The resurrection is indeed one of Luke’s key emphases, and we do well to reflect on its wide-ranging significance. By tracing this theme throughout this wide-ranging book, we’re able profitably to keep our eyes on Jesus and what he has done for us—including how he reigns even now.
The book of Acts is one of the longest and most wide-ranging books in the New Testament. It covers a span of about 30 years, from Jesus’s ascension to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Readers are taken on a journey from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, all the way to the center of the Roman empire. We meet an Ethiopian eunuch, a council at Mars Hill in Athens, Roman governors, two king Herods, Paul of Tarsus (and his teacher), Jewish factions, and a Roman centurion. There are councils, stonings, healings, resuscitations, a shipwreck, a snakebite, and a girl possessed by a python spirit (16:16).
It can be tough to know how all the events in this wonderfully wide-ranging book fit together.
Thankfully Luke, the author of Acts, provides some helpful landmarks to help us identify some of the most important points, while also helping us to keep our eyes on Jesus himself.
The Resurrection and the Unity of Acts
One of the key landmarks Luke provides is the persistent emphasis on the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection plays a crucial role in the longest speech of Peter (at Pentecost), the two longest speeches of Paul (at Pisidian Antioch and before Herod Agrippa II), and the speech of James at the Jerusalem Council. It’s also key to understanding Paul’s conversion, for it is the risen Christ Paul meets on the road to Damascus—and Paul retells this story twice after it is narrated in Acts 9. It pops up in many shorter speeches besides.
In sum, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the key emphases of Acts, and this helps us appreciate the theological unity of the entire book.
A few examples will illustrate this. In Peter’s Pentecost sermon the resurrection of Christ fulfills Psalm 16. Because Christ has risen, he is the ultimate Davidic king, and because he lives, the proper response is faith and repentance. Similarly, in Acts 13 Paul points out that Christ by his resurrection is the true Son of God who reigns over all the nations. Later, when Paul states that he is on trial because of the resurrection of the dead (23:6), this is not merely a rhetorical ploy. This is a faithful summary of his message: for Jesus is the living Lord of all (see Acts 10:36).