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Introduction to the Gospels and the Book of Acts

Table of Contents

General Info

Approximately 400 years after the close of the OT events, the NT opens with the Gospels and the Acts.  The central theme of the Bible is God reconciling mankind to Himself through Jesus the Messiah.  The OT looked forward to his coming, the Gospels narrate and describe His time on earth, the Acts record the result of His coming (the growth of His Church), the epistles further explain the theology behind His coming and the practical applications for us, and finally, the Revelation divulges information about His return.

We get our English word "gospel" from the Anglo-Saxon word godspell, meaning "a story about God" or "a good story".  The Greek word for "gospel" is euangellion, which likewise means "good news".   It has been used in secular Greek writings to refer to a good report about an important event.

So, when we come to the Gospels, we see the "good news" of the central events of history unfold.  We witness the birth, the perfect life, the substitutionary death, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus the Messiah.  We marvel as the Son of God comes into our world as a Galilean peasant devoid of social status, dies the worst death imaginable, and opens the doors of heaven to those who believe and trust in Him.  In the Book of Acts, we then observe the birth, growth and spread of His Church.

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Brief Survey

Each of the four Gospels narrates the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, often matching word for word.  At other times, each author adds additional unique details from their own perspective and emphasis.  For example, Matthew and Luke begin with accounts of Jesus’ genealogy, virgin birth, and childhood, while Mark and John begin with prologues describing Jesus as the Son of God, the Word, or God incarnated.  More will be said about each book’s distinctive character and purpose in the Distinctions and Perspectives chapter below.  Here, we’ll give a brief overview of their common narratives.

Because mankind required a Savior, the sovereign God send Jesus into human history about 6-4 BC.  Very little is revealed of his childhood, except for the first two years and a brief story of Him visiting the temple when He was about 12 years old.  The narratives then pick up at His baptism, which marked the beginning of His ministry about 28 AD.  Each Gospel records various teaching by Jesus and events surrounding His earthly ministry, leading to His crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension back into heaven in 30 or 33 AD.

In recording the narratives of Jesus’ ministry, the gospel authors were not overly concerned with chronology.  The Synoptic authors (Matthew, Mark and Luke) often skipped around, grouping the events and teachings by topic or theme, while John’s writing consisted of fewer, longer narratives centered around seven miracles, or signs.  We’ll follow a somewhat chronological path in this summary.

Jesus’ early ministry was concentrated primarily in Galilee, although John notes frequent trips to Jerusalem for the various festivals.  From the beginning, Jesus performed miracles (controlled nature, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons etc) in order to demonstrate the authority of His teaching, but this produced varying reactions from the diverse groups following Him.  His disciples believed, but struggled with His actual identity.  Most of the established Jewish religious leaders rejected Him and plotted to take His life.  The majority within the crowds didn’t understand His teachings, but were attracted and amazed by the miracles, regarding them as somewhat akin to the circus coming to town.  For the most part, they were unwilling to commit to Him and in the end, called for and supported His execution.  Perhaps the demons themselves possessed the most accurate knowledge of Jesus.  They knew exactly who He was, but were bound and helpless in His presence.

A major turning point in Jesus’ ministry occurred at Caesarea Philippi.  Shortly before the Transfiguration, while under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah.  Unfortunately, Peter still held to the common Jewish belief that the Messiah would conquer their enemies and set up an earthly kingdom, so he refused to accept that Jesus would suffer and die.  Jesus then began limiting His public ministry in order to spend more time teaching and preparing His disciples to carry on after His departure.

A week before the third annual Passover since His ministry began, Jesus entered Jerusalem to fulfill His God-ordained mission.  In John chapters 13-17, we find His final instructions to His apostles during Passion Week and His promise to send the Holy Spirit after He has returned to heaven.  Jesus then voluntarily went to the cross, and laid down His life as a vicarious atonement for our sins, but God bodily raised Him from the dead on the third day.  During the next forty days, He appeared to numerous people and opened the apostles’ minds to the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) testimony about Him.  After commissioning the apostles to go to all the world teaching and making disciples (Mt 28:19, Ac 1:8), he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.

