When most people decide to begin a study of The Acts of the Apostles they typically do so to study issues of church government and practice, the work of the Holy Spirit (and all the side issues attached to that—speaking in tongues, baptism of the Spirit, etc.), or the missions of the early church. Acts is typically thought of as the place to go to get answers to your questions about the Spirit or how to develop an ecclesiology for your church.
Alan Thompson believes we may be trying to answer questions that Luke never intended to ask. That is why he has written The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus. He believes that Luke’s major themes are often neglected by modern interpreters looking for answers to ecclesiology or issues of the Spirit that Luke is not as concerned with answering. Thompson believes that the major thrust of Luke is “for his readers to see what God is doing in the narrative, how God is accomplishing his purposes and how we may embrace and identify with these purposes and so glorify the God of the biblical narrative” (22). In other words Luke wants his audience to know that “God is continuing to accomplish his purposes even now through the reign of the Lord Jesus”.
The book of Acts, according to Thompson, could better be titled, “the Acts of the Lord Jesus, through his people, by the Holy Spirit, for the accomplishment of God’s purposes”. Acts then is about the continuing work of Jesus as He now reigns from heaven. The resurrection of Jesus, then, is central to Acts. Luke wants his readers to know that “the departure of the Lord Jesus does not mean the departure of the kingdom” (67) to this end his major concern is to show that Jesus is still acting from heaven.
In six chapters Thompson makes his argument that “God is fulfilling his promises through the acts of…the risen and reigning Lord Jesus” (196). He shows in chapter two how the resurrection of Jesus fulfills the hope of Israel and brings in the last days. That Jesus is now administering the blessings of God is further evidenced by the kingdom coming to the Gentiles (chapter 3) through the fulfilled promise of the Father; namely, the gift of the Holy Spirit (chapter 4). That the kingdom of Christ is now inaugurated means that the era of the old system has ended. This means that the temple system (chapter 5) as well as the law are no longer in direct authority over God’s people (chapter 6), Jesus and his reign through his disciples is the new authority.
Thompson’s clear and cogent argument is something that every serious student of Acts will have to deal with. Perhaps Thompson is restoring for us Luke’s original intention. Perhaps we will no longer forcer Luke to answer questions that he does not intend to answer.
What then does this mean for ecclesiological practices that are derived from Acts? Are we reading Luke wrongly? Not necessarily. Thompson’s thesis serves to provide a framework for understanding the central theme of Acts. One could just as easily argue that the risen Lord Jesus shows us in Acts how he desires to set up his kingdom. Then we can still see Acts as a place to guide our ecclesiology. But we are still left with a fundamental question of whether Acts is meant to be descriptive or prescriptive. Regardless of your take Thompson would have us see that in the church today as it was then the risen Lord Jesus is still reigning and is still fulfilling the promises of God.
Should You Buy It?
Any serious student of Acts is going to need to interact with Thompson’s argument. As D.A. Carson notes in his endorsement of the book, “the strength of Dr. Thompson’s book is that it uncovers the main theological emphases of the book of Acts on the book’s own terms”. I agree. And because of this if one wants to be a faithful expositor of Acts then one will need to be introduced (or reminded) of these central themes otherwise the exposition may not be faithful to Luke’s original intent.
The book is a pretty easy read, though maybe a little academic at times. Any though that are willing to tackle such a difficult preaching assignment as Acts should at least familiarize themselves with this book.
You can buy it here.
One another note I love this series. I am trying to slowly get the entire series. I have about 6 of the NSBT books and I frequently search through ebay in the hopes of finding bargain ones. Familiarize yourself with this series.