Pharisees.
A Lesson in Humility
As Jesus draws closer to Jerusalem, his teaching deals with a variety of topics.
He cautions against greed and the accumulation of possessions using the parable of the rich man who had so many crops he had to build larger barns to store it all. Having taken every measure to protect all his wealth, he died before he could enjoy any of it.
On another occasion, Jesus urges his disciples always to be prepared for the return of the Son of Man. Just as servants do not know when their master will return from a wedding celebration, they will not know when the Son of Man will return.
In chapter fourteen Jesus accepts another dinner invitation from a Pharisee. One of the guests at the meal has dropsy and Jesus cures him. Since the miracle occurs on a Sabbath, Jesus knows how those present at table with him feel about this. Jesus, again, attempts to get them to understand that mercy and charity do not break the law.
Jesus also takes the opportunity to teach the dinner guests about humility. If they do not want to be embarrassed, they should not take the best seats at table lest they be asked to take a lower seat. Rather, they should always take the lowest seat so that they can be honoured when asked to take a seat closer to the host.
Jesus also has something to say to the host. He urges him to extend the generosity of a dinner invitation beyond the circle of his friends. He should also invite the poor and the outcast, those who cannot pay him back with an invitation.
The Prodigal Son
Chapter fifteen is probably one of the best-known chapters of the third Gospel. It contains three memorable parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.
Two of these, the lost coin and the prodigal son, are found only in Luke’s Gospel. Matthew also uses the parable of the lost sheep in his Gospel but uses it for a different purpose. In Matthew the lost sheep represents a member of the Christian community who has gone astray. The leaders of the community are to follow the example of the shepherd and search out the person who has left the community and bring him back.
Luke uses the lost sheep and the other two parables to convey a different meaning; these parables present the theme of joy, more specifically, the great joy that God has over the return of a repentant sinner.
In each of the three parables the central figure represents God. In the first two parables this is not difficult to see. The shepherd and the woman represent God’s joy at the recovery of a person who has sinned.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the main character is often missed because most of the story is about the wayward son. However, when taken in context with the first two parables, it becomes apparent that the central character is the father who unconditionally receives his repentant son back into the family.
Women in the Parables
According to his style, Luke balances the parables about men with a parable about a woman. By including a woman in chapter fifteen, Luke is making a striking comparison.
As mentioned above, each of the central characters represents God. Therefore, the woman who finds the lost coin is an image of God.
This is one of the few examples in the Bible where such an image is used. Luke does this to affirm that women, who were often regarded as second-class citizens in the ancient world, hold an important place in the Christian community.
In a variety of ways, chapter fifteen is a gem. The three parables are not only great stories in themselves but also teach some of the most important aspects about God’s great mercy and compassion.
Jesus will continue to share this great mercy and compassion even on the cross when he promises paradise to the repentant thief who is crucified next to him.
The proper use of wealth
Chapters sixteen to twenty narrate the last part of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the culmination of his ministry in his death and resurrection.
During this time, Jesus’ teaching touches on a number of issues but the one to which he keeps returning is the proper use of wealth. Within these five chapters, there are four passages that deal with wealth.
This theme, one of Luke’s favourite, first appears in the parable of the dishonest manager who shrewdly makes plans for his future unemployment. After he is discharged for mishandling his employer’s property, the manager goes to several people who owe his employer various amounts of produce and he has them reduce their debts.
In this way, the manager hopes to be well received by these people when he is out of a job. Although Jesus does not condone the dishonesty of the manager, he comments how people of the secular world are able to use money to their own advantage.
Why can’t the children of the kingdom do the same, that is, use money for their own advantage in order to obtain the kingdom of God?
One way they can do this is by giving alms to the poor.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus
The parable of the dishonest manager is quickly followed by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus, a poor man with a skin disease, sat by the gate of a wealthy man.
The man was oblivious to the needs of Lazarus and failed to give him so much as a crust of bread to eat.
When they both died, Lazarus was taken to Paradise; whereas, the rich man went to Hades. The moral of the story is not that wealth is bad in itself. Luke never implies this throughout his Gospel.
Luke’s concern is that people who have been blessed with material goods must recognize their responsibility to those who do not have life’s necessities.
For Luke it is a matter of good stewardship of what God gives to a person. The rich man is faulted for what he failed to do with his wealth rather than for having the wealth.
The third passage regarding wealth appears in chapter eighteen in which a rich man approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus answers by saying that the rich man knows the commandments and should keep them.
The rich man says that he has always kept the commandments but wants to do more. Therefore, Jesus instructs him to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and then follow him.
However, the man is unable to part with his wealth and departs unhappily. This prompts Jesus to give the memorable pronouncement, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
By this Jesus does not mean that salvation is not possible for the rich, but that wealth can all too easily become a person’s highest priority at the expense of God’s kingdom.
