Acts speaks of the way that Jesus has been made both Lord and Christ (2:36) and its implications. This surely does not mean that Jesus was neither Lord nor Christ before his resurrection and ascension. For indeed, already at his birth he is both Lord and Christ (Luke 2:11). In what way, then, is Jesus “made” Lord and Christ in Acts? This is not an ontological “made,” but is a redemptive-historical “made.” That is, Jesus is now the resurrected and ascended Lord of glory, having completed his work of humiliation and been rewarded with the estate of exaltation. As such, he now occupies the heavenly throne at the right hand of the Father as the victor over sin and death, who continues to rule and guide his church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Acts 1:1–2 (ESV, emphasis added)
Thus begins the book of Acts, which serves as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Given the prominence of Jesus in Luke, it may seem like a sharp contrast to have the apostles take center stage in Acts. Yet these opening words of Acts imply that Jesus continues to act and teach in Acts, and the Apostles are his chosen spokesmen.
We miss the emphasis of Acts if we move our attention from Christ to the Apostles. Instead, we must keep Christ in focus—even as we discuss the Holy Spirit—when we study Acts. In fact, Acts contains some of the most remarkable insights into the ongoing work of Christ anywhere in the New Testament.
In theological terms, Acts focuses in large measure on the work of Christ in his estate of exaltation. This estate comprises four aspects: 1) Christ’s resurrection, 2) ascension, 3) heavenly session at the right hand of God, and 4) his future return. These traditional aspects of Christ’s work of exaltation are distinct, but closely related, and all of these are mentioned in Acts. In what follows I’ll highlight a few of the ways these categories help us understand the person and work of Christ in Acts.
First is the resurrection, which looms large in Acts. The Apostles consistently point to the resurrection as the proof that Jesus is the promised messiah, and indeed as proof that the Scriptures are true. For example, in Peter’s major Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 he rebukes the people for rejecting and crucifying Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. This fulfilled the hope of David in Psalm 16, where David expressed the confidence that the LORD would not abandon him to Hades. Yet this raises an interesting question: if David did indeed die, and his tomb was known in the first century, then how did the LORD fulfill this promise? Peter explains that David was speaking ultimately about the resurrection of the messiah (Acts 2:30–31).
Similarly, in Paul’s longest sermon in Acts, at Pisidian Antioch, the logic of his speech hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. After providing a David-focused survey of Israel’s history, Paul also points to the unjust treatment and death of Christ, but notes that God raised him from the dead (13:30). This fulfills Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (Acts 13:33).