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Baptism Blueprint: The Book of Acts Revealed

Table of Contents

It’s in the book of Acts that we’re taught that the times and boundaries of the nations of the world are appointed for this purpose: that they would seek God.1See Acts 17:26–27.

You fit somewhere in that scope of history. As a result, you should care about what happens in the book of Acts.

I am going to share a key to unlocking the book of Acts. And in exploring this book, we will begin to understand some areas of baptism like you never have before. We’ll find clarity where there has been imprecision, patterns where previously you may have perceived only randomness.

Not everyone sees these patterns. A popular commentary on Acts, written by a professor of New Testament at a prominent Baptist seminary, gives this claim about patterns in Acts:

Throughout Acts new converts experienced repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Spirit. All three are essential elements of the conversion experience. The succeeding narrative of Acts shows no set pattern in which these various elements appear.2John B. Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary, vol. 26 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 83.

I beg to differ.3That is, with the third sentence of the quote (the first two are accurate). The Holy Spirit might be unpredictable. He might be inscrutable. But He is not haphazard. There is a pattern. And it’s not hard to discover. I don’t want you to think, “Well if it escapes the notice of seminary professors, how can I hope to see it in one Sunday morning sermon?” You will. Dedicate yourself to observing and taking note of the signposts with me, and you will see the pattern emerge.

The Holy Spirit might be unpredictable. He might be inscrutable. But He is not haphazard. There is a pattern. … We’re told the pattern from the beginning of the book [of Acts]!

In fact, we’re told the pattern from the beginning of the book! But all of our backgrounds and assumptions and prior commitments can obscure the obvious.

What’s In a Name?

The book is called Acts—a broad name for a book. It’s a bit like naming a book Events or Deeds or Happenings. But Acts is not just a random smattering of events that happened during Bible times (nothing in the Bible is!). The fuller name of the book is Acts of the Apostles. That title is still relatively uninformative if you don’t understand what the apostles were assigned to act upon—what their purpose was.

The purpose of the original 12 apostles was to provide the foundation upon which God’s church would be built. The Acts of the Apostles is a book recording how that happened—how God achieved that purpose through them; how He achieved that purpose through the original Twelve and then through a surprise apostle named Paul. But at the beginning, not even the apostles understood their purpose.

Acts opens with these words:

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1–3)

Notice first that this book is a second volume of sorts. The “first account” refers to the Gospel of Luke, where Luke records all that Jesus began to do. This second account, the book of Acts, is all about what Jesus will accomplish.

Luke continues:

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4–5)

As I’ve said before, whether it’s a book or a film or some other composition, it’s important to pay attention to openings. Of all the things he could have opened with, the author of Acts opens with an announcement that there is another baptism that they should undergo.

Recall from our “Introduction to Baptisms,” Scripture tells of multiple baptisms (a baptism of John, a baptism of Jesus) and multiple baptism mediums (baptism with water, baptism with the Holy Spirit). The disciples4Scripture uses both the term “disciples” and “apostles” to refer to the original Twelve whom Jesus called to be His closest followers while He was on earth. are about to be confused. It’s not because they’re dumb. They simply have deep-seated expectations based on what they think they understand—and what they hope for.

Acts 1 continues with a question by the disciples: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6). It was a reasonable question. They had just spent 40 days in this master class of things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), and somewhere within those teachings, their big takeaway was that there’s going to be a kingdom restored to Israel. “Is it now? Is that why you’ve called us to gather in Israel’s capital?” was therefore quite a reasonable question to ask.

Answering them, Jesus is going to say, in essence, “No, there’s something else.” The passage continues:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority . . .” (Acts 1:7)

God’s plan in the book of Acts is not to restore the majesty of a kingdom; His plan is to reveal the mystery of the church. The apostles’ agenda was a kingdom for Israel. But Christ’s plan was a church for the world.

The apostles’ agenda was a kingdom for Israel. But Christ’s plan was a church for the world.