In fact, just before reaching Jerusalem, Jesus meets a rich man who does have his priorities straight.
Jesus defends Zacchaeus
As Jesus enters the town of Jericho, which is thirty kilometres northeast of Jerusalem, he is confronted by Zacchaeus.
The description of Zacchaeus immediately presents him as an undesirable person who should be shunned. Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector.
Since tax collectors collaborated with the occupying Roman forces by collecting taxes for them, they were considered traitors as well as sinners.
They made their wealth off the taxes obtained from their own people and, therefore, were particularly hated.
Aware of this, Jesus approaches Zacchaeus and asks to stay at his house.
The people who had gathered express their anger that Jesus would stay at the house of a tax collector. But Jesus defends Zacchaeus.
This passage concludes what the third Gospel has to say about wealth. It ends by showing that for God all things are possible. It is even possible for a rich person to enter the kingdom.
Jesus enters Jerusalem
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has come to an end and he enters the city in a triumphant procession. For the first time, Jesus is publicly acclaimed the Davidic Messiah.
The people shout out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
This proclamation recalls the oracle made by the prophet Zechariah regarding the Messiah (Zech 9:9); and it also looks back to the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds at the beginning of the Gospel. The angel’s message is now being fulfilled in the person of Jesus.
Upon entering the city, Jesus wastes no time in beginning his ministry. He immediately enters the Temple and drives out those who are selling things there.
Until his death, which is only five days away, Jesus will spend every day teaching in the Temple. The conflict with the priests, scribes, and the leaders of the people that began at the beginning of the Gospel now begins to reach its climax.
Jesus’ enemies try to find some way to kill him. Chapter twenty narrates three attempts by the religious leaders to find evidence to have Jesus sentenced to death.
First the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people try to trap him in what he teaches. Unsuccessful, they send spies in an effort to get him to speak against the Roman tax. This also fails.
The Sadducees then try to find fault with Jesus regarding the resurrection of the dead. No matter what they try, they are unable to find anything with which to accuse Jesus.
However, their opportunity comes when Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, approaches them to discuss how he might betray Jesus to them.
The Passion, Death, and Resurrection - Luke 21:1 – 24:53
Chapter twenty-one concludes Jesus’ brief three-day ministry in Jerusalem. As Jesus leaves the Temple with his disciples, he comments on the future destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Since Luke wrote his Gospel about fifteen years after the Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD, verse twenty probably describes the siege that took place prior to the city’s destruction.
Jesus then talks about the end of the world and the return of the Son of Man.
With the parable of the fig tree, Jesus warns the disciples to be always ready for his return at the end of the world.
With this, Jesus’ public ministry ends and he leaves Jerusalem to prepare for his passion and death.
In the beginning of chapter twenty-two, Satan enters Judas Iscariot and he bargains with the chief priests to hand Jesus over to them.
Satan’s reappearance marks a decisive turn of events in the Gospel.
Jesus' Conflict with Satan
After Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness for forty days where Satan tempted him.
At the end of the forty days Satan departed until an “opportune moment” should arrive (4:13). That moment has come and Satan becomes a major participant in the events that are about to unfold.
the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Luke focuses on Jesus final instructions to his disciples. Totally oblivious to what is about to happen to Jesus, the twelve begin to argue about which of them is the greatest.
Jesus takes this opportunity to remind them that the greatest person is the one who is of greatest service to others. Jesus, who is about to give his life for them and for all people, is the great example of what real service is.
Turning to Peter, Jesus predicts his betrayal that will take place that night. Jesus then warns his disciples about the many hardships they will have to face as his disciples. Having said these things, he departs for the Mount of Olives.
Jesus’ conflict with Satan reaches its climax in the garden when Jesus asks the Father to remove the cup of suffering from him.
However, by accepting the Father’s will and his impending death, Jesus proves victorious over Satan.
Only Luke’s narrative of the passion relates one of the disciples cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest when Jesus is arrested. Jesus immediately heals it.
Even during Jesus’ own passion and death, Jesus will continue to reach out to those around him in gestures of mercy, compassion, and healing.
Jesus ministry will end only as he dies on the cross and promises everlasting life to the criminal who is crucified next to him.
After his arrest, Jesus is taken to the house of the high priest for questioning. In the course of the interrogation, they ask him if he is the Son of God. When Jesus replies that he is, he is found guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.
Since the council does not have the authority to execute people, they must take Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in order to have the sentence carried out.
When Jesus is brought before Pilate, the elders accuse him of opposing the Roman tax and declaring himself to be the Messiah, a king, which would be considered an act of sedition.
