Why Does the Book of Acts End Abruptly?
The Book of Acts opens where the Gospel record of its write, Luke, left off. Just compare Luke 24 and Acts 1. Luke is again writing to Theophilus to tell him what happened concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry and His Apostles’ ministries to Israel since He returned to Heaven (cf. Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-2).
Let’s begin with quick survey of the Book of Acts. Acts 1 opens with Jesus Christ spending 40 days in His post-resurrection ministry showing Himself to be alive again with many infallible proofs. He teaches the Apostles all about “the kingdom of God.” Then, He ascends up to Heaven to His Father’s right hand. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the 12 Apostles. Peter then delivers his well-known sermon to “Ye men of Israel” in Jerusalem. Peter says Messiah, whom Israel “killed” at Calvary, has resurrected and will return to set up that Davidic kingdom as promised long ago, bringing “the times of refreshing” to Israel! Salvation must begin with Jerusalem’s conversion before it can go to the whole world.
As we progress in Acts, we see the expansion of the Jewish Messianic Church, which consists is Israel’s believing remnant of Jesus’ “Little Flock” (Luke 12:32). More Jews are responding to the Apostles’ preaching; “repenting and being water-baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” per Acts 2:38, preparing to survive the wrath of His Second Coming.
Envious and outraged, the satanically-inspired religious leaders of Apostate Israel persecute the Messianic “Little Flock” Church, especially the Apostles. Signs and wonders, great miracles, verify the Word of God being faithfully proclaimed. Jesus Christ is alive and well, and the miraculous demonstrations prove that He is “the Son of God” working through them.
In Acts 7 apostate Israel reaches the pinnacle of her unbelief. Her religious leadership refuses to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to her through Stephen. Israel experiences her national “fall” (cf. Rom. 11:10-25) when her leaders choose to stone Stephen to death (vs 57-58). Then, just as God’s wrath is about to come upon unbelieving Israel for the act of rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit who was speaking to Israel through Stephen, in Act 9… Jesus reaches down from heaven in grace, mercy, and love to save His chief enemy Saul of Tarsus. Saul had been leading that attack on the followers of Jesus. Then on the road to Damascus Saul is struck down, hearing the Lord Jesus from of Heaven, and he is saved unto eternal life!
God quickly commissions Saul, now as “Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13) with a new gospel message, that Paul later calls “the Gospel of the Grace of God” (Act 20:24), to be preach to all nations, that is to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, all seen on the same status as Gentiles (cf. Gal 3:28). With this, Paul instituted a new program of God called “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” (Eph. 3:2), the Gentile “Church the Body of Christ” has started. Thus, to afford time for the building up of “the body of Christ,” God’s wrath has been delayed. This gave way to Paul’s “mystery” program that God revealed to him after having been “kept secret” in Himself from the creation until He revealed to Saul/Paulus for the Gentiles (cf. Eph. 3:1-5).
In Acts 10, the Lord Jesus commands Peter to visit and evangelize Gentiles in Caesarea at the home of Cornelius, with his Roman associates being converted unto the Messianic Kingdom Gospel.
Then we see Gentiles in Antioch taking an interest in God’s Word in Acts 11, with Saul of Tarsus eventually heading that ministry, which Jerusalem Messianic Church suffers intense persecution in Acts 12 under King Herod—the Apostle James is beheaded.
Beginning in Acts 13, the Holy Spirit directs the Antioch Church to send away Saul and Barnabas to preach Paul’s new “Gospel of the Grace of God” throughout the Roman Empire. This begins Paul and Barnabas’ apostolic journeys. Their four missionary trips in total will continue until the Acts period ends. Paul’s gospel of “Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery,” will be preached far and wide, and all will hear it!
From Acts 13 onward, the Apostle Paul is the main figure in Acts. Peter and the other 11 Apostles of Israel are diminishing (Roman 11:12), passing off the scene because Israel herself has already fallen and has been diminishing since Acts 7. Paul’s ministry is increasing in establishing and “the Gospel of the Grace of God,” spreading farther and farther throughout the known world. He visits modern Turkey, Syria, Greece, and eventually Italy. Unbelieving Jews have been following and harassing him and his grace converts for many years. Still, the message of Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork as sufficient payment for man’s sins, is being heard and believed on far and wide. Paul’s Gentile “Church, the Body of Christ” is growing.
