The Progress of the "Word of God" in Acts

Even though people have many ways of measuring progress, the author of Acts is observing a kind of progress that God counts as genuine. It is a progress of the Word of God.  In the opening chapter of Acts we, in the place of Jesus’ disciples, learn that our desire for ultimate vindication and glory is to be deferred for an interval of time. In this interval we are to be engaged in a specific activity: being Jesus’ witnesses in the earth.

Acts 1:6-11 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (7) He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; (8) but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (9) And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. (10) And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. (11) They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."

The progress of the “Word of God” is in league with our inspired witness to Jesus as Christ. Because of our connection to the "Word of God" we are tapped into the progress that God counts as real.  We can see how this progress works out in the book of Acts. One way to order Acts is to divide it into 6 sections, each finishing with a progress report. 

  1. 1:1–6:7 This section is about the Word of God at Jerusalem and the preaching of Peter. “And the word of God increased; and the number the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

  1. 6:8–9:31 This section is about the Jerusalem church dispersed throughout Palestine and the martyrdom of Stephen, followed by the preaching in Samaria, and including the conversion of Paul. “So the Church throughout all Judea and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.”

  1. 9:32 - 12:24 This section includes the reception of the gentile, Cornelius, by Peter, and the extension of the Word of God to Antioch. “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”

  1. 12:25 - 16:5 This one is about the extension of the Gospel through Asia Minor, and the preaching tour of Galatia. “So the Churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”

  1. 16:6 - 19:20 The final section is about the extension of the Word of the Lord to Europe, and the work of Paul in great gentile cities like Corinth and Ephesus. “So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily.”

  1. 19:21 - 28:31 The arrival of Paul in Rome and his imprisonment there, ending with him – “preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus quite openly and unhindered.
From the perspective of Luke, who wrote Acts, now is the time that we make progress as witnesses to Jesus Christ by loyally embracing the “Word of God” and spreading that “Word” to others. 

The Gospel Word as Distinct from the Old Testament Scriptures
We have noticed there is a distinction between what Luke will call “the Scriptures” as opposed to what he will refer to as the word.  In Acts “the scriptures” refers to the Old Testament.

(Acts 17:2) And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

(Acts 17:11) Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word [the gospel] with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures [Old Testament] daily to see whether these things were so.

(Acts 18:24) Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.

(Acts 18:28) for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

On the other hand we find Luke using “the word” or variably the gospel, the gospel of the kingdom, the word of God, and the word of the Kingdom,to refer to the story and authoritative teachings of Jesus (Acts 4:29, 31; 6:2, 4, 7; 8:4, 14, 25; 10:36; 11:1, 16, 19; 12:24; 13:5, 7, 44, 46, 48, 49; 14:3, 25; 15:7, 35, 36; 16:6, 32; 17:11, 13; 18:5, 11; 19:10, 20 ).

This is not to say that Old Testament revelation was never referred to as the Word of God. There are such references in the Old Testament especially. Neither are we saying that “the Gospel” or “the word,” revealed in the New Covenant, was necessarily unwritten; surely portions of it were put into script before Acts was complete.

Yet, in Acts the name “the Scriptures” falls squarely on the Jewish Scriptures of the Old Testament. These are the Old Testament scriptures which were known, being read, and counted authoritative, in the Jewish synagogues everywhere, before Paul arrives in each community preaching and teaching the "word of God" to both Jews and Gentiles.

Why point out this distinction? To ready us for transition...transition from the known to the previously unknown. In following Jesus we need to be ready for transition from known world, known religion, known way of relating to others, over to that which has previously been unknown.This is a call for progress.

So, in the book of Acts, when we read of the progress of the word of God we should understand this to mean the authoritative teaching of Jesus as that which is growing in domain. A real transition is taking place from that which has been known to that which heretofore has been unknown, Jesus, the crucified one, truly is the Christ and his teaching truly is the announcement of the kingdom of God.

The thing progressing is the “Word of God,” specifically, that which Jesus taught by word and in deed. The duration of this time of witnessing is extended temporarily into our future. If we want a good grasp on the specifics of what Luke would count as "the Word of God", then I think we have it in his "Gospel according to Luke"

Three general themes that were prominent  in our reading of Luke were:

Mercy (humbly receiving God’s generous mercy and extending that mercy generously to others)
Legitimacy (agreeing with God about who, and what, is right and righteous)
Perseverance (ongoing loyalty to Jesus and His perspective on Mercy and Legitimacy)

Are these key themes of “the word of God” being received in the hearts of men, and spreading to more hearts, as we travel along in Acts? It would seem so. And it is this progress of the “the word of God” that is both the message and the method of extending the kingdom of God. Not ordinary progress for a kingdom, but this is no ordinary kingdom.

Luke 17:20-21 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; (21) nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."

The Kingdom of God progresses, now, in this interval of time. It is a kingdom measured in loyalty to the method and message of Jesus. He is a king with appropriate humility first, then at the end of this interval, appropriate exaltation in the day of reckoning, and in the future regeneration of all things.

Now is the time for us to proceed into the whole world in the same strange way, with the gospel of the kingdom, God’s Word. It is the word of God for our present time. The time which is the interval between Jesus going away and coming again.

Our Father who is in heaven, set apart be your name [which we, if left to our own nature, would profane], your kingdom come, your will be done on earth [where we are] as it is in Heaven [where Jesus is]. Forgive us our trespasses, for we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.