The Geographical Spread of the Witness of the Gospel in the Book of Acts
The words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 announce where the witnesses of Jesus and His resurrection would go—to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth. Acts 1–7 records the witness to Jerusalem, Acts 8 the witness to Judea and Samaria (cf. Acts 8:1, 14), and Acts 9–28 the witness to the end of the earth.
Looking at Acts 9–28 more closely, we see a progression of this witness moving further and further away from Jerusalem. Saul (Paul) is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles in Acts 9. Peter takes the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea in Acts 10. Peter reports back to Jerusalem in Acts 11 to confirm that God is saving the Gentiles. Then, the church is relieved from persecution through the death of Herod in Acts 12. In this way, Acts 9–12 functions to give us an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9), Jerusalem’s preparation for the salvation of the Gentiles at large (Acts 10–11), and God’s protection of Saul and the church while he was in Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s persecution (Acts 12; cf. Acts 11:27–30, 12:25).
Acts 13–14 then tells of Paul going to the Gentiles in Galatia, the beginning of the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 13:47). After a clarification by Jerusalem in Acts 15 that they were indeed accepting that God was saving the Gentiles through the gospel, Paul returned to the Galatian churches and planted others even further away from Jerusalem in Acts 15:36–18:22. Paul returned to these churches again for his third journey in Acts 18:23–21:16, spending much of his time in Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:31).
During this third trip, we are prepared for Paul’s witness to go even further. After a return to Jerusalem, Paul would go to Rome. Paul resolved to do just this (Acts 19:21; cf. 20:22–24; 21:4, 10–11), and Acts 21–28 tell us of Paul’s witness in three locations—Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome. In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested, leading to an address before the people and then the Jewish leaders (Acts 21:15–23:10). Acts 23:11 reports the Lord’s words to Paul, capping of his time in Jerusalem and preparing us again for Rome. God protected Paul (Acts 23:12–35), and before getting to Rome, Paul stood before three leaders in Caesarea—Felix (Acts 24:1–20), Festus (Acts 25:1–12), and Agrippa (Acts 25:13–27). Finally, they sent Paul to Rome.
Experiencing God’s protection in travels once again (Acts 27:1–28:16), Paul arrived in Rome and spoke before the Jewish leaders and a larger group of Jews as well (Acts 28:17–31). Paul’s final words and actions in Acts indicated that the witness to Christ would continue yet further. The Gentiles would hear the gospel, which kept Paul preaching it to all who listened (cf. Acts 28:28–31).
Luke somewhat leaves the readers hanging to wonder what took place after Acts 28. It’s as if he meant for his readers to keep on going from where Paul had stopped (though the NT seems to indicate Paul’s release and further travels)—taking the gospel even further, making disciples, and glorifying God that many would listen. May God help us and our churches as we continue this Great Commission!
About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.