Short Summaries of the Message.
In this series we have explored seven passages in Acts that give us long or medium length summaries of the message the apostles spoke to non-Christians. These Spirit-inspired summaries give us divine guidance about the good news we should speak to non-Christians.
Before summarizing these summaries and drawing some conclusions, we should consider another kind of information in Acts that can help us clarify the good news. This information comes in the form of very short summaries of the message. In contrast to the longer summaries of actual messages that we’ve already considered, Luke also gives us around seventy, one-line summaries of the message that was spoken. Though these are very short, some of them indicate the content of the message that was communicated. I’ll try to resist the urge to turn Luke’s inspired narrative into a scientific analysis, but I do want to pull some common themes together and also give you the references in case you want to explore them on your own. All references that do not include a book of the Bible are from Acts.
Very commonly the message is summarized simply as “the word” (4:31; 11:19; 14:25; 17:11), “the word of God” (6:7; 8:14; 12:24; 13:5, 7, 46; 18:11) or “the word of the Lord” (11:1; 13:48, 49; 15:35; 16:32; 19:10, 20). “Word of God” probably indicates that the message spoken came from God. “Word of the Lord,” however, seems to refer to Jesus and indicates that the message was about him. There is also one reference to “word of his grace” (14:3) and one to “word of the gospel” (15:7).
Another group of general summaries uses the verb “tell good news” (Greek euangelizomai). Sometimes the word is used alone (8:25, 40; 14:7, 21; 16:10). These summaries simply tell us their message was news and was good, although sometimes we may also be able to discern some of the content of the news from the context or other passages. Other times this word is used with an object—“they told good news (about) XYZ.” It’s awkward to translate this into English so our Bibles sometimes substitute “preaching XYZ” for “telling good news (about) XYZ.” In any case, the XYZ indicates something about the good news they preached. They preached (told as good news) Jesus (8:35), the word of (about) the Lord (15:35), the Lord Jesus (11:20) and the kingdom of God, the name of Jesus Christ (8:12) and Jesus and the resurrection (17:18). The good news is clearly about Jesus, including that he was raised from the dead and is Lord, Christ, and connected to the kingdom of God. We should add here that the verb for “telling good news” has a related noun (euangelion) that occurs twice in Acts. One of these indicates that the gospel they spoke what about God’s grace (20:24; cf. 15:7 for the other use).
These general summaries of the message tell us that it focused on Jesus and his lordship, identity as Christ, kingdom, and grace. This matches a similar focus on Jesus in a number of other short summaries that don’t use the verb “tell good news” (8:35; 18:25; 23:11; 28:23).
In previous posts in this series, we noted a strong emphasis on God raising Jesus from the dead. The short summaries also emphasize this. The apostles testified to “the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:33), Matthias was chosen as an apostle to be “a witness to his resurrection” (1:22), and the authorities were annoyed that the apostles were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:2). Similarly, Paul “preached Jesus and the resurrection” (17:18), saying that “it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead” (17:3; see also 26:8; 26:22-23). The non-Christian governor, Festus, understood Paul’s message to be about “a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive” (26:19). Interestingly, while six of the longer summaries mention the death of Christ and two of the short summaries refer to him suffering (17:3; 26:23), none of the short statements summarizes the gospel in terms of Jesus’ atoning death. As in the longer summaries, so with the short ones, the focus, rather, is on Jesus’ resurrection. The fuller statement in 17:3, mentioned above, helps us understand why, namely, because the resurrection shows Jesus’ identity as the Christ or Messiah: Paul was “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” To this important theme we turn next.
The Special Identity of Jesus
We noted in previous posts an emphasis on the special, unique identity of Jesus. This emphasis is also found in the short summaries of the message in Acts. The two most common terms the spokesmen used to communicate Jesus’ identity are “Lord” and “Christ.”