Pilate, aware of what the priests and elders are trying to do, finds no fault in Jesus and is willing to release him. However, when Pilate learns from the elders that Jesus is a Galilean, he hopes to rid himself of a difficult situation by sending Jesus to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, for judgment.
Herod is unable to get any type of response from Jesus when he is questioned. Frustrated, Herod returns Jesus to Pilate for judgment. Pilate attempts three times to have Jesus released; but when he sees the people growing more and more insistent to have him crucified, he finally gives in to their demands and sentences Jesus to death.
Jesus is Crucified
Jesus is taken outside the city to a place called The Skull and crucified between two criminals. Always the merciful one, Jesus goes to his death forgiving his executioners.
Ever conscious of his Father’s presence throughout his ordeal, Jesus prays confidently as he dies, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
Luke ends the scene of Jesus’ death with a brief comment that the women who had faithfully followed Jesus during his ministry watched all that took place from a distance. These are the women who will visit the tomb on Sunday and discover that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Luke’s Gospel contains only two appearances of the risen Lord: one to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and another to all the disciples. Both of these appearances take place on Easter Sunday. The most important aspect of the Emmaus story is that the risen Lord is recognised in the breaking of the bread.
There are only two other times that Jesus broke bread in the Third Gospel: at the multiplication of the loaves and the fish and at the Last Supper, both of which have a strong Eucharistic significance. Thus, the breaking of bread at Emmaus reflects a Eucharistic celebration.
Once the two disciples realise what has happened, they return to Jerusalem to bring the good news of the resurrection to the other disciples. It is there that Jesus appears to all of them. After commissioning the disciples to witness to him throughout the world, Jesus ascends into heaven.
Luke ends his Gospel as he began it, in the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples praise and bless God for what God has done for them in his son, Jesus.
It Begins in Jerusalem
The Acts of the Apostles is unique for several reasons. First, it is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke; and, second, it is the only book of the New Testament that provides a history of the early church.
Acts is attributed to the same author as the Third Gospel because its opening verse addresses Theophilus just as the Gospel of Luke does. Also, mention is made of the first book that Luke wrote to Theophilus. Themes common to the Gospel are also evident in Acts. These themes will be pointed out as we make our way through the book.
Acts begins where the Gospel ended – with the ascension of Jesus into heaven. However, before Jesus leaves the apostles he gives them several instructions. First, they are not to leave Jerusalem until they have been baptised with the Holy Spirit. This is a reference to the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost.
Also, Jesus tells them how they are to proceed in the mission that he has entrusted to them. They are to begin in Jerusalem and then move out into Judea and then north into Samaria.
From there they are to take the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. By “the ends of the earth” the author of Acts is referring to the city of Rome.
This itinerary becomes the outline for the book of Acts. Chapters 2 to 7 narrate the ministry in Jerusalem. Chapters 8 to 12 relate the mission in Judea and Samaria.
Chapters 13 to 28 show the Gospel being proclaimed throughout the Mediterranean area. In the last chapter, the apostle Paul arrives in Rome, thus bringing the Gospel to the end of the earth.
The Fulfilment of Prophesy
After Jesus ascends into heaven, the apostles return to Jerusalem, as Jesus instructed them, and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. During this time they bring the number of apostles back to twelve by electing Matthias to replace Judas who had betrayed Jesus.
Luke is very specific about the requirements to be one of the twelve apostles. It must be a person who accompanied Jesus from the time of his baptism by John the Baptist until his ascension into heaven.
The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is a fulfilment of the prophecy made by John the Baptist in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. In chapter 3 of the Gospel, John said he would baptise with water but the Messiah would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The coming of the Spirit on Pentecost will be marked with tongues of fire. This event also introduces one of the most important themes in the Acts of the Apostles – the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book it is the Holy Spirit who directs the missionary activity of the early church. Nothing takes place without the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles run out to proclaim the message of the risen Jesus. This marks the first of a series of speeches that will appear throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
These speeches form the main structure of the book. There are three different types of speeches, each with its own purpose.
The first type is the missionary speech, which is used to proclaim the risen Jesus in order to convert both Jew and Gentile. The second type is the defence speech. Paul uses these in his trials before the Roman authorities. The last type of speech is the farewell discourse that appears once in chapter 20.
The first speech in Acts, the Pentecost speech, is a missionary speech that results in the conversion of three thousand people. This speech contains the elements that composed the earliest proclamation of the risen Lord: the death and resurrection of Jesus; Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah; and the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus.
"Do Not Worry About What You Will Say"
A short time later, Peter and John go to the Temple and see a crippled beggar asking for alms. Peter heals him in the name of Jesus Christ. This is the first of many healings that Peter, and later Paul, will perform in their ministry.
As the story of Acts progresses it becomes apparent that Peter and Paul do many of the same things that Jesus did during his life. They will preach the coming of the kingdom, heal the sick, raise the dead, and eventually suffer persecution for what they teach.