In Acts 15 (cf. Gal. 2), Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to meet the Jewish Church’s Apostles and elders. Doctrinal conflicts must be straightened out. Paul teaches these Messianic Kingdom saints about the drastic dispensational changes that have occurred thus far, concerning the Gentiles. They come to realize how God the Holy Spirit was now working amongst the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry without the Law, without Israel’s prophetic kingdom, and without “the Gospel of the Kingdom.” They see that their ‘prophetic program’ is fading and Israel is diminishing. They release themselves from their Gentile commission, turning over all lost souls to Paul and Barnabas, limiting themselves to the saved Jews only. The 11 Apostles stay with believing Messianic Israel, “the Little Flock.” Paul and Barnabas will continue with reaching all unsaved Jews and Gentiles with Paul’s “the Gospel of the Grace of God.” Their apostolic journeys continue throughout the Roman Empire. More and more idolatrous pagans under Satan’s control are being saved unto eternal life!
When Paul returns to Jerusalem, as seen in Acts 21 many years later, the unbelieving Jews assume that he has taken a (defiled) Gentile, or non-Jew, into the Temple. An uproar is generated and Paul is physically beaten. The Roman soldiers, learning of the riot, arrest Paul. In Acts 22, he delivers a testimony-sermon to unbelieving Israel in Jerusalem, which infuriates them even more. Paul is imprisoned in Jerusalem to stand before Israel’s ruling religious body. Once it is uncovered that unbelieving Jews plot to kill Paul, the Roman army sends him to Caesarea to stand before Judaean Governor Felix. The trial is unfair; Felix keeps Paul illegally bound just to delight the unsaved Jews. Once Festus becomes governor, Paul has been imprisoned for two years (in Caesarea, remember). Festus also mistreats Paul to gain favor with the unbelieving Jews. Having enough of these incessant, unfair legal proceedings, the Apostle says that as a Roman citizen he appeals to Caesar, the Roman emperor, so that he may hear his case and render justice. Still, before Paul travels to Rome, Festus involves King Agrippa, whom Paul stands before to share his testimony. Agrippa mocks him.
Acts 27 opens as Paul is entering a ship to Rome. The chained Apostle Paul journeys from Caesarea to Rome. A great storm causes him and his company to be shipwrecked and stranded on the island Melita. Months later, he finally gets to Rome, the world’s capital at the time.
Acts 28 - Paul meets with unbelieving Jews who are curious about his ministry, which he is still a prisoner. Soldiers take turns being chained to him. Acts 28:16 “when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.”
Acts ends with the closing verses of Acts 28:30-31: “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.”
So, what happened to Paul in Rome? How did his trial before Caesar turn out? All we read about is Paul under house arrest for two years, during which time he preached “the kingdom of God” and taught those things regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why did Luke leave us in suspense? Why did the Holy Spirit stop the narrative here of all places? For centuries, theologians have wondered and debated about this sudden ending, this “cliffhanger,” of Acts. We would have expected an adequate conclusion, a resolution of some sort. Alas, there is none. (Or is there?)
The Book of Acts, Dispensationally Considered:
It has been rightly said that the Book of Acts is the most challenging Book in the whole Bible. Why is Acts so difficult? We just saw why… it is a transitional Book. God’s dealings with man at the beginning of the Book under “the gospel of the kingdom” are overwhelmingly different from His relations with man at the end of the Book under “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Consider two sample verses from Acts:
- Acts 1:6: “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” In Acts 1:6 there was an inquiry about when Israel’s earthly kingdom will be established.
- Acts 28:28: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.” Acts 28:28 involves salvation already going to the Gentiles.
Recall Isaiah 60:1-3 (and other verses), Israel was to rise to kingdom glory and then salvation and blessing would flow through them to the Gentiles. Yet, the two verses above, from Acts, do not fit Isaiah’s outline. Israel’s earthly kingdom was never established in the Book of Acts. Jesus Christ never returned to set up His kingdom in Acts. Today, there still hasn’t been the 2nd Coming in flaming fire taking vengeance on His enemies. Yet, Luke writes at the end of Acts that salvation has already been sent to the Gentiles... apart from Israel. Surely, this is a departure from ‘prophecy,’ something entirely different from what the prophets, such as Isaiah spoke of.
It’s apparent that the Book of Acts really contains two dispensations. God issues a certain set of instructions at the beginning of Acts, but in the end a new set of divine instructions has already been given.
Why this change? Why did God not keep one continuing body of information valid all the way from Acts 1 through 28? After all, having two bodies of information is more complicated than having one body of information. We need not be troubled or intimidated. If we are willing to submit to the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry, Acts is going to demonstrate itself to us to be a very helpful Book rather than the burdensome text that so many have made it.
What is the purpose of the Book of Acts?
If it is so confusing, why did God include that record in His Holy Word? Is Acts really out of place in the canon of Scripture? If you asked the average Fundamentalist or Evangelical, or even Roman Catholic, they would tell you that the whole Book of Acts is the record of the establishment and expansion of the Church the Body of Christ. They would say that it documents the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem all the way to Rome. They erroneously assume there is only one Church in the Book of Acts. Also, they assume there is only one Gospel message in the Book of Acts. However, these comments manifest Bible ignorance on their part. They have not really studied the Book of Acts. What they have done is repeated long held traditional religious misconceptions and mischaracterizations of Acts, parroting what others assumed about the Book of Acts. Denominational biases—religious traditions—have clouded their thinking. They need to look at the pure Word of God and stop twisting “the word of God” to fit their theological system.
The Book of Acts can be concisely outlined using Romans 11:11-14. “ I say then, Have they (Israel) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I (Paul) speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:  If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh (Israel), and might save some of them.”
In order to understand this, we must refer back to the words that the Lord Jesus Christ uttered many years earlier, in Matthew 12: “ Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: BUT the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.  And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man (Jesus), It Shall Be Forgiven Him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, It Shall NOT Be Forgiven Him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”
The record is clear that Israel rejected and contradicted what Jesus Christ preached to them throughout His earthly ministry, the Books of Matthew through John. On Calvary’s cross, once Israel’s rejection of God the Son came to a head, Jesus Christ cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We could say Israel stumbled at the cross, but they did not fall at that time. Going back to Romans 11:11, “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid….”
Romans 9:30-33 explains Israel’s stumbling at Calvary: “ What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.  But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.  Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;  As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence (Jesus): and whosoever believeth on him (Jesus) shall not be ashamed.”
Again, while Israel stumbled at Calvary’s cross, they did not fall at that time. At a later point they did fall. Romans 11:11 again: “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them (Israel) to jealousy.” So, they did fall? Yes. When and how did Israel fall? It was not at the cross because God continued to deal with Israel in early Acts, 1-7.
In order for salvation to go to the Gentiles, unbelieving Israel had to be set aside for time. As we mentioned earlier, Israel’s fall was in Acts 7, when Stephen filled with the Holy Ghost confronted Israel’s religious leaders about their unbelief. They stoned Stephen to death—their final rebellion was against “the Holy Spirit.’ As per Matt. 12:31-32, this sin would NOT be forgiven them. Thus, God’s wrath would consume them when Christ would return at His Second Coming to establish Israel’s kingdom.
But then Paul was saved and commissioned in Acts 9 after Israel had fallen sometime prior, in Acts 7. Then grace gospel went to all men, to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles alike… through Paul.
Going back to Romans 11:11-14, we pick up the thought-flow here. “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify (honor) mine office:  If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”
Now hone in on verse 13. Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles,” the man whom God has sent to be His spokesman to the nations/Gentiles. Since Israel had already fallen in Acts 7 and Romans 9-11 was written during the time of Acts 20, long after Israel then had become just another Gentile nation in God’s eyes. Paul is not simply preaching to non-Jews in the Book of Acts… he is preaching the ALL men, all being seen as Gentiles, including those who were Jews racially. After all, he visits Jewish synagogues and preaches to them first and throughout Acts (Acts 9:20; 13:5,14,15,42; 14:1; 17:1,10,17;18:4-8; 18:19; 19:8). So, Israel fell just before Paul was made “the Apostle to the Gentiles” in Acts 9.
Romans 11:13-14 “ For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify (honor) mine office:  If by any means I may provoke to emulation them (Israel) which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” Why did Paul “magnify”—esteem, praise—his Gentile apostleship ministry? Verse 14 tells us. He wanted to provoke to emulation some Jews. He desired the unbelieving Jews in the Acts period to behave like his Gentile audience. Israelites also needed to trust Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, for they were all under Satan’s control and now being offered God’s grace. Rather than believing “the Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom” and joining the “Little Flock,” Peter and the 11, they were to believe Paul’s Grace Gospel and become members of “the Church the Body of Christ,” just like us.
The Holy Spirit was conscientious throughout the latter part of Acts to reach lost Jews, those who had rejected the earlier preaching of Peter and the 11 when they had that chance in early Acts. God then provided them with revelation of God’s grace by sending Paul to preach in their synagogues. Paul, and his ministry companions, taught them concerning the dispensational changes that were occurring… moving from Law to Grace.
The Jewish Apostles themselves heard about this information in Acts 15 and Gal. 2 when Paul and Barnabas conferred with them in Acts 15. Jews scattered around the Roman Empire heard it in their respective cities as Paul and company conducted his four apostolic journeys (Acts 13–28). Since “the Jews require a sign” (1 Cor. 1:22), God sent Paul with the apostolic ability to perform various miracles. These Miracles would validate his message as they had corroborated the message of the 12 Apostles.
We want to pay very close attention to the word “diminishing” in Romans 11:12: “… the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” While Israel fell in Acts 7, she diminished throughout the rest of Acts. She became less and less of an issue, but God was still speaking to Israel, now through Paul’s ministry. While “the Dispensation of Grace of God” was operating with Paul during Acts, there was also a transition from Israel’s ‘prophetic program’ to our ‘mystery program.’
In order to show Paul as the perfect replacement for Peter, the Holy Spirit had Paul repeat Peter’s actions. Paul in the Acts period water baptized converts just as Peter did. Peter in the Acts period spoke with tongues; Paul in the Acts period spoke with tongues. Peter in the Acts period laid hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit; Paul in the Acts period did likewise. Peter in the Acts period went to Jews first; Paul in the Acts period went to Jews first. Peter in the Acts period healed the sick and raised the dead; Paul in the Acts period healed the sick and raised the dead. We could go on and on but suffice it to say that God equipped Paul with power to do what Peter did. This was how God validated His Word amongst the Gentiles: while Israel saw her signs and wonders amongst Paul’s Gentile converts. If you could get this you will avoid so much trouble people get into when they deal with this Acts period. However, if you fail to get this straight, you will never understand the Acts transition period!
Three verses are at the heart of Paul’s Acts ministry. Notice them:
- Acts 13:46: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”
- Acts 18:6: “And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”
- Acts 28:28: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
Israel heard of her national fall from Paul on three occasions. Scattered amongst the Gentile nations, Paul visited Israel’s Jews in Antioch of Pisidia (Turkey/Asia Minor), saying “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). He said it again in Corinth (Greece/Europe), “From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). Finally, in the world’s capital (Rome), he said, “The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles…” (Acts 28:28). These announcements covered a period of roughly 15 years, approximately one-half of the duration of the whole Book of Acts. Paul is farther away from Jerusalem, the central city in the prophetic program. Something major has happened, and it does not involve the establishment of Israel’s earthly kingdom.
