Acts 1:1-5 – The Preface to Acts
SummaryWith these introductory verses, Acts creates a set of expectations for readers but also reminds the reader of the events leading up to the Acts of the Apostles.
Think for a moment of a memorable beginning of a book or film. How can an author or director claim our full attention within the first few pages of a book or the first few minutes of a movie? From Dickens's famous opening line ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...") to the sudden introduction into Normandy in Saving Private Ryan, powerful beginnings so often set the tone for the rest of the work.
Such beginnings, however, are not just ways to entertain. They also create expectations on behalf of the reader or viewer. Imagine for a moment that a piece of writing begins with the words "Once upon a time..." What will come next?
We know to expect a fairy tale, a fictional story populated with fantastic creatures and incredible adventures. However, we also know that, although fictional, the fairy tale will contain an important element of truth. Fairy tales by definition are fantastic but moral tales. They will always end with a life lesson. We know all this because of four short words!
The First "Act"
The preface to Acts sets the tone for the next 28 chapters and, more important, creates expectations about how the story will communicate about the nature of the truth it puts forth.
These opening verses point back to Luke's "first book," his Gospel account. In verses 1--2, Luke (the author of Acts) recounts all the stories of Jesus' life and ascension. But also, these opening verses are a literary hinge. Luke here helps his readers turn a corner from an exclusive focus on Jesus' teachings and actions to the work Jesus empowers his chosen followers to do. Jesus may now reside in heaven, but his apostles are now carrying on the work of proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Jesus has chosen these apostles, but their work cannot begin in earnest yet. Jesus made an additional promise that has not yet been fulfilled as Acts begins. These opening verses find the apostles waiting in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. As we will discover as we journey through the pages of Acts, the Holy Spirit is the driving force behind the proclamation and deeds of the apostles.
The preface reminds the reader what has come before but also previews what is to come. Moreover, it sets the expectation that this will be a story full of theological import. At the center of these tales of adventure, success, and persecution stand the foundational work of Jesus, the promise of the kingdom of God, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
AUTHOR: Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament