The book of Acts is a unique book in the New Testament Scriptures. It sits between the Gospels and the epistles, serving as an historical sketch of the early Church during the ministry of the apostles, with particular focus on the ministry of Peter and Paul. A key theme in this book, one that I wish to touch on in this post, is the growth and multiplication of the word of God. Now, by this is not meant the Scriptures being added to, but the spread of the word — particularly the gospel — throughout various regions, and the growth of the Church as a result. We find this explicitly in three places:
Acts 6:7 “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
12:24 “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
19:20 “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
Now, the placement of these verses is rather interesting. By the time we arrive at Acts 6:7, the ministry of the gospel has remained in Jerusalem (among the Jews). It’s not until we get to Acts 8 that the gospel is spread throughout Judea and Samaria (among the Jews and Samaritans) as a result of persecution in Jerusalem. By the time we get to Acts 12:24, we’re still in Judea and Samaria; but in Chapter 13, focus turns to the Gentile regions as Paul (still referred to as Saul here) and Barnabas are sent out by the Church in Antioch (a church established as a result of the preaching by those who fled the persecutions in Jerusalem; cf. 11:19-26). By the time we get to Acts 19:20, Paul and his companions have engaged numerous Gentile regions with the gospel, resulting in churches being planted. So, what we see is that this theme of the multiplication of the word is in fulfillment of what Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [Acts 2]; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In other words, Luke (the author of Acts) intersperses this mention of the effectual work of the word of God at strategic places in the book to both emphasize the fulfillment of Jesus’s words and the centrality of the word of God in the mission of the Church.
It is important that we recognize the central place of the word of God in the book of Acts. The book of Acts is full of miraculous events, especially among the apostolic ministries (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12), but it was always in reference to the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The miraculous works testified to the word (a major emphasis in Mark’s Gospel). What is it that multiplies disciples? It is the word of God. Paul himself emphasizes this when he gives his parting words to the Ephesian disciples: “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
The language Luke uses regarding the ministry of the word is also related to the parables of Jesus. For instance, Jesus had this to say on the parable of the mustard seed:
Then He said, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.’Luke 13:18-19
Just as a mustard seed begins small and grows into a large tree whose branches stretch across the garden, making home for the birds of the air, so too is the kingdom of God. If you’re wondering what the growth of the kingdom has to do with the growth of the word, the book of Acts also provides that answer.
Another important theme in the book of Acts is the kingdom.
Acts 1:3 “to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
1:6 “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
8:12 “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”
14:22 “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
19:8 “And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.”
20:25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.”
28:23 “So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.”
28:30-31 “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.”
As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Jesus is exalted on high and reigns (cf. Matt. 28:18)! The kingdom that had fallen from the first Adam (Gen. 2-3) is being restored by the last Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45); and as His ambassadors, we go out into the regions of the world to herald this good news (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
So, in conclusion, what we see in the book of Acts is the expansion of the kingdom of Christ by means of the word — the gospel of the kingdom. We participate in this continued expansion of the kingdom as we keep the word of God central in our ministries. Otherwise, our work is in vain.