Luke concludes Acts 9:31 with the words: “…[the churches throughout all Judea, Samaria and Galilee], walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied.” Months ago I had shared what I believed to be the manner in which Luke had written Acts. I believe he wrote Acts in 6 submissions, which can be categorized into three themes of two parts each.
Acts 9:31 represents the end of Luke’s first theme. That theme is expressed as the Lord building up his Church or Temple in which the presence of God dwells. This is not a fixed Temple but a mobile one, where God can and does travel with his people through the whole world. The Jewish Temple was stationary. Both Solomon and Herod built their Temples at Jerusalem, and men throughout the world had to travel there to be in the presence of God. Jesus changed that. Now God dwells with men, as he had originally planned to do in creating us in his image. He comes to the world in the persons of his people and in the collective presence of his Church, wherever believers are found. This, according to the Jewish Temple authorities, was blasphemy, and Stephen suffered the consequences of teaching such a thing in Acts 7. It rendered the Temple at Jerusalem temporary and unnecessary.
The first part of this theme begins in Acts 1 and ends at Acts 6:7. Here Luke shows us how the Lord was adding to the believing community (the Living Temple of God) and how he protected it, but Luke gives the impression that it too was solely at Jerusalem. It was only in persecution that we find the “living stones” arising and leaving Jerusalem, scattering themselves throughout the province into parts of Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Some even had to flee outside the influence of the Temple authorities and into predominantly gentile communities such as Caesarea.
In part two of Luke’s first theme of Acts we begin with Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin and his ensuing death and follow Philip, as he preaches to the outcasts of eastern nations in Samaria (Acts 8:5-25; cp. 2Kings 17:6, 24-28), which were the descendents of Shem. Then we watch as Philip reaches out to the descendents of Ham in the person of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39, showing the Presence of God travelling to the uttermost parts of the earth.
The Gospel going to the descendents of Japheth was Paul’s commission responsibility. We shall read and study about it in blogs to come. However, by and large Luke shows us in these first two parts of Acts, which comprise his first theme that the Presence of God in the persons of men was beginning to cover the earth. It began small and for the most part huddled in Jerusalem, where it was nourished and protected by the Lord of all the earth—Jesus, the Messiah. Nevertheless, this Temple of God was not intended to be stationary but was as mobile as the Tabernacle in the wilderness in ancient Jewish history. This Temple began reaching out and covering the entire globe. The Kingdom of God may have begun as the smallest group of men and women in the world, but it is destined as shown in the Prophets to engulf the entire world.