Luke’s Christological Apologetic in Acts
Integral to one’s understanding of the book of Acts is a working knowledge of Luke’s intent in his Gospel account of Jesus’s life. In the preface to his Gospel, Luke writes that he is desirous that one named Theophilus might “know the certainty of the things about which [he has] been instructed.” (Luke 1:3–4) The rest of the Lukan account revolves around this premise, examining with assurance and conviction the deeds of the Savior, and the countless lives he touched and transformed with the message of forgiveness. Luke’s assertion regards the incontrovertible certitude of Jesus of Nazareth living and dying and rising again as the exalted Son of God. The Acts of the Apostles, therefore, is a continuation of this thesis on the veracity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
The majority of the nascent Christian apologetic was concerned with vindicating the person and work of Jesus himself. The array of discourses, which make up the bulk of Acts, contain demonstrative apostolic defenses of the Christian faith, specifically in relation to the fact of the resurrection. (Acts 1:22) With Jesus’s passion and exaltation in view, the apostles risked their lives preaching in Jesus’s name. (Acts 4:1–3) Notwithstanding the abundant theories that sought to demolish the notion of the resurrection and disrupt those who belonged to “the Way” (Acts 9:2), the apostles’ collective attestation to the resurrected Christ is the fundamental premise of Luke’s reporting in the Acts of the Apostles. “The exalted Christ,” Walter Liefeld remarks (82), “is a continuous theme in Acts.”
The apostles’ task was formidable, especially when one considers the feigned tribunals which led to their Teacher’s crucifixion. (Acts 2:23) Undoubtedly, the farcical trials led many astray, deceiving countless lives to believe that Jesus was justly executed as an insurrectionist who had stirred the religious community and upset the established order. His messianic assertions were regarded more like the crazed declarations of a lunatic. His claims of deity failed to align with the colloquial views of who the Messiah would or should be, according to tradition. Moreover, as Jesus shirked the accepted moralistic and ritualistic mold of divinity, he became fodder for the religious elite’s thirst for keeping the status quo. It’s no wonder he became an easy lamb upon which to place the blame.
Consequently, with this perspective distinctly regarded, one is made to understand the boldness with which the apostles spoke the name of Jesus. To the world, they might have been perceived as renegades, as subversive insurgents of an extremist cause, as those who had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6); but it is precisely because the apostles propagated a message that was resoundingly and Christologically divine that they suffered such affliction and saw such revolution. From the outset, they asserted that the Galilean carpenter who was wrongfully accused and traitorously crucified was none other than the God-Man himself, “both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36; cf. 3:15; 4:10; 5:30)
“Death and resurrection,” the beloved Robert Capon contends (71), “are the key to the whole mystery of our redemption.” Indeed, the apostles’ persistent testimony was built upon a resolute insistence on Jesus’s resurrection and a stubborn preponderance for Jesus’s ascension. “With great power,” writes Luke, “the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them.” (Acts 4:33) At every turn, one is made to see the prevalence of Jesus’s passion and exaltation in the words of the apostles. (Acts 2:24–32; 10:40; 13:30–37; 17:18, 32; 23:6; 26:23) Regardless of venue, regardless of audience, regardless the peril which issued from such an attestation, the Acts of the Apostles is a Christological narrative which is born out of the gospel of God’s resurrection.
Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996).
Walter L. Liefeld, Interpreting the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995).