Reviewed by Mitch Chase
The “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series continues to confirm my conviction that its volumes offer some of the best scholarship available on some of the most varied topics of interest, and with the body of the material totaling an average of 200 pages per book.
Alan Thompson is a lecturer in New Testament at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College in Australia. In his contribution to the NSBT series, he engages the book of Acts. The title of his work, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, highlights what Thompson sees as a necessary approach for a reader to adopt: viewing Acts as Luke’s account of what the reigning Christ accomplished through the apostles (17). Luke isn’t only recording history, he’s recording biblical history (20). Such a record, says Thompson, is a further outworking of God’s saving purposes which are rooted in the Old Testament (22).
Thompson outlined his book in six chapters followed by a conclusion. In chapter 1, “Living ‘Between the Times’: The Kingdom of God,” he focused on the topics of God’s sovereignty, God’s kingdom, Jesus’ reign, and suffering. There are many characters in Acts, but Luke’s focus is God (29). God was sovereign over Israel’s history in the Old Testament, and the redemptive events centering on Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection also occurred according to divine decree (see Acts 2, 4, 7, and 13). Luke announced the inauguration of God’s saving reign and promises, which people may enter now and see consummated in the future (39). Luke has framed the book of Acts with kingdom language (1:3, 6; 28:23, 31), showing that “readers are meant to read the material between chapters 1 and 28 within this ‘frame’” (44). Part of Luke’s emphasis in Acts is Jesus’ present reign. Luke’s Gospel tells what Jesus began to do and teach, and Acts reports what Jesus continues to do and teach (48). Under the rule of Christ, the gospel spreads and churches are planted, though not apart from suffering. Indeed, sometimes persecution is the appointed means for the spread of the word (56).
Chapter 2 is called “The Hope of Israel: The Resurrection and the Arrival of the Last Days.” Thompson says that “Luke’s emphasis on the inauguration of the kingdom by Jesus and his continuing rule is the reason why the resurrection of Jesus features so prominently in Acts” (71). For Thompson, the inauguration of resurrection is crucial for understanding the book of Acts. The hope of Israel involved an end-time resurrection when the people of God would enter blessing and the wicked would enter judgment (73). Now this end-time hope needed to be understood in light of the bodily resurrection of one man in the middle of history. Thompson asserts that “Jesus’ death and resurrection help us to understand the Scriptures in the sense that they now help to explain how the OT hope for the ‘redemption’ or ‘consolation’ of God’s people is fulfilled” (76). In the book of Acts, Luke works out the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. For example, the sermons in Acts emphasize the bodily resurrection (cf. Acts 2:23-24, 27, 31; 3:15; 5:30; 10:39-40; 13:29-31). “In Acts the resurrection is the climax of God’s saving purposes, and it is on the basis of the resurrection that the blessings of salvation may be offered,” because “the hope-for resurrection age to come has arrived already” in the resurrection of Jesus (79).
In chapter 3, “Israel and the Gentiles: The Kingdom and God’s Promises of Restoration,” Thompson asserts that the book of Acts shows the outworking of God’s promise to restore his people. The words of Acts 1:6-7 remain disputed by scholars, but Thompson argues that 1:8 is in fact related to the disciples’ question in 1:6. The spread of the gospel and the gathering of the Gentiles is, according to Isaiah 43:12 and 49:5-6, part of the “restoration” which interested the disciples (107). Acts 2 and 8 demonstrate the gospel’s reach to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (see 1:8). The Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 49 would be light to the Gentiles (see 49:5-6), and the New Testament identifies Jesus as the long-awaited Servant (see Luke 2:30-32). As the spread of the gospel goes from Jerusalem to the nations, “God’s people become one with God’s Servant in his worldwide mission” (119). And as the gospel reaches different groups throughout the book of Acts, “a sign that Jew and Gentile belong together as one people of God is the fact that Jew and Gentile together have received the same promised Holy Spirit” (124).
In chapter 4, Thompson writes on “The Promise of the Father: The Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The book of Acts is best understood in a framework of inaugurated eschatology, and this includes the topic of the Holy Spirit (125). In Peter’s explanation found in Acts 2, the fulfillment of God’s promise to pour out his Spirit (see Joel 2:28-29) became event on the day of Pentecost (127). This outpouring of God’s Spirit is also associated with the inaugurated resurrection hope, since “the Lord Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended to reign at the right hand of the Father” (129). From this exalted place, the Spirit is given. The purpose of the outpoured Spirit is to empower the disciples of Jesus to be witnesses (131; see Acts 1:8). Thompson rightly sees a contrast in the OT where God’s Spirit empowered certain people and prophets to mediate his word to the people, whereas the ascended Christ gives the Spirit in order for all of God’s people to speak for God (132). This empowerment of Jew and Gentile to bear witness to Christ to the ends of the earth is also associated with the restoration purposes of God (136-37; see Acts 2, 8, 10-11, and 19).