The book of Acts continues the story, beginning with the ascension.  A few days later (50  days after the Passover), the Holy Spirit came on the believers at Pentecost (Ac 2), thus we witness the birth of the NT church.  The Acts then chronicles how the Holy Spirit led many believers out of Jerusalem, first into Samaria, then Asia Minor, and finally throughout the Roman world.  The book records the calling of Paul (Ac 9) to be the apostle to the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit coming to other Gentiles via Peter (Ac 10).  The remainder of Acts records Paul’s three missionary journeys, and his journey to Rome, through which we see the Gospel spread to the entire known world.

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Author and Date

Early Christian tradition attributes the authorship of the Gospels to the person from which they get their individual titles, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  The book of Acts was written by the author of the Gospel of Luke.  See the introductions to each respective book for more information on each author.

Most scholars are in agreement that John’s Gospel was written in the 90s AD, the most common date mentioned about 95 AD.  Dating the Synoptic Gospels becomes a bit trickier.  A major factor in the debate is whether or not Mark was written first, then used as a source by Matthew and Luke in the writing of their gospels.  We’ll present the two most common probabilities here.

One position taken is the assumption that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a major source in writing their respective gospels.  There are two basic views within this position.  The first supposes that Mark was written in the 50s or early 60s, thus dating Matthew and Luke in the late 50s to mid 60s.  The second view postulates that Mark was written mid to late 60s, placing Matthew and Luke in the 70s or later.

The other position assumes that Matthew and Luke were written independently from Mark.  In this case, any of the three could have been written anytime between the early 50s to the 70s; however, many who take this view still date Luke in the late 50s to mid 60s.

We believe the strongest evidence points to the first position with an early writing date for Mark.  The parallel accounts appear to indicate that Mark was used as a source for the other writers, but since each author wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even the verbatim stories could have originated independently of each other.  Regarding the dates, we believe that all three Synoptics and the Acts were completed prior to 70 AD, the year that the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.  Since each Gospel includes Jesus predicting this catastrophic event, it seems inconceivable that the fulfillment would not also be mentioned if it had occurred prior to the writings.  In addition, the Acts, which was written after Luke, concludes with Paul serving his first prison term in Rome, which occurred about 60-62 AD.

Please see the "Synoptic Gospels" chapter below and the Author and Date chapter in our Introduction to the Gospel of Mark article for more details.

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Historical Background

The events in the Gospels begin about 6-7 BC, about 400 years after the close of the OT (see Intertestamental History Summary for a brief overview of this period), and just prior to the birth of Jesus.  The book of the Acts picks up the narratives of the Gospels, and ends just prior to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.  During this time, the area of Palestine, including Israel, was under the rule of the Roman Empire and was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman culture.  See the Historical Background to Acts for more on the Roman Empire.

Roman rule over the territory began in 63 BC, when the Roman general Pompey ended Jewish independence by conquering Judea and converting it into a vassal of Rome.  After Hyrcanus II, the last Hasmonean (descendants of the Maccabees) ruler, died in 40 BC, Herod the Great took control of Judea in 37 BC with the support of Octavian and Mark Antony.  Herod was a Jew, but a descendant of Edom from Idumea, so was not trusted by the people of Israel.  He conducted massive building projects, including a grand new temple which began in 20 BC.  Shortly before Herod’s death in 4 BC, he unsuccessfully tried to have the newly born Christ child killed, but Jesus’ parents escaped with Him to Egypt, then returned to Galilee after Herod died.

During the period of the Gospels, Palestine consisted of three political districts, Judea to the south, Samaria in the center, and Galilee to the north, where Jesus was born, raised and spent most of his early ministry years.  Jesus lived within the Jewish world of the first century and he ministered primarily to the Jewish people, but since Galilee contained many Gentile residents, He also reached out and included them (and us by extension).  He also spent some time in Samaria.  Samarian residents were Jewish "half-breeds" who had intermarried with other nationalities, so for hundreds of years, hostile relations existed between Samaria and the other two districts.  These tensions continued though the early part of the book of Acts, but finally eased as the church expanded to include the Gentiles.

