Living Hope Ministries Logo

LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


For the ministry of Jesus and his church the resurrection was a major event. It is the eschatological event upon which the their ministries pivot. The teaching of Jesus anticipated it - the preaching of the early church included it as a vital truth. The resurrection was part of the apostolic kerygma (see 1 Cor.15:14). The one who said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk.19:10), [1] is the same person who sent his disciples into the world with the directive: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). The resurrection and ascension form a bridge in more ways than one between Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. [2]


The greatest miracle in the four Gospels is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Lord's resurrection compares with the raisings he had performed: Jairus's daughter and the widow of Nain's son were restored to their former life only to die later. Christ was raised, as the writer to the Hebrews says, to an indestructible life (Heb.7:16).

The miraculous resurrection
To the person of faith, who believes in the creation ex nihilo, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not hard to believe. The two events make miracles philosophically credible and theologically meaningful. [3] Vice versa, belief in the miracles should lead to faith in the resurrection. A literal, physical resurrection is represented by Luke. [4] At the onset of his two-volume work the Evangelist sets out to give historical credence to the Christian gospel - and centrality to the Person who died and rose again. Without a risen Lord, the church in Acts has no reason to exist - and no message. [5]

The defeat of Satan
J.Kallas, as we have noted, sees Jesus attacking Satan and his authority - in Jesus, the kingdom of God comes against the kingdom of darkness. Through his miraculous ministry Jesus sets people at liberty from the shackles of the devil. The resurrection is viewed as a final miraculous event which is a death-thrust to Satan:

The climax of this destruction of Satan's rule is... the cross and the resurrection, but already during his ministry, Jesus makes an organic tie between his cross and his miracles of exorcism and healing. In Lk.13:31-32 Jesus says to inform Herod: "Go and tell that fox, behold I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course". The allusion to the third day is unmistakable - it is to the resurrection. In other words, for Jesus there is a definite tie between his acts of healing and his resurrection. They are both windows opening on to the same central truth. In his battle with Satan, begun in cures and exorcisms, the climax shall come on the cross, and in the empty tomb. [6]


But further, the ascension is an important event to Luke as a theologian – and a significant motif which links his two works together. [7] The ascension of Jesus is narrated at the close of the Gospel (Lk.24:50-53), and again in the opening of Acts (1:9-11). [8] By this means, as C.K.Barrett notes, Luke seeks to bridge two periods of history, [9] and to explain the relationship of the "Jesus of history" to the church. [10] It is the resurrected Jesus who commissions his church; it is the ascended and glorified Lord who empowers his church with the Holy Spirit. As R.Maddox indicates:

The ascension is the major bridge from volume one to volume two: it is the necessary climax of the one and starting point of the other... The ascension of Jesus is far more important to Luke that to any other New Testament writer. To put the matter in terms of theological doctrines, the ascension is for Luke the point of intersection of Christology, eschatology and ecclesiology. [11]


The Lucan equivalent of the passages containing the Great Commission located in Mt.28:16-20 and Mk.16:14-20 is found in Lk.24:36-53 and Acts 1:4-11, where the resurrected Lord commissions his church to witness to "all nations" (Lk.24:47; cf. Acts 1:8). [12]

The mission of the disciples in Luke 9 and 10
The worldwide mission of the church is prefigured in the mission of the Twelve and Seventy (or Seventy-two) in Luke chapters nine and ten. The two missions spearheaded by Jesus represent outreaches to Jews and Gentiles. [13] At that time Jesus told his disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons and cleanse the lepers (Lk.9:1-10; 10:1-21).

The Lucan world commission may be seen to contain Matthew's stress on teaching, and the Marcan emphasis on sēmeia in that the word dunamis intimates a miraculous ministry. However, to Luke Jesus himself was to be the central message of the church (Acts 1:8), and the main aim of mission was to bring people into the kingdom, as the story of the miraculous catch of fish teaches (Lk.5:1-11). [14]

R.Maddox supports the importance of the resurrection and ascension to the Lucan purpose when he says that the chief destiny of the earthly Jesus is to ascend to the right hand of the Father (Lk.9:51; 22:69), the ascension being a preparation for the promise of the parousia of the Son of Man (Lk.21:27; cf. Dan.7:13). It is the ascended Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples (Acts 2:33), and through the Spirit encourages and guides the church (e.g., Acts 4:29-31; 7:55f.; 13:21; 16:6f.). [15] Likewise, in his detailed article entitled "Activity of the Risen Jesus in Luke-Acts", R.F.O'Toole says:

