How the ‘Book of Acts’ Narrates the Events after the Resurrection


By Bart D. EhrmanThe University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The full title of the book of Acts, traditionally, is the ‘Acts of the Apostles’. That is a bit of a misnomer. It’s true that the apostles of Jesus are important to the book, but most of them are mentioned only in passing and at the outset. The narrative begins where the Gospel of Luke ended, with Jesus’s resurrection and his appearance to his disciples in Jerusalem.

Man coming out of a cave with the sun in the background
The resurrection of Jesus and his appearance to his disciples in Jerusalem is where the narrative of the book of Acts starts off. (Image: Iurii/Shutterstock)

Protagonists of the Plot

Much of the book of Acts is about Paul’s conversion and his missionary journeys. The key figure in the first 12 chapters of the book is the disciple Peter, who is accompanied at times by the disciple John. It is Peter’s actions and speeches that figure most prominently in those first 12 chapters. The main figure in the final 16 chapters is the Apostle Paul.

Paul was not one of Jesus’s disciples during his public ministry and did not even know Jesus. So, when Paul heard that Jesus’s followers claimed that he was the Messiah who had been raised from the dead, he became a violent opponent and persecutor of the faith, until he himself experienced a miraculous conversion and became the most outspoken missionary of the church.

Portrait of the Apostles Paul and Peter
Apostles Peter and Paul are the two key figures in the book of Acts. (Image: Antonio da Correggio/Public domain)

Proofs of Resurrection by Jesus

We can get a sense of what the book is about by looking at the key events described in its opening chapter, Acts chapter 1. In the book of Acts, we’re told that Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples, proving to them that he had been raised from the dead with many proofs. This is Acts chapter 1:3. 

Two things are interesting about that, one is that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus ascends to Heaven on the day that he’s raised from the dead. In the book of Acts, he doesn’t ascend for another 40 days.

But, what’s also interesting is that during that 40 days, he spends his time proving to his disciples with many proofs that he’s been raised from the dead. That’s one of the strangest verses in the New Testament. How many proofs would he need to use in order to convince people? If he’s right there, you would think they wouldn’t need too much documentation.

This article comes directly from content in the video series The Triumph of ChristianityWatch it now, on Wondrium.

God’s Divine Plan

In any event, the disciples think, when they come to see Jesus at his resurrection, that now is the time that the kingdom that Jesus had preached will arrive. But he informs them that, in fact, this is not the divine plan. 

Jesus indicates to them that, first, they have to spread the gospel throughout the world, starting in Jerusalem, then heading out elsewhere, taking the gospel into Judea, the country around Jerusalem, then up to Samaria to the north, and then to the ends of the earth.

Painting of Judas Iscariot
The book of Acts describes the death of Judas. (Image: James Tissot/Public domain)

This is in Acts chapter 1:8, and it sets a framework for the entire book. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be empowered to spread his word by the Holy Spirit, which will come upon them from God in Heaven above. Jesus then ascends to Heaven.

11 Disciples Is No Good, They Need 12

The disciples immediately elect a new member of the group to replace Judas Iscariot. Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus in all four Gospels. In the Gospel of Matthew, Judas then, out of guilt, goes out and hangs himself. The other three gospels don’t say anything about Judas’s death, but the book of Acts does. 

According to the book of Acts, Judas doesn’t hang himself, he somehow falls forward headfirst and bursts his intestines out on the ground, and bleeds all over the ground. And so, that’s the end of Judas in the book of Acts, which leaves only 11 disciples. And the disciples think that they need to have 12 of them, Jesus chose 12, they need 12. 

And so, they elect somebody else to join the 12, who immediately disappears from the narrative, as do most of the other disciples. With this opening narrative, the stage is set for the rest of the book, as the Apostles begin to fulfill Jesus’s commission by converting others to their faith in the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus.

Common Questions about How the ‘Book of Acts’ Narrates the Events after the Resurrection

Q: What happens immediately after the resurrection of Jesus according to the book of Acts?

Unlike the narrative of the Gospel of Luke, where the resurrection of Jesus takes place on the same day he ascends to heaven, the book of Acts tells us that Jesus spent 40 days convincing people of his resurrection with different proofs. Only after 40 days does he ascend to heaven.

Q: According to the book of Acts, what does Jesus tell his disciples who think the kingdom he has preached has arrived?

Jesus tells his disciples that this was not the divine plan. He indicates that, first, they have to spread the faith throughout the world starting from Jerusalem and spreading to the ends of the earth.

Q: Why did the disciples of Jesus feel the need to find a replacement for Judas?

The thought process of the disciples was that since Jesus chose 12, they need to be 12, so they elected somebody to replace Judas.

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