For the most part, the Romans left Jewish civil affairs up to the Sanhedrin, a Jewish ruling body consisting mainly of the Sadducees and Pharisees, the two most prominent religious sects of the era.  The Sadducees were made up of the priestly class and were more influential within the Sanhedrin and the Temple in comparison with the Pharisees, a non-political laymen sect who concentrated their efforts primarily in the local synagogue communities.  According to the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities), the Sadducees were powerful aristocrats and mediators between Rome and Israel, so they did not enjoy great favor or influence with the people.  Meanwhile, the Pharisees opposed the syncretism of Greek culture and religion with Judaism.

The theological views of the two religious sects often conflicted.  The Sadducees accepted only the five books of Moses (the Pentateuch) as authoritative, and rejected the oral tradition that was cherished and taught by the Pharisees.  In addition, in contrast to the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, in angelic beings, the sovereignty of God, or the concept of final judgment.  Paul occasionally used these disagreements to his advantage.  For example, while he was on trial for supposedly violating Temple protocol (Ac 23:6-10), the Pharisees sided with him against the Sadducees when he brought up the subject of the resurrection.

Despite their differences, the Pharisees and Sadducees put up a united front against Jesus.  The Sadducees opposed Jesus because agreed with the Pharisees on the above issues.  The Pharisees taught strict obedience to the law and were God-fearing people.  Unfortunately, they had established an extensive system of man-made oral traditions which they attached to the law, and even elevated these rules to the same authority as the law.  It was over these traditions, particularly the meaning of the Sabbath, that Jesus often conflicted with the Pharisees, accusing them of hypocrisy and ignoring the spirit of the law.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Sadducees disappeared from the scene, leaving no written records so we have limited knowledge of them.  The Pharisees, however, continued to provide leadership and direction for the people of Israel.  Over the next several centuries, their traditions developed into the rabbinic writings known as the Mishnah and the Talmud, and much of their teaching still shapes Judaism.

So, during the four centuries since the close of the OT, even though God chose not to speak through a prophet, He was busy preparing the world for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  The Middle East was now in a time of relative peace, open trade (the Romans had built a great network of roads which they now patrolled, and cleared the sea of pirates), religious freedom, and the majority spoke a common language (Greek).  The people were also spiritually hungry.  The Greek and Eastern philosophies left little hope of an afterlife, and fatalism and low morality (Romans 1) was rampant.  It was under these conditions that God, "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4), sent his Son with the message of peace, forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.

Historical Reliability

For almost two millennia, the Gospel writings were accepted not only an inerrant spiritually, but also historically.  Then in the 1900s, liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann and his disciples (along with the more recent Jesus Seminar) argued that very little trustworthy material was to be found in the four canonical Gospels.  He postulated that the sayings and stories about Jesus had been composed for the preaching needs of the early church.  However, he didn’t explain why, if these were just concocted stories, so many of the church fathers were willing to endure horrible torture and even death rather than recant these teachings that were passed down by the eyewitnesses.

Fortunately, beginning in the 1970s, many scholars began reappraising these claims and found that that history and the narratives of the Gospels were complementary rather than opposed to each other.  Then in the mid-1980s, additional scholars and apologists, such as Darrell Bock, Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell and NT Wright began an even more intense quest for the historical Jesus with an emphasis on the Jewish background of the times, and confirmed that the Gospels could even be used as a prime source for serious historical study.  While this scholarship is very valuable, we must not that it only validates what the eyewitnesses said about 2000 years ago (Lk 1:1-4, Jn 19:35-21:25, 1Cor 15:6, 2Pe 1:16-21, 2Pe 1:16-21).

See our Introduction to Modern Bible Criticism for additional information on these issues.

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Timeline

The Gospels span the life of Jesus, from his birth to his death and resurrection (~6-4 BC to 30  or  33 AD).  The book of The Acts picks up at the end of the Gospels and ends with Paul's first imprisonment at Rome (~60-62 AD).