It is the intention of the author of Acts to establish a similarity between Peter and Paul’s ministry and that of Jesus. This indicates that the two apostles are following Jesus’ example and fulfilling his instructions to continue his ministry.
As a result of the healing of the cripple in the Temple, Peter and John are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council of priests and elders. They demand to know how this miracle took place.
Then directed by the Holy Spirit, Peter defends himself and proclaims the risen Jesus to the assembly.
This marks the second speech in the Acts of the Apostles. The mention of the Holy Spirit is of special importance because it fulfils what Jesus told the apostles in the Gospel of Luke 12:12, “When they bring you before the authorities, do not worry about what you will say. The Holy Spirit will teach you what to say at that very hour.”
This time, Peter and John are released with only a warning not to preach in the name of Jesus again.
Chapter 4 concludes with a brief description of the early Christian community. All were of one mind and one heart and they boldly proclaimed the risen Jesus.
No one among them was in need of anything because all shared what they had with each other. Luke portrays a community at peace and deeply committed to Jesus.
Beginning of the Witness in Judea and Samaria
Acts 5:1 – 8:40
As the early Church community grew in Jerusalem, its members cared for one another so that no person lacked anything that was needed. To meet the needs of the community, many of its wealthier members sold land and houses and offered the proceeds to the community.
Among these people was a man from Cyprus called Joseph. The apostles later changed his name to Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”. Later, in Acts Barnabas will be Paul’s companion on the mission to the Gentiles.
The apostles frequently went to the Temple to preach about the risen Lord, Jesus; and they worked many signs and wonders in his name. This resulted in many more people being baptised and the number of Christians increased greatly.
The reputation of the apostles rapidly spread and the sick and the disabled were brought to them to be healed. The leaders of the people began to worry about the rapid increase and spread of the Christian community and they took action by arresting the apostles.
Once again they were brought before the Sanhedrin. In the course of the interrogation, a Pharisee named Gamaliel addressed the council. He advised them to be cautious. He said that if the growing Christian movement were merely of human origins, it would simply run its course and eventually disappear.
However, if God was behind the Christians and the Sanhedrin opposed them, the Sanhedrin would be opposing God. The council took Gamaliel’s advice and dismissed the apostles after having them flogged. Thus ended the second encounter with the Jerusalem authorities.
Charges are Brought Against Stephen
Up until this point, the early Christian community seemed to be living in perfect bliss but, like any other organization, problems began to arise. The first difficulty had to do with the distribution of food to the widows living in Jerusalem.
The Christians, who spoke Greek and came from a Greek background and culture, complained that the widows who spoke Hebrew were receiving a greater share of the food than the widows of Greek origin.
The apostles decided that the best way to insure an equitable distribution was to appoint seven men who would be in charge of this ministry. This would free the apostles themselves for the preaching of the Gospel. This suggestion restored harmony to the community and, blessed by God, it continued to grow.
Stephen, one of the seven selected for the distribution of the food, became the target of a small group of men who disliked his preaching about Jesus. They secretly plotted to have some men accuse Stephen of speaking blasphemy about God. Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin.
The author of the Acts of the Apostles presents the trial of Stephen to be very similar to the trial of Jesus. Jesus was accused by the Sanhedrin of preaching against the Temple and the Law of Moses.
The same charges are brought against Stephen. As false witnesses were brought against Jesus during his trial, Stephen also must defend himself from perjuring witnesses. In response to the false testimony, Stephen presents the longest speech that has been given in Acts up to this point.
Stephen is Stoned to Death
Stephen retells the story of God’s gracious deeds throughout the history of Israel. He begins by recalling the covenant that God made with the ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendents; and, how they went down into Egypt and were enslaved for four hundred years. Stephen then narrates the great story of the Exodus and how God freed the Hebrews from slavery and gave them the covenant on Mt Sinai.
In spite of all the good things God had accomplished for the Hebrews, they turned form God and worshipped a golden calf. However, God, ever faithful to this chosen people, led them into the promised land of Israel. Eventually God raised up the kings, David and Solomon to rule the people of Israel. Stephen concludes the speech by confronting the Sanhedrin.
Just as their ancestors had constantly turned from God, the Sanhedrin and the leaders of the people had rejected God’s Messiah, Jesus, and crucified him. As Stephen says these things, he looks up to heaven and tells the council that he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God. In a fury, the Sanhedrin seizes Stephen, takes him outside the city and stones him to death.
As he dies, he forgives his executioners as Jesus’ forgave his executioners from the cross. The narrator of Acts mentions that those who stoned Stephen, placed their cloaks at the feet of a man named Saul who approved of the killing of Stephen.