That the risen Jesus acts among Christians is an essential feature of Luke's portrayal of him. Luke can write of Jesus as the risen Lord who is present in his church and in his word. In both books Luke predicates repeated activity of the risen Jesus in a number of areas: the Eucharist (Lk.24:31,35), the Holy Spirit (Lk.24:49; Acts 1:2,8; 2:33,38; 16:6-7), in the preaching of his witnesses (Acts 3:22-23; 18:5-11; 26:23), in his name (Acts 2:21,38; 3:6,16; 4:12; 10:43; 16:18), salvation in the present (Acts 4:12), which embraces repentance, forgiveness of sins, grace, and resurrection, visions (Acts 7:55-56; 22:17-21), and, finally, signs and wonders (Acts 4:29-30). [16]


The day of Pentecost is preceded by Jesus' post-resurrection ministry, during which time the Lord gave his apostles special instructions "through the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:1-11). The command to wait for the Father's promise, the Holy Spirit, forms another link with the end of the Gospel and the prologue to the Acts (1:45; Lk.24:49).

The day of Pentecost (2:1-41)
Some 120 disciples, including the apostles, are pictured by Luke waiting in prayer for "the promise of the Father" in an upper room in Jerusalem in obedience to the command of Jesus (Acts 1:13,14; 2:1). The communal experience of the Holy Spirit is portrayed in supernatural terms (2:24). The fireball, which extended into 120 tongues of flame and lightened on the heads of the praying disciples, compares with the "form of a dove" which rested upon Jesus, who was also praying at the time of his Spirit-baptism (Acts 2:3; cf. 3:21,22). [17] The manifestation of the glossolalia (Gk. glōssolalia, speaking in different languages) assembled a crowd and gave Peter, as a representative of the apostles, the opportunity to preach the good news with power and success (2:14-41). [18]

The power of Pentecost
The meaning of the day of Pentecost must be found in the context of Acts 2, and of Acts 1:8 (cf. Lk.24:49), which may well intimate the outline of the whole book. Acts 1:8 is worth writing out in full:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Jesus promised his church the ability to carry on his work in the world through the presence and power of the Spirit. The same Spirit who empowered Jesus as the Christ would empower his church. [19]

Peter is pictured applying the oracle of Joel, which speaks of signs both in the sky and on earth in the "last days", as being fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The terms "wonders" and "signs" are used in Acts for the miracles performed by the apostles in the course of their mission (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). M.Goulder comments: "Paul mentions that healings and miracles took place in the church and he attributes this to the church's being the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:27f.), that is, an extension of Jesus' work in his lifetime". [20]

Luke may be comparing the church's baptism with the Spirit with the anointing of Jesus at his baptism. As Jesus commenced his public ministry after his anointing, so the church would continue the Lord's mission once the disciples were filled with the Spirit. The command to the disciples was: "Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Lk.24:49).


Luke is conscious of the Lordship of Jesus. This is evident by his early use of kurios (Lk.7:13). He now sees the young church made aware of the risen Lord by the resurrection (Lk.24:34) and by the experience of the Spirit. Peter announces, "God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ" (2:36). C.K.Barrett observes:

The church now, in this world, lives under the rule of Jesus Christ the Lord, who works through the Spirit. It seems better to express the matter in this way than in terms of the Spirit only, for not only is the Lord said to have poured forth the Spirit (Acts 2:33), he is himself directly operative in the work of his people. [21]

Notice the reference of Psa.110:1 and its application to Jesus in Acts 2:32-35. Jesus applied this scripture to himself (Mt.22:41-45; Mk.12:35-40; Lk.20:41-44). [22]


After Pentecost the presence and power of the Spirit characterised the life of the early Christian community. As J.D.G.Dunn says:

It is quite clear that Luke intends us to see the early community as living in an atmosphere of the miraculous. The terata and sēmeia ("wonders and signs") prophesied by Joel (Acts 2:19) characterise the life of the Jerusalem community and the subsequent missionary outreach (2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12; sēmeia - 4:16,22; 8:6; sēmeia kai dunameis - 8:13). [23]

The relationship of the Spirit with believers
Luke sees the New Covenant as being actualised by the Spirit, in that the Spirit relates to individual believers as well as to the community as a whole. [24] The Spirit baptises (Acts 1:5; 11:15,16), empowers for witness (1:8; 4:31; 5:32; 9:11-20); [25] governs (13:2-4), led in mission (8:26-30; 10:19; 11:19; 16:7; 20:23; 21:4,11) and inspired (11:28; 21:4). The Spirit promotes the person and work of Christ.