There’s a simple structure that you need to hold on to. It’s the outline for all of Acts, and it’s found in the next verse, where Jesus says:

. . . 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. (Acts 1:8)

What we see here in Acts 1:8 is an unpacking of the Great Commission in Matthew.5See Matthew 28:18–20. There, we read the words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)—which usually make us think of foreign missions. And foreign missions are good. But historically speaking, we are the foreign mission. We are evidence that the foreign mission has been fulfilled. We are those who walk in light who spread out from Jerusalem.

Acts 1:8 lays out the pattern for the spread of the gospel: Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.6Some translations say “to the ends of the earth” or “to the remotest parts of the earth.” The word in the text is singular, though: end, not ends; part, not parts.

But take note: If all you see is the spread of the gospel in terms of geographical expansion, you will have missed the point. This is the blueprint for building the church.

The Gospel’s Spread to 3 People Groups

If you explore the book Acts, you will see the purposeful, progressive spread of the gospel to the people groups represented by these geographical regions. But it isn’t random. Let’s observe the outline and then we’ll talk about why it isn’t random.

Again, we have Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and the remotest part of the earth. There’s an interrelatedness among all these names. Let’s talk about them now, one by one.

The middle group in this outline includes two kingdoms. For a short time in Israel’s history, there was a united kingdom, but then it split into two—Judea being one of them. Judea is where we get the name of the people group “Jews.” (Similarly, Samaria is where we get the name of another people group: the “Samaritans.”)

Besides the Jews from Judea and Samaritans from Samaria, there are two bookends—two places, which I contend are both capitals. There’s Jerusalem (first in the list)—the capital of the Jewish world. The second capital isn’t named, but it’s there. It’s the reason “end of the earth” is singular. “The remotest part of the earth” is, I think, a reference to Rome. Why Rome? There’s biblical evidence for believing this, and it’s found in Acts 23:11:

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”

Rome was the capital city of the Gentile world, just as Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish world. The apostles were to be “witnesses” (Acts 1:8) and “solemn witnesses” in Acts 23:11. The latter verse pairs Jerusalem and Rome, which I believe Acts 1:8 is doing as well. Remember, at that time, the worldview for the Jews was that the earth was populated by two groups—the Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles)—so the pairing of each world’s capital makes sense. And that worldview is also why the disciples were asking, “Lord, is it at this time you’re restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

Rome (the Gentile world) was not only the “remotest part” geographically to the Jews. That term—the end or last part—also speaks to the distance in Jews’ minds of the concept of Gentile inclusion in the kingdom. That concept was the furthest thing from the mind of Jewish believers in terms of who God would include in His church. It was a shocking revealed mystery.

In Acts 26, we see the Apostle Paul on trial. He’s not on trial because he converted to Christianity. He’s on trial because of his scandalous relationship with Gentiles. And when Paul testifies of his conversion it is always with this in mind: God sent me to the Gentiles.

For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:21–23)

This pairing of capitals is also a pairing of the twin cities—twin powers—responsible for the death of the Messiah. It was the rulers of Jerusalem and rulers of Rome who crucified Jesus.

The gospel will spread comprehensively, from Jews to Gentiles. And the church will be built comprehensively, from Jews to Gentiles. Most importantly, His forgiveness of people in both groups will be so complete that it will even cover the sins of the powers responsible for crucifying the Lord.

The church will be built comprehensively, from Jews to Gentiles. And God’s forgiveness of people in both groups will be so complete that it will even cover the sins of the powers responsible for crucifying the Lord.

No wonder Paul states in his letter to the Romans:

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:14–17a)  

So Jerusalem is the capital of Judea and the Jewish world, and Rome is the capital of the Gentile world. What’s this reference to Samaria doing, sandwiched in between? That’s the same question the Jews were asking.

The kingdom of Israel had divided earlier in its history. Samaria was the northern kingdom, Judah the southern kingdom. When the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria, some from Israel were left behind and intermarried with the Assyrians. Intermarriage was forbidden for the Jews—not because of race or ethnicity but because of worship; they were to be devoted to the Lord their God. (The Israelites had a historical pattern of chasing after other gods over and over; that’s why they were in exile.) The offspring of these intermarrying Jews was people who were half-Jewish and half-Gentile, or “Samaritans.” You can see now why the Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans.