The death of Stephen marks a turning point in the life of the Christian community in Jerusalem. A great persecution breaks out and many of the Christians are forced to flee the city. This ends the first phase of the mission assigned to them by Jesus before the ascension: to witness in Jerusalem. The mission now moves out to Judea and Samaria.
Philip is the first to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in Samaria. He is well received by the people and they enthusiastically accept the Gospel. Philip is then inspired to go to a certain road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza where he meets a court official, the treasurer, of the Queen of Ethiopia. While travelling by chariot to Ethiopia, he sees Philip alongside the road. The official asks Philip to join him.
As they travel the treasurer tells Philip that he has been reading the passage about the suffering servant from the book of the prophet Isaiah but he cannot understand what it means. Philip explains that the passage is about Jesus and instructs him in the Gospel. The official asks to be baptised immediately which Philip does without hesitation. This opens up a new era for the Christian community. The first Gentile has been baptised thus beginning the missionary outreach to the Gentiles.
The Mission to the Gentiles
Acts 9:1 – 12:25
With the death of Stephen in chapter seven, a persecution of the Christians breaks out in Jerusalem. One of the principal instigators of the persecution is Paul who participated in the stoning of Stephen.
Paul even obtains permission from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to hunt down Christians in other cities and arrest them for believing in Jesus. Acts mentions that at this time Christianity was called the “Way”. This appears to be the first name given to the new, rapidly growing religion.
As Paul is making his way to Damascus to arrest some Christians there, the risen Jesus appears to him and converts the former persecutor of the Christians to one of its most dedicated proclaimers of the Good News. Later in the book of Acts, Paul will relate the events of his conversion to the people of Jerusalem in chapter twenty-two and again in chapter twenty-six to King Agrippa at Caesarea.
The author of Acts frequently repeats events several times to emphasise their importance to the growth and development of early Christianity. The conversion of Paul is one of these critical events.
As soon as Paul is baptised by a Christian in Damascus, named Ananias, Paul immediately begins preaching about the risen Jesus. A plot to kill Paul forces him to flee to Jerusalem. At first the Christians in Jerusalem fear Paul, thinking that he is still their enemy.
However, Barnabas, the man who had sold his property and given the proceeds to the Apostles, befriends Paul and introduces him to the Apostles. Paul boldly teaches about Jesus in Jerusalem until another attempt is made on his life. Again, he is forced to flee the city and returns to his native city of Tarsus in Asia Minor.
Peter and Cornelius
The narrative now changes to Peter and his ministry, which is taking him all over the area of Judea. First he travels to Lydda, a town northwest of Jerusalem not far from the Mediterranean coast. There he cures a paralysed man named Aeneas. From there he moves to the coastal city of Joppa.
After raising a Christian woman, Tabitha, from the dead he remains in Joppa. While in Joppa, Peter has a strange dream. He sees a sheet being lowered from the sky by its four corners. In the sheet is a variety of four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. All these animals are considered unclean by Jewish law, that is, they cannot be eaten.
As the sheet is lowered, a voice tells Peter to kill and eat the animals. Peter is shocked that he is asked to eat unclean animals but the voice responds, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” With this, the sheet is taken back into the heavens. This vision appears three times to Peter. This repetition of the vision alerts the reader to its importance.
While Peter is reflecting on the vision he has just seen, a delegation of three men arrives from a centurion, Cornelius, who lived in the nearby coastal city of Caesarea. Although a Roman soldier, Cornelius was very sympathetic to the Jewish religion and was well known for his charitable acts. While at prayer one day, an angel appeared to him and told him to send for Peter who was in Joppa.
At first Peter hesitates to go with them because they are Gentiles, but urged by the Holy Spirit he goes to the house of Cornelius. Peter finds the entire household of Cornelius waiting for him. While Peter tells the people about Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes upon all gathered in the house just as the Spirit had come upon the Apostles on Pentecost. All begin speaking in tongues.
Peter is amazed to see that Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit but now he realises what the vision of the animals in the sheet meant. The Gentiles as well as the Jews are called by God to be followers of the risen Jesus. Without hesitation, Peter baptises the entire household.
Peter's Return to Jerusalem
When Peter returns to Jerusalem, the Christian community confronts him. They have heard about the conversion of Cornelius’ household and they want to know why Peter baptised Gentiles. Peter carefully tells them the vision of the sheet with the animals and his experience at the house of Cornelius. For the first time, all come to the realisation that Christianity is not just for the Jewish people but is open to all people.
This was one of the most significant moments in the early Church. Up until this point, it was pretty much taken for granted that salvation in Jesus Christ was available only for Jews. With the conversion of Cornelius and his household, it now becomes evident that the Good News of Jesus is for everyone.
Chapter eleven ends with the Gospel rapidly spreading throughout the Mediterranean area reaching as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus. Some of the converts from Cyprus then take the Good News to Antioch in Syria. The church in Jerusalem sends Barnabas to Antioch to help in the formation of the Christian community. Barnabas takes Paul with him.
In Jerusalem things are not going as well. King Herod executes the Apostle James, the brother of John. When he sees that this pleases the people, he also arrests Peter. Before Peter can stand trial, an angel releases Peter from prison. Herod dies before he can continue his persecution of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Once again, peace comes to the community in Jerusalem.
The Council at Jerusalem
Acts 13:1 – 16:40
Chapters thirteen and fourteen narrate Paul’s first of three missionary journeys into Asia Minor. This segment of Acts begins with the church at Antioch in Syria at prayer. They discern that the Good News about the risen Jesus must be proclaimed in Asia Minor.
They commission Paul and Barnabas to undertake the mission. The two first travel to the island of Cyprus, and from there they establish four Christian communities in Asia Minor: Perga, another city called Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium and Lystra.
In each of these cities, they always begin by going to the synagogue and proclaiming the Gospel to the Jews. If the Jews reject them, they then turn their attention to the Gentiles. This becomes their standard practice.
In each city they visit, Paul and Barnabas establish a Christian community before leaving. After spending about four years in Asia Minor, from about 45-49 AD, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch in Syria.
Chapter fifteen relates one of the most important events that took place in the early Church, an event that would shape the future direction of the infant Christian community. This event was the council at Jerusalem, which took place around the year 50 AD.
The council was a reaction to the practice of Paul and Barnabas baptising Gentiles. Some Judean Pharisees who had converted to Christianity believed that if Gentiles wanted to become Christian it was necessary for them to follow all the laws and traditions of Judaism.
This meant that they would have to be circumcised, obey the Torah, and observe all the other Jewish regulations. Paul and Barnabas were in vehement disagreement with this position. They felt that this placed an unnecessary burden upon the Gentile Christians.
The issue began to escalate into a major cause of division within the community. The council at Jerusalem was called in order to resolve the issue.
Spreading the Gospel to all
The community at Antioch in Syria sent Paul and Barnabas to argue the case for the Gentiles. They met with the Apostles and James, the leader of the community in Jerusalem. Following a heated discussion regarding the matter, James arrived at a compromise position.
The Gentile Christians do not have to follow Jewish law and tradition but they must keep certain, minimal regulations. These regulations include avoiding eating meat sacrificed to idols, not eating meat from strangled animals, not eating the blood of slaughtered animals, and avoiding fornication.
The first three items involving food were mentioned in order to facilitate table fellowship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.
Not only did this first council of the church resolve a contentious issue, more importantly, it gave the green light to spread the Gospel to all peoples of all nations. Once the council of Jerusalem ends, little is heard of the Apostles in the rest of Acts. The narrative now focuses on the ministry of Paul.
One year later in 51 AD, Paul began his second missionary journey into Asia Minor and Greece, which would last three years. This time Silas, a member of the Jerusalem community, accompanied him.
It appears that Paul and Barnabas disagreed on whether or not John Mark should accompany them. Evidently the argument became rather heated because Barnabas ended up taking John Mark with him to Cyprus and Paul took Silas with him to Asia Minor.
Altercations such as this reveal that the early community was not without its moments of conflict.
Paul's Missionary Journey with Silas
Paul and Silas first revisited all the communities Paul had founded on his first journey into Asia Minor and then they made their way to Troas on the west coast. At Troas, Paul dreamed of a Macedonian man begging them to bring the Gospel into Macedonia so Paul and Silas made their way to Philippi.
In Philippi Paul and Silas meet Lydia. Since Acts states that Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, this is good evidence that she was a wealthy businesswoman. Cloth that was dyed purple was a luxury item in the ancient world, affordable only by royalty or the wealthy.
This made Lydia an independent woman of means, something seldom seen in the first century. Lydia and her entire household enthusiastically accept the Gospel and are baptised by Paul. In the account of Lydia, we meet a Lucan theme that was prominent in the Gospel and continues to be so in Acts and that is the concern for the marginalised in society and in the Christian community.
Throughout Acts, women play a vital role in the life of the early church. In Acts 18:2-3, Paul meets a married couple, Aquila and his wife Priscilla. They were responsible for the foundation of the Christian community in Rome.
They met Paul when he later went to Corinth and they became partners with Paul in his ministry. It appears that Priscilla was more prominent in the Christian community than was her husband.
While in Philippi, Paul and Silas have a small run-in with the civil authority. Paul cures a young girl who is possessed. This stirs up some of the people and a riot ensues. Paul and Silas are arrested and after being flogged they are put in jail.
During the night they become friends with the jailer who dresses their wounds and feeds them. The next morning, Paul and Silas are set free. Realising that it might be wise to leave Philippi, they set off for Greece, stopping in Thessalonica.