The Spirit and the Scriptures
Luke sees Scripture as important to the life of the church. As Scripture is seen defining the ministry of Jesus (Lk.4:18f.) so it defines the ministry of the church (Acts 2:17ff.). Further to this, the Spirit is seen speaking by the Scriptures (Acts 1:16; 28:25) as well as by the charismatic gifts of the Spirit (Acts 13:2; 21:11).

The preached word is of great importance, for "the prime agency by which the Spirit extends the sovereignty of Christ is the Word of God". [26] The apostles and preachers preached or proclaimed (euangelizesthai) the word (4:33; 6:2-4; 8:4; 11:19). [27]

The Spirit and the charismata
The charismata, or gifts of the Spirit, which are named in 1 Cor.12:8-10 (cf. Rom.12:6f.) feature in the life and ministry of the church, which is truly a charismatic community. [28]

The direction of the Spirit
Major innovations are prompted by the Spirit in the Acts. Philip, guided by an angel to witness to a court official, was then transported by the Spirit to embark on an itinerant ministry (Acts 8:26-40). The slowness of the church at Jerusalem to launch a Gentile mission underscores the Spirit's work. The repeated vision and the prompting of the Spirit encouraged Peter to preach to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10). M.A.Seifrid refers to Acts 10 as the "centrepiece" of Luke's defence of the Gentile mission. He argues for the prominence of the Spirit in the story, and shows how Peter is given a subordinate role to the Spirit. [29] The commencement of Paul's Gentile mission bears the hallmark of the Spirit of God (13:1-4).

The guidance of the Spirit
The involvement of the Spirit in mission in terms of direction and power is further illustrated by the ministry of Paul. The story of the Macedonian vision is well known, in which the apostle was "kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia", and was forbidden by "the Spirit of Jesus" to enter Bithynia (16:6-10). [30] The formulation of Acts 19:21 is of interest, where the Greek word dei (must) of divine direction in mission reflects that of Jesus in the Gospel (23:11; 27:24; cf. Lk.4:43; Jn.4:4).

The Pentecostal and charismatic interpretation of Acts 1:8
Classical Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals generally associate the baptism of the Spirit with mission. Acts 1:8 is taken to be a key verse, which, it is believed, plainly states this. Against this awareness we need to be aware of the controversy reflected in the writings of J.D.G.Dunn, R.Menzies, D.Petts, R.Stronstad and M.Turner.

Note these textbooks that are especially applicable to Pentecostal-Charismatic studies:

Barrett, C.K., The Holy Spirit and the Gospel Tradition, revised, London, SPCK, 1966.

Dollar, H., St.Luke's Missiology: A Cross-cultural Challenge, Pasadena, William Carey, 1996.

Dunn, J.D.G., Baptism in the Holy Spirit, London, SCM, 1970.

Dunn, J.D.G., Jesus and the Spirit, London, SCM, 1975.

Dunn, J.D.G., The Christ and the Spirit, Edinburgh, T.& T.Clark, 1998.

Fee, G.D., God's empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, Peabody, Hendrickson, 1994.

Menzies, R.P., Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke - Acts, Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.

Petts, D., The Holy Spirit - An Introduction, Mattersey, Mattersey Hall, 1998.

Stronstad, R., The Charismatic Theology of St.Luke, Peabody, Hendrickson, 1984.

Turner, M., The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts - Then and Now, Carlisle, Paternoster, 1996.

Turner, M., Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, Sheffield, Sheffield University Press, 1996.

These notes do not consider the Baptism in the Holy Spirit in any detail. Subjects such as this are often studied in theological colleges under the heading of Pneumatology.


1. Can you account for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of the Jerusalem church in the Acts?

2. Is it doctrinally correct to state that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to enable the church to witness for the Lord and the gospel? Remember Acts 1:8 in your discussion.

Click here for <page endnotes>

Page Top

Copyright 2008 Vernon Ralphs

Website design: Copyright 2010 Living Hope Christian Ministries.