Chapter 5 addresses “The End of an Era: The Temple System and Its Leaders.” The new era which dawned in Christ had implications for the old era, with the latter including the temple system. According to Luke in the book of Acts, the ultimate purpose of the temple is now found in the risen and ascended Jesus, “who not only replaces the temple but provides more for God’s people than even the temple was able to provide” (147). References to the temple appear multiple times in Acts 3-7, chapters consisting of two broad sections: the temple activity in Acts 3-5 and the account of Stephen’s speech in Acts 6-7. Thompson rightly observes that these two sections should be read together, and Acts 3-7 as a whole is meant to be read in light of Acts 1-2 (146-48). The reign of the long-awaited Davidic King has inaugurated the kingdom of God and put an end to the temple system. “His reign as the Lord who sends the Holy Spirit and in whom forgiveness is found (Acts 1-2) means that believers find all they need in him. There is now no need for the old temple system and its leadership, as both have come to an end for the true people of God” (161).
In the sixth and final chapter, “The End of an Era: The Law Is No Longer the Direct Authority for God’s People,” its thesis is clearly stated in the subtitle. According to Thompson, “Luke points to the authority of the Lord Jesus and the teaching of his apostles as the direct guiding authority for God’s people now that the One to whom the Mosaic law pointed has come” (175). Though Christians are not under the law of Moses, neither are they opposed to the law. Rather, Christians point to Jesus who has fulfilled the law of Moses (178). In the book of Acts, Luke reports how the present redemptive-historical situation has affected certain laws. For example, in Acts 10-11 he emphasizes “the abrogation of the food laws” and “the acceptance of Gentiles without circumcision” (181). The examples show that a shift has taken place regarding the law’s authority. The council in Acts 15 clearly showed that “Gentiles do not have to become Jews; salvation for Jew and Gentile alike is by grace alone through faith in the Lord Jesus alone” (187). And instead of the law of Moses, the apostles’ authority and teaching about Jesus are now the “direct guiding authority for God’s people” (191).
Alan Thompson’s book The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus is an exemplary exploration of major subjects integral to Luke’s account and theology. Thompson’s writing is clear, and his arguments are compelling. From time to time he has included helpful excurses and tables for the reader. This book aimed to unfold the framework of Acts which consists of Old Testament promises, the resurrection and reign of Christ, and the inaugurated kingdom of God. Thompson executes this aim well, and major features of Acts are folded into his six chapters.
In chapter 2, Thompson focused on resurrection hope, and he rightly rooted such hope in Old Testament books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Verses in those books certainly shaped the resurrection hope that is advanced in the book of Acts. But Luke reported in Luke 20:27-40 that Jesus taught resurrection hope from the Torah as well. So, as Thompson mentioned the Old Testament passages which were important to Luke’s theology of resurrection, it would have strengthened his argument to include a (brief) discussion of Luke 20:27-40 along the way.
In chapter 4 Thompson wrote on the gift of the Spirit, and rightly so, for who could imagine a work on Acts that excluded that topic? But this chapter could have benefited from engaging the issues of regeneration, empowerment, and indwelling, issues which are certainly disputed but which nonetheless seem germane to Acts 2 and related texts (such as John 20:22, which Thompson does not address in his book). A relatively recent and fruitful treatment of these issues is God’s Indwelling Presence by James M. Hamilton Jr., a book which Thompson footnotes once (125) but does not subsequently engage.
In the same chapter on the Spirit, Thompson writes in footnote 48 that the tongues of Acts 2, 10, and 19 all appear to be human languages. He notes that the “question of their cessation does not appear to be directly addressed in Acts,” and so he does not address their cessation either. While reviewers must restrain themselves from expecting an author to address what lies outside the aims of a book, a (brief) discussion could have been helpful regarding how the tongues in Acts compare with those of 1 Corinthians 12 (a chapter which Thompson does not engage in his book).
Finally, when it comes to selecting subjects that comprise the framework for understanding Acts, Thompson has chosen well. Inaugurated eschatology is indispensable for understanding Luke’s presentation, and Thompson shows how inaugurated eschatology affects the topics of resurrection, temple, the Spirit, and more. If Bible readers want to understand the book of Acts more fully, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus is a crucial read. I heartily affirm D. A. Carson’s commendation of it: “This volume will be a treasure trove for all who seek to understand Acts better, not least those who teach and preach the book.”
Mitch Chase is the Preaching Pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, and an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College. He blogs at mitchchase.wordpress.com.
Buy the books
The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan