The Acts of the Apostles are well documented in a book, contained within the New Testament, presented immediately after the four gospels. This book addresses the apostles with Peter and Paul of Tarsus, at the forefront, as they begin their mission of spreading the word of Jesus Christ, after His Ascension, with the Holy Spirit as their guide.
It is universally believed that Acts is the second of two books written by Luke. The general theme of the Book of Acts, as mentioned, is the spreading of the word of Jesus Christ, especially to the Gentiles. This was accomplished by the apostles fanning out from Jerusalem to the far reaches of civilization in order share with all people their experiences with the one and true Messiah (USCCB, 2002).
Peter was the leader of the 12 apostles and was deemed by Jesus Christ as the “rock upon which I will build My Church”. It was Peter who initiated the early Christian community, was its spokesman and is credited with its formative growth (USCCB, 2002).
Paul was not one of the original 12 apostles, but was converted as Saul, by an ascended Jesus, on the road to Damascus. After seeing the light and being blinded for three days, by Christ's revelation, Paul joined the apostles sometime after Pentecost with a fervor, and became known as the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Wikipedia, 2009).
It was on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, that they received the divine tools from God to be able to go out to foreign lands and preach the word of Jesus Christ. Along with divine wisdom, they received the ability to speak in tongues and to be understood in the native language of the land they were in (Wikipedia, 2009).
Initially, Peter with John at his side, focused their efforts in and around Jerusalem, attempting to convert the Jewish population over to Christianity, through accepting Jesus as their savior and receiving Baptism. To help win over converts, they used the powers bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit, during Pentecost, and performed many miracles, including the casting out of demons and the raising of the dead. As a result of their work, thousands were converted representing the first significant accumulation of members in Christ's newly formed Church (Wikipedia, 2009).
These early days were not without problems. As Christians, in this heavily Jewish area, began to be more noticed, persecutions began to occur against them. Some of the apostles were singled out and flogged for their teachings, but were later released. An early deacon, by the name of Stephen, was arrested for blasphemy, tried and convicted, and ultimately stoned to death for his beliefs in and proclamations of Jesus Christ. With his death, it is believed that Stephen became the first martyr for Christ (Wikipedia, 2009).
With the continued works of Peter and John, the word is beginning to be heard by more and more Gentiles, including Roman centurions. After awakening from an enlightening dream, Peter meets up
with a centurion, seeking salvation. Peter baptizes him and thus begins accepting Gentiles into this newly formed church. Peter explains to the other converts, that all men are called to Jesus for salvation (Wikipedia, 2009).
Paul comes onto the scene in the second half of the Book of Acts. Initially a persecutor of the Church, he becomes one the greatest defenders of the Church and far reaching evangelist in spreading the word, after his dramatic conversion. It is with this conversion that he changes his name from Saul to Paul. It is decided in conferring with the original apostles, that he would team up with Barnabas and set out on their mission of spreading the word of Christ throughout Asia Minor to the Gentiles (Wikipedia, 2009).
One of the matters decided by the apostles, with Paul now in attendance, was that Gentiles do not have to abide by Mosaic law in order to be accepted into the Church. By this decree, circumcision is not required of Gentile Christians. However, some Mosaic law traditions were enforced for all, including the eating of only properly prepared meats, and of course the abstinence from fornication and idol worshiping. (Wikipedia, 2009).
Paul, after several years of traveling throughout Asia Minor, spreading the word of Jesus, returns to Jerusalem and runs into trouble. He is accused of teaching against the law of Moses and is mobbed. The Romans rescue him but detain him for being a revolutionary member of the sect of Nazarenes. He is eventually transferred to Rome where he remains a prisoner (Wikipedia, 2009). It is here that it is commonly believed that he was eventually beheaded as a martyr for Christ.
The Acts of the Apostles carry one central theme throughout its entire volume; that of the universality of Christianity. Jesus' teachings and salvation is directed at and intended for all of humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike. The Holy Spirit is also very prominent in Acts, being present at the Pentecost and in guiding the Apostles as they spread the word of Jesus Christ throughout the land.
Attention is also payed to the persecution of Christians, the importance of prayer and the contents of several important speeches by the Apostles.
The Book of Acts is a very important writing depicting the landscape of the very early Church, displaying the courage, devotion and perseverance of the Apostles and the persecutions, sufferings and martyrdom of Christ's most earliest followers.