~ 6-4 BC Birth of Jesus
~ 7-8 AD Jesus visits the Temple as a Boy
~ 28 Jesus baptized by John the Baptist and begins His ministry
30 or 33 (1) Last Supper (Passover), Passion Week, Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection
30 or 33 (1) Pentecost (birth of the Church in Jerusalem); 3000 Saved at Peter’s Sermon (Acts 2)
~ 35 Paul's Conversion
~ 46-48 Paul’s first missionary journey
~ 49-50 The Council at Jerusalem
~ 49-52 Paul’s second missionary journey
~ 53-57 Paul’s third missionary journey
54-68 Reign of Nero
~ 55-60 Gospel of Mark written
~ 58-63 Gospel of Luke written
~ 58-68 Gospel of Matthew written
~59-60 Paul’s voyage to Rome
~ 60-62 Paul is imprisoned in Rome, writes Epistle to the Philippians
~ 62-65 Book of the Acts written
~62-65 Paul released and goes on fourth missionary journey to Spain (according to tradition)
~ 64-65 Persecution of Christians under Nero
~ 64-67 Paul imprisoned and martyred in Rome
~ 64-67 Peter martyred in Rome
~ 65-95 Gospel of John written
66-70 Jewish uprising against Roman rule
~ 67 The Jerusalem Church flees to Pella
70 Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem
~ 90-96 The Apostle John's Exile on the Island of Patmos; John writes the Book of the Revelation
~ 100 John, the last remaining Apostle, dies peacefully in Ephesus

(1)  These dates are either one or the other (Nisan 14 Passover falling between Thursday sundown to Friday sundown on the Jewish calendar).  The earlier date is the most popular, but there are good evidences and arguments to support either date.

See the Timeline for the Book of Acts for additional historical footnotes.

~ Dates are approximated.

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

The main purpose and theme is probably best summed up by the first verse in the Gospel of Mark, that is, to tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, and the promised Messiah.  These promises occurred throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament).  The Apostle Peter wrote that, both the prophets and the angels intensely looked forward and longed to see the Messiah, the God-Man (1Pe 1:10-12), and now the promises were being fulfilled.  So the Gospels tell the story of His life, and the book of Acts records the effects of His coming, the birth and growth of the early church.

Prior to the writing of the Gospels, the traditions were circulated orally and safeguarded under the supervision of the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word of God (Lk 1:2) and the guidance of the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost.  As these eyewitnesses began to die, it became important to record the gospel traditions in writing to accurately preserve the accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings for succeeding generations.

All themes in the Gospels and Acts must be seen in the context of the primary themes of the New Testament as a whole.  These NT themes, in turn, must be understood as emerging from the OT concept of a holy, just and loving God acting to redeem fallen mankind.  We can now see many of the OT promises being fulfilled.  In addition, since the Gospels, like much of Scripture, do not merely give us a set of rules and regulations, but tells the story of salvation using real people involved in real events, we can identify with these people and see our personal situations reflected in the narratives.  Thus, like the characters in the Scriptures, we must make similar decisions regarding our relationship with this same holy God.  We must let the Holy Spirit guide us so that we may conform our lives to the truths of these teachings.

Two prominent themes related to the life of Christ are His inauguration of the Kingdom Age and the Father’s offer of salvation for our sins through faith in the person and works of the Messiah.  Jesus physically brought God’s reign to the earth, atoned for our sins through His death on the cross, and established the New Covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 30:31-34).  Through Jesus, the last days have begun and will reach the final consummation when He returns.

Jesus also established a community of believers which would become the Church, and gave her the "keys of the kingdom" (Mt 16:18-19).  After returning to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to enable and guide her growth.  Almost all the commands in the Gospels, Acts and the remainder of the NT are given in the plural.  We were not meant to live the Christian life alone.  As Christians (followers of Christ), we continue to assemble regularly in the Church (Heb 10:24-25), supporting each other in the Christian life, and sharing the great news of Jesus Christ to those with physical and spiritual needs.

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

See our Gospel Genre Analysis for helpful hints on interpreting the special genre of the Gospels.