And you can hopefully also see the purposeful order in which God will build his church according to Acts 1:8:

  • First: Jews (represented by Jerusalem and Judea)
  • Next: Half-Jews/half-Gentiles (Samaria)
  • Last: Gentiles (the end of the earth, or Rome)

How will all of these people groups know that they are now one church? What will be God’s method for incorporating each of these groups—groups that didn’t even associate with one another, who didn’t enter one another’s homes—into the church?

He’s going to do it through baptism—baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Mark these words: Christ will baptize each people group with the Holy Spirit, signifying that He has accepted every people group into His church; and each people group is expected to participate in water baptism as a sign of their acceptance of Christ.

Here’s how this looks in the book of Acts, with the key chapters being 2, 8, and 10:

  • In Acts 2—The Holy Spirit is given to the Jews
  • In Acts 8—The Holy Spirit is given to the half-Jews/half-Gentiles (i.e., the Samaritans)
  • In Acts 10—The Holy Spirit is given to the Gentiles

After chapter 10, most of the book follows this theme: To the Gentiles—are you serious?

This pattern is summarized in the following table:

Summary Table for Baptisms Blueprint - The Book of Acts Revealed

Acts 2: The Inclusion of the Jews

When it comes to Acts 2, verse 38 gets all the press. But that verse is a terrible place to land and make assumptions if you don’t understand all that is built up in Acts and in the Bible as a whole. Here’s the mistake people make—they reason along these lines:

  • The Holy Spirit is given to Christians.
  • Christians are those who have had their sins forgiven by God (and they see this in Acts 2:38).
  • They take these conclusions and make an inseparable connection to the conditions they see in the same verse. (Don’t do it!) They reason: Well, here are the conditions of becoming a Christian because we see these nonbelievers repenting, being baptized, then being forgiven, and receiving the Holy Spirit. And it’s Christians who get the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it must be the case that this is the normative, biblical picture of salvation.

People who follow the above reasoning say things like, “You must be baptized in order to be saved,” and “You must be baptized to have forgiveness of sins,” and “You must be baptized to be a Christian.”

Here is an alternative possibility; follow me to see if this is what you see described in the Scripture:

  • The normative method for the baptism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit for today is invisible and immediate. (If you were to trust Christ for eternal life right now, this moment, no one would know unless you told them. But it would happen—invisibly, immediately.)
  • While the foundation for the church was still being laid, the normative method for baptism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not invisible and immediate. It was visible and mediated at the beginning because it was a reality that needed to be seen and witnessed.
  • This shouldn’t be that surprising. None of us has seen and been a witness to the man Jesus. His manifestation in the world at one point in time had to be seen and witnessed. But His ongoing work does not.
  • Bottom line: The prescription of Acts 2:38 is not for the church today. It was specifically for the Jews during Jesus’s time—the Jews who had rejected the Messiah and God’s purpose for them.

The prescription of Acts 2:38 is not for the church today. It was specifically for the Jews during Jesus’s time.

That Acts 2 was a message to the Jews of Jesus’s time could not be more obvious. Consider the following verses (bold is mine):7By way of context, the chapter as a whole is about the Holy Spirit falling at Pentecost. The people begin to speak in tongues, and everyone wonders what’s happening. Peter stands up and delivers a sermon to explain.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. (Acts 2:5)

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.” (Acts 2:14)

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know …” (Acts 2:22)

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)

That last verse—the end of Peter’s sermon—mentions the guilt of having crucified their own Messiah; that guilt is not a message preached to any other group. Yes, Rome was guilty as well, but Acts 2:23 makes it plain that the guilt is on the House of Israel, who used the Romans for this purpose: “This man … you nailed to a cross by the hands of lawless8NASB says “godless.” men and put Him to death.” Remember the crucifixion story: Pontius Pilate washed his hands, said the blood was not on his hands, and the people agreed: “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (see Matthew 27:24–26).  