Contrary to popular religious belief, Acts was not meant to show us how the Gospel and Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond. “Christianity” as we know it was first identified in Antioch, Syria, not Jerusalem (Acts 11:26)! Furthermore, “the Body of Christ” did not formed in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and spread beyond. Remember, salvation going to the Gentiles did not happen until after Acts 9. Saul was converted long after Pentecost in Acts 2! Acts is not meant to provide us a pattern for Christian living or doctrine, for many things are changing in the Book. The standards for “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” are not made clear until Paul’s Epistles, Romans through Philemon. We should not appeal to Acts to find our doctrine, or a pattern for us to follow, lest we wind up in confusion!
In Acts, God is transitioning from “the Little Flock” (Luke 12:32, Israel’s believing remnant) to “the Church the Body of Christ,” from Jerusalem to the Gentile world, from Peter to Paul, from Law to Grace, from prophecy to mystery, from “the Gospel of the Kingdom” to “the Gospel of the Grace of God.” Israel, once prominent at the beginning of Acts, is now fallen and diminishing. The 12 Apostles loose themselves from their “great” commission in Acts 15 (cf. Galatians 2). So, from Acts 9 onward, Paul is conducting a special “signs” ministry to coincide with Israel’s diminishing, that some of apostate Israel believe his Gospel of Grace and join “the Church the Body of Christ.”
The primary reason for the Book of Acts is to show how God was just, fair, in setting Israel aside for a time. When the Book opened, national Israel refused to hear Peter and the 11 Apostles preach about Jesus Christ. Saul of Tarsus led the rebellion!
So, God interrupted that ‘prophetic program’ and began a ‘mystery program’ of grace that He had kept secret all along. With Saul, the Apostle Paul, a new Gospel would be offered to man. “The Church the Body of Christ” had begun and would now form of all believing Jews and Gentiles.
Eventually, Israel’s “Little Flock” was sealed off to new membership from the day of the stoning of Stephen and the soon salvation of Paul who ushered in “the dispensation of the grace of God,” as the Moses of the grace dispensation. There can only be one dispensation in effect at a time. Salvation for lost souls would now be in Paul’s Gospel alone. Yet, all the unbelieving Jews did was harass and persecute Paul… but it was Paul’s “Gospel of the Grace of God” that barred God’s wrath from falling upon them!
God’s purpose in the Book of Acts is not to show us doctrine for today as members of “the Body of Christ.” (Once more, for that, we go to the Pauline Epistles, Romans through Philemon.) Many heresies and hang-ups have sprung forth from Acts because it is not handled dispensationally. Acts is not our pattern; chapter 2 is not the beginning of the Body of Christ as commonly taught. It was designed to show us how God spoke to unbelieving Israel—first through the 12 Apostles, and then through the Apostle Paul.
Once Paul’s pronouncements against apostate Israel were made in Acts 28, the Book ends. It was not in God’s design in Acts to give us every little detail about Paul’s ministry and message. (The doctrinal details of Pauline theology are found in Romans through Philemon!) Hence, we do not read about the outcome of Paul’s trial in Rome. Acts does not end abruptly. Its narrative terminates after it serves its final purpose—Israel’s last warning about her unbelief and salvation going to the Gentiles without her. Israel is not only fallen, but now diminished entirely. Contrary to the ‘Acts 28ers,’ nothing new began with the close of Acts, but, Paul’s provoking ministry to Israel, the transition to “the Dispensation of Grace” is concluded.
Read the last 15 verses of Acts 28 very slowly, and you will see the Book end right on schedule. Remember, Paul is in Rome, the world capital at the time. This is God’s worldwide message to Israel:
“ And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.  Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.  But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.  For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.  And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.  But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect (the Messianic Christians), we know that every where it is spoken against.
“ And when they (of Israel’s leaders in of Rome) had appointed him (Paul) a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.  And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.  And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet unto our fathers,  Saying, “Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:  For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Notice Israel’s persistent unbelief accentuated here (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10, Matthew 13:11-15.)
Then, after Acts 28:25-27, God warns Israel no further.
“28Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.  And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.  And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,  Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.”
- Written by Shawn Brasseaux, seen as adapted for emphasis by Arthur J Licursi - https://forwhatsaiththescriptures.org/2017/12/15/acts-end-so-abruptly/Why Does ‘The Book of Acts’ End So Abruptly?