The Book of Acts contains a different kind of genre.  One of its primary goals is to record, explain and justify the early church as legitimate.  Thus, we could call Acts an apologetic document in that it gives a justifying or a legitimizing defense of "the Way".  It also sought to show that the Christian faith was based on ancient and established roots; that it was not a new religion (although many of its teachings took on new forms because of the revealed Christ), but that it derived from the promises that God made to Israel.  These teachings (the Gospel) then spread to the Gentiles throughout Asia and Europe when it was rejected by the religious leaders of Judaism.

As we mentioned previously, the Gospels and Acts must be interpreted in the context of the primary themes of the New Testament as a whole which, in turn, must be understood as emerging from the OT background of God’s dealing with mankind, and many of His promises being fulfilled.  When studying these books (or any other books of the Bible), we should seek first the intent of the author, keeping in mind that there is both a human author and divine Author of Scripture.  This is done by careful study of the context, and the historical and cultural background of each book.

We repeatedly state in our Bible Interpretation Guide that context is the most important key to understanding any text, and the Gospels and Acts are no exceptions.  Words and sentences often convey only possible meanings apart from the context, so we must consider how each statement fits within the paragraph, section, book and finally, the Bible as a whole.  Many of the events and teachings are further explained in the Epistles.  A majority of interpretation errors may be traced to the failure to consider the framework of the text.  Failing to recognize the correct literary type and apply the proper rules of genre is probably the next most frequent source.  We must also be aware of the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures of the first century, the time in which these events occurred.  Biblical commentaries, encyclopedias and handbooks can be very valuable in these pursuits. 

When reading the Gospels (particularly the Synoptics), we must be aware of the tension that existed between early Christianity and Judaism during the time of their writings (mid to late first century AD).   It was initially debated whether Christianity should be defined as a sect of Judaism or should it become a separate faith.  Many new Jewish Christians still practiced the traditions and rituals of Judaism.  As more and more Gentiles (non-Jews) came into the church, divisions continued to grow between the Christians (both Jewish and Gentiles), who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Judaists that denied this claim.  The critical quest became, which faith was the true people of God and the successor to the OT promises?  The divine intent was that Christianity would become the fulfillment of the Jewish traditions and that Jews and Gentiles should become one in Christ, but the vast majority of the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah despite their devotion to the OT Scriptures which clearly spoke of Him.  This does not mean that we should disregard the Jewish traditions.  On the contrary, our knowledge of many of the Christian doctrines would be severely limited without an understanding of their Jewish roots.

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The Synoptic Gospels

When we compare the four Gospels, we notice that Matthew, Mark and Luke are somewhat similar in language, material and chronology, while John is quite different.  Because of the parallel accounts, the first three books are known as the Synoptic Gospels.  The word synoptic is derived from the roots syn (together with) and optic (sight or seeing), this it means "seeing together".  Comparing them, we find 91% of Mark contained in Matthew and 53% in Luke.  This raises questions concerning the book’s origins.  While each was composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did the authors rely on a common source or were they written independently.

The most common modern theory is that Mark was written first, then used as a source by Matthew and Luke.  Another proposed scenario is the use of a common source, either the oral tradition, written fragments, or an earlier account which is now lost.  Some have suggested that Matthew and Luke drew from Mark and another document known as Q (from Quelle, German for "source"), although there is currently no historical or manuscript evidence to indicate that this document ever existed.  Still other Scholars speculate that the other authors used Matthew or Luke for their main source.  The majority of the church through the nineteen century held that Matthew was written first.  It’s also possible that a combination of the theories could be true, that is the authors made use of oral tradition, written fragments, mutual dependence on other Synoptic writers or on their Gospels, and the testimony of eyewitnesses.  Finally, since we know that each author wrote under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, it’s quite likely that the writers of the Synoptics worked independent of each other, even when describing the same events verbatim.

Modern critics have attempted to discredit the accuracy of the Gospels, claiming contradictions between the various accounts.  Christian apologist have answered these arguments, showing that each Gospel tells the story of Jesus as the promised Messiah not with conflicting facts, but from different perspectives, emphasizing different themes and often adding unique details to a common story (see Distinctions of each Book below).  For this reason, each Gospel should be read in its own right, not as a complete biography in the modern sense, but as a full complementary account within the context of the entire Gospel writings.