Their reaction to Peter’s Pentecost sermon was the right one, then. They had just seen a miracle, and Peter was saying, in essence, You messed up; you rejected God’s purpose for you; you rejected the Messiah. Acts 2:37 says the people were “pierced to the heart” and asked, “What should we do?”

Peter’s response is proportional to all of the issues present here, and it relates to the national rejection of Israel. He says, “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this crooked9Or “perverse,” as the NASB says. generation!’” (Acts 2:40). This theme of witnessing only to Israel continues as Peter preaches to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him. (Acts 5:30–32)

To understand what’s happening here, you need to gain an understanding of God’s plan for the nation of Israel.

God’s Plan for Israel’s Acceptance of the Messiah

Israel’s Messiah was to be accepted in a very specific way. The Scriptures tell us over and over how He was supposed to be accepted. It’s almost comical how much it’s repeated.

  • Jesus’s first words to the disciples in Acts are: “John baptized with water, but I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:5).

  • When the disciples have to replace Judas, here are the conditions for becoming the next disciple:

Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. (Acts 1:21–22, emphasis mine)

Jesus noted that John baptized with water, and to be recognized as an apostle, you had to be acquainted with Christ from the baptism of John.

  • Skipping ahead to Acts 10:36–39, Peter is explaining in a sermon God’s program for Israel and begins with John the Baptist before he continues to talk about the very things we’re discussing:

The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. (Acts 10:36–39, emphasis added)

  • Paul preaches the same thing Peter did:

From the descendants of this man [David], according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.” (Acts 13:23–25, emphasis added)

  • In Luke’s first volume (his Gospel), he records Jesus talking about John the Baptizer:

“This is the one about whom it is written,

‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’

“I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. (Luke 7:27–30, emphasis added)

In that last verse (v. 30), notice that the purpose of God for the people of Israel, from the rulers to the riffraff, was to be baptized by John—baptized with the baptism of repentance.

  • In Luke 7, we see Jesus going on to pronounce judgment upon the generation that rejects both Him and His forerunner, John:

To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.” For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children. (Luke 7:31–35)

Hopefully you have caught the theme by now: John the Baptizer was pretty important. In fact, every single Gospel10That is, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. begins with the preaching of John. This was not just a convenient starting point.

The Importance of John’s Baptism

John’s baptism was a requirement for the nation of Israel. To participate in the blessing of God, Israel was to welcome the Messiah and His forerunner.

In fact, the first person to not accept the message about John the Baptist, and to receive judgment based on that rejection, was John’s own father, Zacharias. Remember, Zacharias is at the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel in the story of the birth of John the Baptist. The penalty for Zacharias not believing the angel who came to foretell John’s birth was the binding of his tongue (Luke 1:20). That’s how Luke began volume 1!

And now, in Luke, volume 2, also known as the book of Acts, he begins by telling the story of those who accepted the Messiah and His forerunner. What do they receive for their belief? In contrast to Zacharias, they receive a loosing of their tongues. The Holy Spirit falls upon the people, and they are not restricted in their own language but, rather, given as a sign the ability to speak in multiple languages.

So here’s Peter’s prescription in Acts 2:38 for those who had rejected John’s baptism, which was for repentance and forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming Messiah, who was given for the ultimate forgiveness of sins—or, in the words of John the Baptizer, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Peter prescribes that which would right their past wrongs: repent and be baptized. That was the original message to the nation of Israel.


Of what were the people of Israel to repent? The sins had stacked up at that point. When Peter called them to repentance, he was calling them to:

  1. Participate in the initial repentance they missed—a preparation of the heart to make ready for God’s Messiah.
  2. Repent for having rejected God’s purpose for them in accepting John’s baptism.
  3. Repent for having crucified the Messiah.

Be Baptized

Next, Peter calls the Jews to be baptized—not with John’s baptism, which was now over (they had missed that boat). Now, he says, you will be baptized in the name of Jesus because this identity is the new thing that God is doing in the world and it begins with you, the Jewish people.

Their forgiveness would be contingent upon their acceptance of this message. And it was a gift to them—a gift, in a sense, so that they could make up for what they’d missed out on.