It is important for us to remember that “Lord” is not merely a way or referring to Jesus but is also a title that indicates great authority. It is used to show the identity of Jesus in two of the longer summaries of the message (2:36; 10:36). In the short summaries, too, the message is described as “preaching the Lord Jesus” (11:20), “astonished at the teaching of (about) the Lord” (13:12), “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11), “teaching and preaching the word of (about) the Lord” (15:35), “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (16:31), “testifying both to Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:21), and “proclaiming the kingdom of God and testifying about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31). You’ll notice that some of these refer to other aspects of the message besides Jesus’ lordship, such as grace, saved, repentance, faith and kingdom. These will be mentioned separately below. In addition to describing the message itself in terms of Jesus being Lord, some of the short summaries describe the response to the message using the word “Lord” (9:35, 42; 11:1, 21, 23, 24; 14:23). These further indicate that the Lordship of Christ was key to the message. Significantly, in a span of five verses we read that some were “preaching the Lord Jesus,” “a great number who believed turned to the Lord,” Barnabas “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord” and “many people were added to the Lord” (11:20-24).
The other term used frequently to describe Jesus’ identity in the short summaries is “Christ.” As with “Lord,” we need to remember that this is not Jesus’ last name but is first of all a title of great authority. We noted that Christ is used in four of the longer summaries of the message considered previously (2:36, 38; 3:18, 20; 4:10; 10:36). The short summaries we are now considering also sum up the message as “they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (5:42), “proclaimed to them the Christ” (8:5), “preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12), “proving that Jesus was the Christ” (9:22), “saying this Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Christ” (17:3), “testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (18:5), “showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (18:28), “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:21), “heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus” (24:24), “saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and” rise from the dead” (26:22-23) and “proclaiming the kingdom of God and testifying about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31). Notice that at least five of these summaries not only include the word Christ but tell us that the specific point that was made in the message is that Jesus is the Christ (5:42; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28). To say Jesus is the Christ is to say he is the “anointed one” God promised to send to establish his kingdom (see post). The meaning of “Christ” as King is well illustrated in Acts 17 where Paul was saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (v. 3). His opponents understood him to be “acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (v. 7). Notice too that Paul spoke about Jesus as the Christ to Gentiles as well as Jews (20:21). Even though the word “Christ” had a long history and meaning with Jews, it was meaningful to Gentiles as well. Likewise, it was in a Gentile city and predominately Gentile church that the disciples of Jesus were first called “Christ-ians” (that is, “belonging to Christ,” 11:20-26).
The words “Lord” and “Christ” are both very important for communicating the true identity of Jesus. You may have noticed that sometimes the speakers used both titles to describe him (11:17; 15:26; 20:21; 28:31). One short summary also tells Jesus’ unique authority by saying “he is the Son of God” (9:20). This is the only time Jesus is called Son of God in Acts, but it is another indication that the message focused on his unique identity and authority.
The kingdom of God was the primary theme of Jesus’ teaching and preaching (Matthew 4:17, 23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1). He referred to it over 100 times. Sometimes we assume this theme was important during his ministry but not after his death and resurrection. In fact, however, Jesus continued to speak to the apostles about the kingdom after his resurrection (1:3), and the short summaries of the message preached in Acts show that they to preached the kingdom as well. They were preaching “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12), “reasoning about the kingdom of God” (19:8), “proclaiming the kingdom of God” (20:25), “testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus” (28:23), and “proclaiming the kingdom of God and testifying about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31)(See also Acts 14:22.) Even though we don’t find the word kingdom in the long or medium length summaries of the actual messages, these passages show that the early spokespersons did indeed preach the kingdom. You may have noticed three of these summaries specifically associate the kingdom with Jesus (8:12; 28:23, 31). When we remember that Jesus is the Christ and Christ means “anointed one” or “king,” it becomes clear that whenever they preached Jesus as the Christ they were preaching the idea of the kingdom regardless of whether they used the actual word. The theme of the Kingdom ties in well with Jesus’ identity.
Sometimes we assume the good news is that we receive wonderful blessings from Christ. The blessings we receive are certainly good news, but the message focuses more on Jesus’ resurrection and identity as described above. The short summaries do sometimes sum up the message in terms of the blessings, but not nearly so often as they sum it up in terms of Jesus’ identity. The focus is on Christ himself. We preach Jesus, not blessings. The blessings are in him.