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Distinctions of each Book

As stated above, each of the four Gospels portrays the life and teachings of Jesus from both harmonious and distinctive points of view.  In this chapter, we note the unique perspectives of the various books and authors.  See the introductions to each book for additional information.

Matthew

Matthew’s Gospel is considered to be the Gospel to the Jews.  The author provides many OT quotations showing how Jesus fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures, thus bringing a greater understanding of the OT.  Matthew represents Jesus as the promised Messiah, explaining how He fulfilled the various Messianic prophecies.  This Gospel also demonstrates that Christianity was not meant to abolish Judaism, but to be its divine completion.

Matthew records Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (ch 5-7), in which Jesus illustrated how we are to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  This kingdom is both present (ch 13) and yet to come (ch 24-25).

Mark

Mark’s Gospel presents Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God and the Suffering Servant.  The author concentrates more on the actions of Jesus to demonstrate His authority than on His teachings.  Because Mark is widely considered to be the first gospel written, it is the most popular book used when tracing the life of Jesus from His early ministry in Galilee, then the turning point where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and finally to Passion Week in Jerusalem, which takes up about a quarter of the Gospel.

Mark places a much greater emphasis on the "Mystery of the Kingdom" than the other Gospel authors.  In His early ministry, we constantly see Jesus telling people (those he healed or raised from the dead) not to reveal His true identity as the Messiah.  This would cause undue excitement among the populous and provoke a swift response from the Roman authorities before the appointed time.  Jesus’ greatness however, could not be hidden.  Those who experienced his healing could not help but proclaim what he had done.  Thus, Jesus often had to go into seclusion in order to teach His disciples.

Mark’s Gospel is considered the “action Gospel” in that, while he never trivialized what Jesus taught, he was more concerned with what Jesus did.  He is also the most concerned of the Gospel writers with the various moods of Jesus’ audiences.  Their various reactions to the teachings or works of Jesus (amazement or astonishment, fear, confusion, hostility etc) are reported at least a couple of dozen times.

Luke

As a doctor, Luke puts more emphasis on the humanity of Jesus.  He also has more about social concerns and interactions than the other Gospels, recording many key teachings of Jesus during a meal or other social setting.

In the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus portrayed as the messianic Servant and Lord in fulfillment of many promises within God’s unstoppable plan to deliver the poor, the oppressed and the captives.  Jesus also functions as a prophet like Moses who is both a teacher and deliverer.  Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven, which ultimately culminates with the defeat of Satan and the return of Jesus to reign over the nations (ch 21) as the Son of Man, a messianic title of the righteous judge spoken of by the prophet Daniel.

John

John’s Gospel is the most unique when compared with the other three.  While the Synoptics portray the "Messianic Secret", John openly confesses Jesus as the Messiah from the beginning.  He accents the deity of Jesus, presenting Him as the Word or Logos, the promised Messiah, the Son of Man, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, and equal to the Father as the great "I Am".  The gospel was written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Jn 20:31).  John writes relatively little about the "kingdom promise" when compared with the Synoptic Gospels, preferring the term "eternal life" to express both the length of time and superior quality of life in the kingdom.

Much of John's Gospel is comprised of narratives and discourses pertaining to seven signs, or miracles, most of which take place during the various Jewish festivals, thus underscoring Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the subject of the celebrations.  We are also indebted to John for the unique material concerning Jesus’ early ministry (ch 1-4) and His final instructions to His apostles during Passion Week (ch 13-17), which included His promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide them (and us) after He had left them to return to His heavenly home.

Acts

In Acts, the author Luke continues the story of the good news, beginning with Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  We then see the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (ch 2) and the birth and expansion of the new community of believers (called "the Way" in Acts), which became known as the Church.  Luke then chronicles the spread of the gospel throughout the Gentile world in the face of much opposition.  This was accomplished through the bold witness of Jesus' followers such as Philip, Stephen, Peter, and Paul, all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The book of Acts also offers a defense of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, explaining that, although Christianity originally had its roots in Jewish religion, it is now freely offered to non-Jews as the fulfillment of God’s promise to reconcile all peoples to Himself (and to each other) through Jesus the Messiah.

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