Their stay in Thessalonica is very brief. They go to the synagogue and preach about Jesus for three Sabbaths. Although they do make some converts to Christianity they antagonise some of the people who gather a mob to find them.
Paul and Silas feel it is time to depart Thessalonica and continue on their way heading in the direction of Athens.
Paul and Silas make their way to Athens
Acts 17:1 – 20:38
After being run out of Thessalonica, Paul and his travelling companion, Silas, make their way to Athens. Since the city is composed primarily of Gentiles, they have to adapt their missionary strategy to a new situation.
As always, they first make their way to the local synagogue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Jewish population. However, they also preach in the marketplace so that the non-Jews of the city will hear about the Gospel.
Paul’s main speech in Athens is spoken in the Areopagus, the academic meeting place in the city. This speech is very different from the other speeches that the Apostles have given thus far in the book of Acts.
Since this speech is for Gentiles who are mostly philosophers, Paul does not refer to the Old Testament prophecies very much for the simple reason that his audience is not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead, he begins his speech by using evidence from nature to prove the existence of God and then he speaks about Jesus, his Son.
However, when Paul proclaims the resurrection of Jesus, many of his listeners simply cannot accept this. As a result, the mission to Athens proves unsuccessful and Paul and Silas journey on to the Greek city of Corinth.
Acts 18:11 states that Paul remained in Corinth for a year and a half. During this time he writes his first two letters, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. These were the first two books of the New Testament to be written. In fact, all of Paul’s letters predate the four Gospels.
While in Corinth Paul makes the acquaintance of Aquila and his wife Priscilla. They become close friends of Paul and share in his ministry as well as in his occupation of making tents.
Later in Acts 20:33-35, Paul is proud to say that he was never a burden on the people of any city he visited because he was able to support himself by making tents.
Gallio releases Paul
Once again Paul angers some of the Jews of Corinth by preaching about Jesus. Some of them even have him brought before the Roman proconsul, Gallio, on charges that Paul is trying to get people to worship God in a way that is contrary to the law.
Gallio, however, declares the charges regarding religion to be outside the jurisdiction of Roman authority and he releases Paul. Since Acts mentions that Gallio’s term as proconsul in Corinth was from 51-52 AD, important information is provided for dating other events in the life of Paul.
The last half of chapter 18 in Acts briefly narrates many events that take place over a considerable amount of time. Paul leaves Corinth and, after a brief visit to Ephesus on the west coast of Asia Minor, he returns to his own Christian community in Antioch, Syria.
Without much explanation, the author of Acts has Paul set out on his third missionary journey almost immediately. This journey is described in chapters 19-21 and takes place from 54-58 AD.
Paul first visits all the Christian communities he had established on his two previous missionary journeys into Asia Minor. He then goes to Ephesus where he remains for two years.
While at Ephesus in 56 AD, he writes several letters to other churches in Asia Minor. This includes the letter to the Galatians, the first letter to the Corinthians, the letter to Philemon, and the letter to the Philippians.
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is quite extensive. He preaches in the synagogue as well as in the public lecture hall of the city. Within the two years that he resides in Ephesus, practically the entire city hears about the risen Jesus.
Paul flees from Ephesus
Even though Paul wins many converts to Christianity in Ephesus, he stirs up the wrath of a group of silversmiths who made statues of the Greek goddess, Artemis. Ephesus was the cult centre of this important deity and many in the city depended upon the revenue that her cult brought in.
The silversmiths feared that so many people accepting this new religion would endanger their livelihoods. Paul is forced to flee for his life. He journeys back to Macedonia and Greece stopping once again in Philippi and Corinth.
While in Philippi in 57 AD he writes the send letter to the Corinthians before going to Corinth. In Corinth, around 58 AD, he writes the letter to the Romans.
Romans is the only letter that Paul writes to a Christian community that he had not personally visited. He had hopes to visit Rome in the near future and writes to them as a way to introduce himself to the church in Rome before his arrival.
Following a three-month stay in Corinth, Paul returns to Troas. The day before his departure, he prays with the Christians of Troas well past midnight. A young boy sitting in a window falls asleep and tumbles out the window to his death. Paul restores him to life.
Paul’s third missionary journey ends at Ephesus where he gives a tearful farewell to the Christians in that city. Paul intends to go to Jerusalem where he is certain he will find serious opposition to his ministry.
He is reasonably certain that imprisonment or even death await him. Chapter 20 ends with Paul telling the Ephesians that he doubts that he will ever see them again.
He then sets sail for the island of Cyprus. From there he goes to Caesarea on the coast of Palestine and then makes his way to Jerusalem and the beginning of his last journey, a journey that will ultimately take him to Rome.
