Acts: Kings and Kingdoms

Many have been confused, and even troubled, by how the book of Acts ends. History tells us that Paul was martyred in Rome, but Luke does not record Paul’s death, though he certainly would have been aware of it. The apostle’s courageous death for his faith would have been a powerful and poetic way to end the tale of Saul of Tarsus. Why didn’t Luke record Paul’s martyrdom in Rome?

There are a number of theories, but one seems to make the most sense to me: Paul isn’t the main character of Acts, and the book isn’t about his journey from persecutor to martyr. Rather, Jesus Christ is the main character, and the book is actually about the journey of his gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.

Acts began with the disciples asking the risen Jesus if he would “restore the kingdom.” Jesus responded by promising them power to carry his message “to the end of the earth.” And with that, he ascended into the heavens; Jesus was “lifted up”—an act symbolic of being enthroned as King over the earth.

In the final chapter of Acts, we see that Jesus’ words have been fulfilled. His apostles have carried his message to Rome—the seat of power from which Caesar ruled the world. In the last words of the book, however, we are told that a new King and a new kingdom have infiltrated Caesar’s empire. Paul, “welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

The message would have been loud and clear to Luke’s original readers: Caesar is not Lord, Jesus Christ is. It was a shocking, subversive, and provocative ending to his book. N.T. Write wrote:

“‘Kingdom of God’ had always been a political—no, a revolutionary—concept in first-century Judaism . . . If you believe that Jesus is risen, ascended, and glorified, you have no choice. Jesus is not a distant divine being to whom one might fly off in an escapist spirituality. If he is Messiah, he is the world’s true King.”

Understood properly, Acts isn’t about Paul’s journey. It is about how, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.”

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Acts: Kings and Kingdoms