What Does Acts of the Apostles Teach Us When We Pray for Boldness?
Be careful what you ask for.
“That’s the story of Acts – they pray for boldness in the beginning, they practice boldness throughout, and it ends on the note that the Gospel continued going forward boldly without hindrance.”
This project turned out to be longer (i.e., more long-winded) than I first envisioned.
But once I got into it, it was too late to abandon it. Might as well see it through.
Acts and the Restoration Movement Churches
I’m gonna offer another perspective on the book of Acts that is probably going to run contrary to how we have traditionally read it in the RM.
In the RM, we tend the read its intent as a historical record so that the church will have an example of apostolic practice.
I am going to suggest that there is more of a “story-telling” intent. Luke is intentionally recording the events of Luke-Acts to make a narrative case that YHWH himself is continuing the story he began in the Hebrew scriptures and:
- is bringing that narrative to its intended conclusion in the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth
- that the “acts of the Apostles” were the intended continuation of that same story.
In this reading of Acts, the prayer for boldness in Acts 4 and the ending in Acts 28 are thematic narrative building blocks in the telling of that story.
Prophetic Words in Gospel of Luke
The first clues for the careful reader come in the prophetic words of the characters introduced in Luke 1 and 2, which provide the context for understanding the one to be born of Mary.
Especially significant are the prophetic utterances of Mary herself in Luke 1:46-55, of Zechariah (John the Baptist’s daddy) in Luke 1:67-79 and then Luke’s narrative account of the reaction of the two prophetic figures of Simeon and Anna when Jesus is presented in the temple (Luke 2:25-38).
These prophetic utterances are intended to signal to the reader the “awakening” of the prophetic Spirit that had been silently waiting for the fullness of time when YHWH was ready to act.
If you understand the story significance of “The Force Awakens” in the continuation of the Star Wars saga, then I would argue that something very similar to that is intended by Luke, who is himself empowered to tell that story in the same prophetic tradition as the “Former Prophets” of the Hebrew Bible (Judges – 2 Kings).
The Intent of the Gospel of Luke
This reading of Luke’s intent is confirmed in the conclusion of his gospel in Luke 24.
Remember, Luke can include and order the events he narrates in any way he wants.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he seems to focus on the events of one day (even though in Acts he reveals that there was a time lapse of 40 days).
In that one day, he has Jesus engaged in one activity. To provide a context for that activity, he tells of a couple disciples who had hoped that the crucified Jesus was the one to “redeem Israel,” but whose hopes had been disappointed in his execution as a result of the collaboration of the Jewish rulers themselves with the Romans.
In this context, Luke reports the following commentary from Jesus:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Luke’s Narrative Point
And in order to make it clear to the reader that this is the point of his narrative, he repeats it more fully in a second exegetical lesson from Jesus.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to hem, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
Even the subsequent instructions of Jesus have significance within the story of Torah, Prophets and Psalms.
The designation of the Twelve as “witnesses” (Luke 24:48) and the instruction to wait in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with power from on high” are intended to evoke Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 2:1-4 and Isaiah 32:15, letting the reader of Volume 1 know that what is about to come in Volume 2 is a continuation of the same magnificent story.
Point of Luke’s Volume 2
It cannot be emphasized enough that in Luke’s mind, these are not the “acts of the Apostles” but rather the Acts of Israel’s God in fulfillment of his purposes to deliver and restore Israel from exile (both Northern and Southern kingdoms) and in the process bless the nations through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 12:1-3), thus fulfilling the visions of Isaiah to include the nations in this salvation. In his mind, that is the significance of the story he is telling. The empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit confirm that YHWH is orchestrating this progression of events.
To highlight the “witness” role of the Twelve, representing the twelve tribes of Israel now restored and reformed around Jesus the Messiah, a twelfth member is added to the Galilean group (Acts 1:15-26).
This witness role is repeated in Acts 10:39-43 and 13:31, and Paul is ultimately included in Acts 22:15 and 26:16. These details are thematic in Luke’s narrative because they are thematic in the prophetic visions of the Hebrew Bible for “the last days” (Acts 2:17).
Boldness in the Acts of the Apostles
Jump forward to the prayer for boldness in Acts 4.
The context is Acts 1:8 and the prohibition of the Sanhedrin “rulers of the people” to speak in Jesus’ name in Acts 4:8-21.
When Peter and John return to the rest of the Galilean group, Luke notes their prayer beginning in the following terms:
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant,1 said by the Holy Spirit, “‘ Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.” Acts 4:24-26