It’s also possible that this forgiveness was needed to avoid the coming judgment of Jerusalem. Fitting with our theme, Rome—the capital of the Gentile world—would destroy Jerusalem in AD 70. That was 30 to 40 years from this writing, or about one generation away. So there might be a prophetic pronouncement in Peter’s “Be saved from this crooked [or perverse] generation” (Acts 2:40) that followed his message to “Repent and be baptized.” He was warning the Jews of the judgment to come.

Acts 2–8 concentrates on Jerusalem and Judea. In these seven chapters, sermons are addressed to the “men of Israel.” Luke repeatedly says things like “in Jerusalem,” “in this city,” “vicinity of Jerusalem,” and “filled Jerusalem.” When we get to chapter 8, we have a fitting description that there is indeed a church in Jerusalem:

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him [the martyr Stephen] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1, emphasis mine)

What wonderful writing there is in this verse. What wonderful drama—pure cinema. God has established a church in Jerusalem, according to the very script we’ve already read, and it’s starting to spread according to the script: from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria. But where are the apostles in all this? They are still back in Jerusalem. And there’s a character on the scene who does a better job of covering more territory for his cause than the apostles do. His name is Saul. He’s a murderer, but he’s God’s chosen instrument to spread the message of life to the church.

Saul’s conversion is in Acts 9, which is fitting because he is God’s chosen messenger to the Gentiles, and it will be the Gentiles who receive the Spirit in chapter 10.

But first, we have to talk about Samaria.

Acts 8: The Inclusion of the Samaritans

In Acts 8, we find the spread of the Spirit to the Samaritans:

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.

Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He [the Spirit] had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they [Peter and John] began laying hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:4–17)

You’ll notice some different order here: different association with Spirit baptism, water baptism, and laying on of hands. It doesn’t happen in quite the same order as it did in Acts 2. But don’t make the mistake of assuming randomness. Some commentators make this mistake. One of them writes:

Obviously Acts presents no set pattern. The Spirit is connected with becoming a Christian. Sometimes the Spirit is connected with the laying on of hands, sometimes not. Sometimes coming of the Spirit precedes baptism. Sometimes it follows. The Spirit “blows where it wills” (John 3:8); the Spirit cannot be tied down to any manipulative human schema.11Polhill, Acts, 217–218.

Be wary of anyone telling you that a book of the Bible “presents no set pattern.” It’s perfectly reasonable that God would initially require that the Holy Spirit be given through God’s recognized Apostolic authorities to the Samaritans. Why? Because the Samaritans rejected all books of the Bible with the exception of an altered version of the first five—and then, they had their own version of those.12Also known as the Pentateuch, these books include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Thus, Samaritans had already rejected the Holy Spirit’s message to them in the Scriptures. They had rejected the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. They had rejected Jewish leaders. So, the Samaritans being forced to recognize the dependence upon power from Jerusalem, I would argue, is the reason for this particular pattern. It was to these people who were given over to magic, to the next religious charlatan coming their way, that Peter and John were sent—apostles from Jerusalem with authority.

The baptism blueprint—the patterns of Acts—will continue to hold up as we move past Acts 8. In Acts 9, we learn of the conversion of Paul, also known as Saul. If you study Paul’s conversion and his later testimony about his conversion, you will discover that his baptism is also associated with the forgiveness of sins. That’s fitting since this is the pattern we would expect of the Jews of his day. Paul would have been expected to embrace the national call to repentance and acceptance of both the forerunner and the Messiah that he had previously rejected. Paul needed forgiveness related to rejecting God’s purpose for all Israel—to be baptized by John.

I won’t go into every detail about baptism in Acts, but if you look at chapter 9 closely, you’ll see another summary statement about God building His church according to the outline I gave earlier in this sermon:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9:31)

Acts 10: The Inclusion of the Gentiles

Next, we move on to the Holy Spirit falling to the Gentiles. Remember that the Gentiles are represented by the Gentile capital of the world, Rome, and so the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church is going to be represented by a leader of Rome.