One such blessing is salvation, something mentioned in three of the longer or medium length summaries (2:21, 40, 47; 4:12; 13:26, 47). Some of the shorter summaries mention salvation as well. An angel told Cornelius that Peter “will declare a message by which you will be saved” (11:14), Peter said we believe we are “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11), Paul told the jailer to “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (16:31), and Paul described his message as “this salvation of God” (28:28). We should add here another non-Christian perspective on the message. A slave girl cried out that Paul and his companions “proclaim to you the way of salvation” (16:17). As we think about salvation as a way of summarizing the message, we should also remember that it is broader than we sometimes assume (see post). Further, two of these short summaries that mention salvation also include references to the lordship of Jesus (15:11; 16:31).
Another blessing is grace. Based on the way many people tell the gospel to non-Christians today, we might have expected to find a stronger emphasis on grace than what we see in Acts. Though the word is used seventeen times in the book, only three or four of them are descriptions of the message that was spoken to non-Christians. The short summaries include “the word of his grace” (14:3), “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11) and “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God” (20:24). A fourth example, when Paul and Barnabas urge some new Christians “to continue in the grace of God” (13:43), implies that the message included grace.
Twice the message is summarized in terms of “life.” They apostles were instructed to tell “all the words of this life” (5:20) and the believers realized God had granted to the Gentiles the “repentance that leads to life” (11:18). Life is mentioned in the longer summaries as well (3:15; 13:46, 48).
Forgiveness of sins is mentioned in four of the longer summaries of the message (2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38) but only one of the short summaries. Paul says he was sent to open the Gentiles’ eyes “so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins” (26:18). This passage may also be alluding to the kingdom when it mentions turning from the power of Satan to God.
God certainly blesses us richly through the gospel, including gifts of salvation, grace, life, and forgiveness. But these are not the primary ways the message to non-Christians is summarized in Acts. The primary focus of is on Jesus’ resurrection and unique identity. The blessings come through him. This serves as a warning for us to be careful not to focus so much on the benefits we receive through Christ that we become Golddiggers with God!
We noted in the longer summaries of the message that the spokesmen called on people to respond to the truth that Jesus is Lord and Christ with faith, repentance, and baptism. Sometimes the short summaries also describe the message in terms of the appropriate response—“repentance that leads to life” (11:18), “repent and turn toward God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” (26:20), “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (16:31), “faith in Jesus Christ” (24:24) or “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:21). Notice that Acts 16:31, which includes the key response of faith, also clearly indicates the summary nature of these statements. In addition to faith, it also mentions the Lordship of Christ and salvation. The next verse shows that an even longer word about the Lord was also spoken. There are also several short summaries that say people believed (4:4, 32; 8:12; 9:42; 11:21; 14:1; 18:8; 19:4) and/or were baptized in the name of Christ (8:12, 36, 38; 9:18; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:4-5), and these are further indication that the messages included how to respond.
As we noted in regard to the blessings, so with the responses, they were not the primary focus. They were a part of the message to be sure, but the focus was on Jesus’ unique, authoritative identity. It is to Jesus—the Christ— that the people responded.
The various themes included in these short summary statements do not contradict each other. They simply bring out different aspects of the message. This is very clear from 20:20-25, where in a single passage Paul describes the message variously as testifying about “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21) testifying “to the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24) and “proclaiming the kingdom” (v. 25). All these go hand in hand.
As we contemplate the different aspects of the message indicated by these short summaries, however, we can gain a sense of their focus. It is on Jesus himself. More specifically his resurrection and identity as Lord and Christ are strongly emphasized. The kingdom has a place in the message too, as do salvation and grace. Faith, repentance and baptism are also included. Personally, I try to include all of these aspects. I want to talk to people about Jesus being raised from the dead and seen to be Lord and Christ so that they trust him, repent, and get baptized in his name and so enjoy the blessings of salvation and grace. But I also want to emphasize what they did, that Jesus is Lord and Christ.