Paul returns to Jerusalem
Acts 21:1 – 24:27
Following his third missionary journey into Asia Minor, Paul returns to Jerusalem. Upon his arrival, he immediately visits James, the head of the Christian community in Jerusalem. James informs Paul that the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem are upset regarding Paul’s policy with the Gentile converts to Christianity.
Paul did not require the Gentile converts to be circumcised or to practice the law and other regulations of Judaism. The Jewish converts to Christianity in Jerusalem, however, believed that all converts had to observe all the Jewish practices in order to be Christians.
In an attempt to reconcile Paul with the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, James suggests that Paul should sponsor four men who are about to go through the Nazirite vow ceremony and that he should also pay the necessary expenses for them.
This would be an indication that Paul respects the Jewish law. Paul agrees to do as James requests.
The Nazirite vow was a Jewish practice in which a man could consecrate himself to God for a specific length of time. The regulations pertaining to the vow are found in Numbers 6:1-21.
The principal elements of the vow include abstaining from all alcoholic drink, not cutting one’s hair, and avoiding all contact with a corpse, which would render the person ritually unclean. At the end of the predetermined length of the vow, the man offered a sacrifice to God, shaved his head, and burned some of the hair with the sacrifice.
The man then returned to a normal way of life. The most famous Nazirite in the Bible is Samson, who took the vow for life. This is why he lost his strength when his hair was cut; he had violated his vow to God.
It seems that Paul had also taken the Nazirite vow at some point in his life. Acts 18:18 says that at Cenchreae in Greece, Paul “had his hair cut, for he was under a vow.”
This is a good indication that even though Paul did not expect Gentile converts to follow Judaic laws and regulations, he, himself, always remained faithful to his Jewish heritage despite what the Jewish Christians may have thought of him.
Paul is accused in the Temple
Therefore, Paul, in response to James, accompanies the four men to the Temple for the vow ceremony. It happens, however, that a group of Jews from Asia, who were aware of Paul’s work with the Gentiles, were in the Temple at that time.
They accuse Paul of bringing an uncircumcised Greek into the Temple and start a riot. Paul is dragged out of the Temple precincts and is about to be killed when the tribune of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem observes what is taking place.
The tribune takes Paul into protective custody within the Fortress Antonia, the Roman barracks adjacent to the Temple area.
The next day, the tribune calls a meeting of the Jewish Sanhedrin in order to find out what infraction of the law they are accusing Paul. Before Paul can hardly open his mouth to speak, he is struck on the mouth by orders from the high priest.
This is reminiscent of Jesus being struck during his trial before the Sanhedrin in John 18:22. During Paul’s trial, there will be many similarities with Jesus’ trial.
Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71), the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:1-5, 13-24), and the civil king, Herod (Luke 23:6-12). Paul also stands before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-10), and will eventually be brought before the Roman governor, Felix, in Caesarea Maritima (Acts 24:10-21), as well as the local civil authority, King Agrippa (Acts 25:23-27).
Jesus was accused of profaning the Temple (Matthew 26:61). Paul is accused of the same thing when the riot breaks out in the Temple before his arrest by the turbine (Acts 21:27-29), as well as before the Roman governor, Felix (Acts 24:6).
The author of the Acts of the Apostles purposely parallels Paul’s trial with that of Jesus in order to make the point that as Jesus had to suffer for what he taught so also will Paul have to suffer for teaching about Jesus.
Paul’s interrogation before the Sanhedrin
Paul’s interrogation before the Sanhedrin does not last very long. As soon as he mentions the resurrection, the Sadducees and the Pharisees on the council begin quarrelling with each other.
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection but the Pharisees did. Therefore, the Sadducees condemn Paul all the more while the Pharisees come to his aid. The meeting ends in chaos and Paul is taken back into custody by the Roman tribune.
While he is in prison in the Fortress Antonia, Paul learns from his nephew that a plot is being planned to have Paul killed as he is brought to the next meeting of the Jewish council.
The tribune is informed of the plot and comes to the conclusion that Paul is not safe in Jerusalem. Therefore, Paul is taken under Roman escort to the city of Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast where the Roman governor, Felix, resides.
The high priest along with the some of the Jewish elders goes to Caesarea to present their case against Paul to Felix. Paul is accused of the same charges that had been made against Jesus, insurrection and profaning the Temple (Acts 24:5-6).
After hearing both sides of the case, that of the high priest and that of Paul, Felix decides to wait to make a decision until the tribune, Lysias, comes to Caesarea. Felix keeps Paul in prison hoping that Paul will pay him a bribe in order to be released.
Since Paul has no intention of doing so, he remains in prison in Caesarea for two years. During this time Felix is replaced as governor by Porcius Festus.
The trial of Paul is far from being over.