by Dr. Bill Patterson
Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The book of Acts follows the outline of Jesus’ command. As the believers obeyed the directions of Jesus, they witnessed for him in Jerusalem (1-8); in Judea and surrounding lands (8-12); and into much of the known world (13-28).
As believers gave testimony to the Lord with the empowering of his Spirit, phenomenal results occurred. Even non-believers recognized their world would never be the same. Writing from their perspective, they described the witnesses as “throwing our city in an uproar” (16:20) and causing “trouble all over the world” (17:6). As we follow the Lord’s commands today, the world is still turned upside down.
In his commentary, The Book of Acts, the Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel, Dr. Frank Stagg pointed out that Acts ends in a highly unusual way. The last sentence of the Greek version of Acts ends with an adverb. The writer may as well have drawn a circle around the word, placed it in all capitals, used bold type, and followed it with several exclamation points. If he had lived in our day, he might have placed a neon sign above the adverb with the words, “Important concept! Don’t miss this!”
The word that ends the final sentence in Acts is unhinderedly, referring to the spreading of the gospel.
After Jesus’ ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them, empowering them to witness for the Lord (Acts 2:1-13). Language obstacles were overcome as “each heard them speaking in his own language” (v. 6). Peter preached to the crowds with the immediate results of conviction (vv. 37-40) and the baptism of three thousand converts (v. 41). The early believers devoted themselves to the Lord through the life of the church (vv. 43-47) with the result that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47).
The disciples continued to witness boldly in obedience to the Lord. As they did, the unhindered gospel continued to break barriers. A physical impediment was overcome when God healed a lame man through Peter (3:1-10), the first of many healings in Acts.
Peter and John didn’t let governmental opposition stop their preaching (4:19, 20). The writer summarizes with, “More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (5:14).
The stoning of Stephen seemed the first setback for the early church (7:54-60). “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem” (8:1). Even the persecution resulted in the believers continuing to carry out Jesus’ commands, as “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (v. 4).
Judea, Samaria, and Beyond
Taking the gospel into Samaria overcame strong prejudice. Samaritans and Jews hated one another. Jews knew the Samaritans practiced a watered-down, corrupted faith and called them dogs. Most Jews and Samaritans didn’t talk with one another. Jesus made it clear, however, by his actions (John 4) and his words (Acts 1:8), that his disciples should take the gospel into Samaria. Philip did (chapter 8).
Not only did the gospel go unhinderedly into Samaria, but also into Judea. There Philip led an Ethiopian official to the Lord (8:26-40). The Ethiopian took the gospel into Africa.
After Saul received Christ and became the apostle Paul, Christians saw that not even Jewish zealotry could hold down the gospel. The church enjoyed a time of peace. “It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (9:31).
While working in the coastal towns of Judea, the apostle Peter had a dream. When he rightly interpreted it, he knew the Lord had told him that the gospel was to go to the Gentiles. Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, had a dream where he received instructions to send for Peter. When Peter came the man and his entire household were saved (Acts 10).
King Herod arrested and persecuted some in the early church (12:1-19), killing James and imprisoning Peter. God struck down Herod, however (vv. 19-23), and “the word of God continued to increase and spread” (v. 24).
Reaching the Known World
The great missionary-sending church of Antioch commissioned Paul and Barnabas. These two men took the gospel into Pisidia (13), Iconium (14:1-7), Lystra (14:8-23), and Derbe (14:20-21) on their first missionary journey. The gospel overcame geographical barriers by entering modern-day Cyprus and Turkey on this first journey. Just as important, the Jerusalem conference (15:1-35) affirmed that Gentiles did not have to become Jews before becoming Christians.
Through Paul’s second missionary journey, the gospel extended further into Turkey and then entered Europe with witness in several cities in present-day Greece, including Philippi (16), Thessalonica (17:1-9), Berea (vv. 10-15), Athens (vv. 16-34), and Corinth (18:1-17). Despite jailings, stonings, and beatings, Paul and his friends never gave up. The gospel continued to spread.
After a third missionary journey to strengthen the work, Paul went to Jerusalem where he was captured (21). After discovering a plot against Paul, soldiers took him to Caesarea. Though held there for two years, he had the privilege to present the gospel to guards and to the Roman rulers Felix (24:1-27), Festus (25:1-12), and Agrippa (26:1-23). Not even jail bars could contain the gospel.
Ultimately, Paul appealed to Caesar and, after a shipwreck (27:39-44), spent two years under house arrest in Rome (28:16-31). Acts ends with another summary statement in 28:30, 31: “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Christianity still grows rapidly across the world. In 1900 less than one per cent of Sub-Saharan Africans claimed to know Christ, but today one-third make that claim.
Around the world, 60,000 people a day come to know Jesus. Thirty thousand of these are Chinese. Even though the gospel is spreading rapidly in South and Central America, if present trends continue for a few years, the world center of Christianity will be in Asia. The only places evangelical churches are not growing rapidly are in Western Europe and the United States, and even here there are pockets of growth.
The key to the gospel’s growing unhinderedly in Westernized countries is found in Acts. Luke tells us in Acts 1:1 that in his first volume (the Gospel of Luke) he wrote “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” His second work then, the book of Acts, tells what Jesus continued to do through his followers.
Acts ends in chapter 28 with the adverb unhinderedly, but chapter 29 is still being written by you and me. Have you considered that your life as a disciple of the Lord is important to the spread of the gospel? You are as crucial to the advance of the gospel today as believers in the book of Acts were for their day. We study the acts of God through the early church, but we are living the acts of God today!
The early believers followed Christ’s commands to be his witnesses. Empowered by his Spirit they broke barriers to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Following their example and Jesus’ command, may we carry the gospel across the street, across the cities, across the states, across the country, and across the world, unhinderedly.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
The Gospel’s Impact on One City
• Paul received a vision to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).
• Paul and friends traveled to Macedonia and its leading city, Philippi (10-12).
• They preached the gospel to women gathered by the river for prayer. Lydia and her household were saved (13-15).
• When a slave girl disrupted their ministry, Paul cast out her evil spirit. The girl’s owners charged Paul and Silas with disturbing the peace and had them thrown into prison (19-21).
• They were stripped, severely flogged, confined to an inner prison cell, and placed in stocks (22-25).
• While Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises, a severe earthquake occurred. Prisoners lost their chains and the prison doors came open. The warden, fearing he would have to forfeit his life once the prisoners escaped, planned to commit suicide (25-27).
• Paul stopped the jailer, led him to believe in the Lord Jesus, and led the man’s family to faith in the Lord. The jailer took care of Paul and Silas (29-34). They were baptized that same night.
• Paul and Silas encouraged the church at Lydia’s home before leaving the city (35-40).
The gospel had broken through cultural, geographical, social, and gender barriers in Philippi. Paul and Silas left a church consisting of a wealthy businesswoman (Lydia) and her family, a slave girl, and a mid-level Roman civil servant (the jailer) and his family. That church became one of Paul’s greatest partners in spreading the gospel (Philippians 1:4).