Look at Acts 10:1: “Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort …” This verse gives us several Roman details:

  • He’s in Caesarea—a city named in honor of the Emperor of Rome, the Caesar; the headquarters of Roman forces and rulers.
  • He’s a centurion—a Roman soldier.
  • He’s a leader of an Italian cohort (and, of course, Rome is in Italy).

For further context, remember Philip the Evangelist is described as moving from Samaria to Caesarea in Acts 8:40. And after the description of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, we return to Caesarea in Acts 10. In many ways, you could think of Caesarea as the gateway to Rome. It’s where Paul is ultimately imprisoned and the port from which he’ll set sail for Rome.

In Acts 10, Peter has a vision. To summarize,13Read it in full in Acts 10:9–16. Peter sees a sheet coming down with what he thinks to be unclean animals, and God says to get up, kill, and eat. It’s a vision telling Paul that he needs to go to the Gentile people.

In Acts 10:17–33, we see Peter being obedient to the vision. He goes to Caesarea and preaches to Cornelius and the Gentiles present. Speaking in the household of Cornelius—well aware of how odd it is for the Gentile home to be hosting a Jewish man—he says:

I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ … you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. … God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. (Acts 10:34–43)

Luke goes on:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the Jewish14The NASB translates this as “circumcised.” believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:44–48)

You’ll notice in the passage, there is no laying on of hands, and they received the Holy Spirit. Just as it would have been important for Samaritans to recognize Jewish authority, it would have been important for the Jews to recognize that God has accepted the Gentiles. And He has accepted them not on the basis of identifying with the Jews, or on the basis of any power conferred by the Jews, but on the basis of the Gentiles’ own faith.

Just as it would have been important for Samaritans to recognize Jewish authority, it would have been important for the Jews to recognize that God has accepted the Gentiles … on the basis of the Gentiles’ own faith.

You can catch this message in Acts 10:43:

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.

Notice, it’s not those who are baptized who are saved, but those who believe in Jesus.

And in the very next verse, we read:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. (Acts 10:44)

This was the inauguration of the Gentile church. The Holy Spirit fell immediately after belief.

The Holy Spirit fell immediately after belief.

And Peter recognizes not only the fact of the Spirit falling but also the manner of how the Spirit fell. The Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit not through the agency of laying on of hands but through the Holy Spirit falling from above just like He did with the apostles at Pentecost. Peter recognizes this and calls for their immediate water baptism:

“Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47–48, emphasis added)

This completion of the church had to be re-explained in Jerusalem. Peter gives explanation: He makes it clear that the Gentiles are full-fledged members of the church, and he links everything that happened to their belief:

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:15–17)

And then everyone lived happily ever after? Far from it. The remainder of Acts becomes a story of a Jewish/Gentile tension. And there’s a surprising twist as the growth of the church begins to focus no longer on Jerusalem but on a Gentile city, a place called Antioch. Antioch is the place that will ultimately send the Apostle Paul to the rest of the Gentile world.

We get another summary about the church and its growth after the Gentile inclusion:

So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:19–26)

God’s Plan Unfolding Over Times and Epochs

This blueprint is recognized by few in the church today. It wasn’t easily accepted in the early church either. It took time. We can easily say things like Acts 2, 8, 10; baptism of the Jews, baptism of the Samaritans, baptism of the Gentiles; Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, remotest part of the earth (Rome). But the book of Acts covers decades. It spans different “times and periods” or “times and epochs” to use the language of Jesus at the beginning of the book.15Acts 1:7. Some of them are not for us to know. But some of them the Father has disclosed to us.

When He began to disclose what He was doing, He did so in a time when word traveled more slowly. No internet. No social media updates. Paul’s own, God-ordained trip to Rome was beset with near-losses and perilous shipwrecks! The world needed time to catch up on this new thing that was happening. Even the Christian world needed time to catch up.

But we see also in Acts how God is faithful to edify the church through continued learning of truth. I pray that that’s the testimony of this teaching, some 2,000 years removed from the inaugural settings.

We see … in Acts how God is faithful to edify the church through continued learning of truth.

