Reflections on the End of the Acts of the Apostles

I’ve been reading Acts 28, Paul’s arrival in Rome, how the narrative peters out, and it has got me thinking.

The final scenes of Luke-Acts might seem like an anti-climax, no miracles in Rome, no trial before Nero, no dramatic account of Paul’s martyrdom. But we have to remember that Luke has completed his task: explaining the life, death, and exaltation of Jesus in the coordinates of Israel’s sacred history; how the gospel of Jesus came to the heart of the Roman empire; and how Paul testified before Gentiles, their kings, and to the people of Israel.[1] In addition, the final section is summative by recalling Paul’s recent ordeal,[2] reiterating the key themes of Jewish recalcitrance and Gentile acceptance,[3] providing a final reminder that Christians face ruinous accusation without reasoned substantiation,[4] then appropriately bookending Paul’s Roman house arrest with his testimony to the ‘hope of Israel’ and to the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘Lord Jesus Christ.’[5] Plus, one gets the impression that irrespective of what happened to Paul, the word of God will continue to spread, multiply, and flourish, in Rome and from Rome, just as it has done elsewhere.[6] It is more proper to say that Luke has crafted Acts 28 not as a definitive ending, but more rightly as the end of a beginning![7]

Naturally one might ask, then, did Luke plan a third volume, the passion of Paul perhaps? Maybe, maybe not, who knows? But readers undoubtedly knew that the story and witness continued because God’s purpose and plan cannot be thwarted just as Gamaliel said earlier[8] and because Jesus is yet to return as the appointed judge.[9] We might aver that Luke invites the reader to participate in the next chapter of the saga of salvation and to follow Jesus in ‘the Way.’ Thus, at the end, readers like Theophilus can now consider themselves firmly instructed in the way of Jesus Christ, caught up in the fulfilment of God’s purposes, understand this story as their own, and be ready to write the next chapter for themselves, Acts 29,[10] as they become the next generation of servants of the word.

[1] Acts 9.15; 22.15; 26.16; 28.14, 23.

[2] Acts 28.17-20.

[3] Acts 28.25-28.

[4] Acts 28.18, 21-22.

[5] Acts 28.20, 31.

[6] Acts 2.41; 4.4; 6.7; 8.4, 14,; 10.36; 11.1, 19; 12.24; 13.49; 19.10, 20.

[7] See esp. Troftgruben 2010, 179-83.

[8] Acts 5.34-40.

[9] Lk 22.18; Acts 1.11; 10.42; 17.31.

[10] Note to self, ‘Acts 29,’ would make a great name for a church planting network, I really need to copyright it ASAP [subsequent editorial note to self, ‘Doh’ someone beat me to it].

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