Perhaps you’ll find comfort and confirmation in one of the closing stories of Acts:

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:24–28)

Notice the description of Apollos. He was a man “mighty in the Scriptures” (v. 24). He was accurate regarding Jesus (v. 25). But he needed some sharpening in one area: baptisms (v. 25).

This story offers a message even for us—urging us today to pay careful attention and to desire to know “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Teaching about the elementary principles of baptisms as part of our series on the oracles (or elementary principles) of God is a part of that. We are seeking to know the way of God more accurately, to pursue clarity. It was a clarity that, by this time, was gained by the Apostle Paul. And we see his clarity in a story we discussed in our introduction to this baptisms series:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”16He could’ve added, “because that is the norm now—the Gentile church has been born; the Holy Spirit is given when you believe.” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”17This was the message of Acts 2. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men. (Acts 19:1–7)

In this passage, we see Jews who had been faithful to everything revealed to them up until this point. Some might call them the Old Testament saints. They were believers in the Messiah to come, but they just were not aware of who the Messiah was yet. It could be that they were disciples of a man like Apollos—knowing all about John’s baptism, but not yet aware of the fuller revelation of the Messiah and the church.

The point is this: This episode is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to spread the truth throughout the world, and to Paul’s capability of fulfilling his mission. It’s a story of an example of confidence that this pattern of the world being changed through the efforts of 12 people is a pattern that will continue through all of history.

“And Thus We Came to Rome”

People tend to make too much or too little of Acts 19:7: “There were in all about twelve men.” This wasn’t some new set of apostles who are replacing Israel. That’s making too much of the verse. But to say this detail that Luke gives—this number 12—is random would be to make too little of the verse.  

Sometimes the Scripture winks at us. What happened the last time 12 disciples had the Spirit come upon them in this manner?

Remember, the outline or blueprint of Acts (in verse 1:8) ended with “the remotest part of the earth,” which we have said refers to Rome. And note these words from the end of Acts (its last chapter):  

There [in Puteoli, Italy] we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. (Acts 28:14)

It’s such a small statement: And thus we came to Rome. To the casual observer, the untaught, it seems like an insignificant verse. But in these words is everything—the fulfillment of the promise of Christ:

And you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part [the last, the least likely part] of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

And thus, we came to Rome.

It seems like an insignificant verse. But in these words is everything—the fulfillment of the promise of Christ.

The final chapter of Acts finishes with these words:

“Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” When he [Paul] had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.

And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered. (Acts 28:28–31)

It’s a beautiful ending. And how the commentators don’t see this baffles me. The commentators write things like, “Acts comes to a rather abrupt ending.”18Polhill, Acts, 545. Another writes: “We are not satisfied with Luke’s ending. How could he have led Paul through the endless hearings of chaps. 22–26 and the violent storm of chap. 27 and then left us in midair? We want to know what happened to Paul.”19Polhill, Acts, 547.

I’ll tell you what happened to Paul. In “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:31), Paul answered the question of the original apostles, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  

The answer is that the kingdom will come through preaching the kingdom of God to the entire world; it will come through believing.

The kingdom will come through preaching the kingdom of God to the entire world; it will come through believing.

And in the most powerful city of the world, a new kingdom will come not based on the power of the world, but on preaching of the word. And to Rome, this new preacher will write:

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:12–15)

From Jerusalem to Today

Jerusalem; Judea; Samaria; the remotest part of the earth, Rome. Chapter 2, chapter 8, chapter 10. This is the baptism blueprint for God’s church. This is the outline of the book we call Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

The book begins focusing on the apostles curious about the times. It ends focusing on the apostle untimely born—Saul, the murderer turned missionary; Paul, Jew of Jews but also Roman citizen.

The Jews sought a kingdom. Jesus sought a church. What started in Jewish synagogues would end in Gentile assemblies. A kingdom inaugurated in the power of the Holy Spirit, a kingdom perpetuated through the preaching of the word.

The Jews sought a kingdom. Jesus sought a church. What started in Jewish synagogues would end in Gentile assemblies.

And so may the closing words of Acts be true today—may the teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ be preached “with all openness, unhindered.”