Editor’s Note: Content taken from To Be Continued: The Unstoppable Mission of Jesus, edited by Tony Merida, Christy Britton, and Amy Tyson, ©2021. Used by permission of Gospel-Centered Discipleship.
The conclusion of a book or film always creates a reaction. The book of Acts is no different. It ends on a cliffhanger.
My wife, Kimberly, enjoys happy endings. When we watch a film that’s sad or unresolved, I often say something like, “I liked that ending; that was very realistic.” Kimberly usually responds with something like, “I don’t want reality; I want a happy ending.”
When the popular show Lost was nearing the last episode of the series, everyone wanted to know, “How will it end?” Many weren’t satisfied with its strange ending, while others liked it. When I was a kid, I remember how a lot of my favorite thirty-minute shows would end with the dreaded phrase, “to be continued . . ..” Today, many popular shows drag the viewer along for a whole season before giving some kind of closure.
What does the reader of Acts make of its ending? Luke takes the reader on a captivating journey, but the ending is a bit frustrating at first glance.
Up to Acts 28, Luke has led us to Paul’s trial before Caesar, but nothing is said about that trial in the final verses. It’s unresolved. We’re left without answers about Paul’s life. Can you imagine reading a novel and coming to this kind of ending? One may be tempted to write the publisher thinking that the book is missing a chapter!
But “to be continued . . .” is one of the main takeaways of the book of Acts.
All That Jesus Continues to Do
We must remember that Luke didn’t intend to write a biography of Paul. He set out to describe the unstoppable progress of the gospel. His first book, the Gospel of Luke, described “all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:1–2a). The book of Acts, then, is about all that Jesus continues to do now that he has been taken up. That is, the story of Acts is about how the ministry of Jesus continued and is continuing, by the Spirit, through the church.
“To be continued . . .” is one of the main takeaways of the book of Acts.
King Jesus is the hero of Acts, not Paul nor anyone else. Luke concludes Acts on a note of victory, with the king’s triumph, as Paul exalts him in the mighty city of Rome. And this exaltation of Christ continues today.
So, Luke’s message ends up being something like this: “This book is finished, but the mission isn’t.” Christians in every generation get to enter the story! My church and your church, and countless others are part of this ongoing, Christ-exalting mission. God replaces the messengers, but the message and the mission go on until the king returns.
Acts 29 churches recognize that we have the distinct privilege of continuing this mission. In the following pages, you will read of how God’s people are doing this around the globe. They are continuing this biblical, global, and Spirit-empowered mission.
A Biblical Mission
At the end of Acts, we read of the apostle Paul’s relentless ministry of the Word. Luke tells us, “When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening, he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (28:23). At the end of the chapter, we read how Paul taught all people about the king and the kingdom (28:30–31). From dawn until dusk, the war-torn apostle expounded Scripture, pointing people to Jesus.
From Paul’s example, we’re reminded of the necessity of making disciples by teaching everyone about the king and the kingdom from all the Scriptures. Both the ending of Luke and the ending of Acts emphasize the primacy of Christ-centered exposition, first by highlighting Jesus’s pattern of understanding and expounding Scripture (Luke 24:27; 44–47), and then with Paul’s example.
It’s such a joy to see brothers and sisters in Acts 29 be committed to exalting Jesus from all of Scripture—in large public gatherings, in classrooms, and in smaller, more personal settings. We recognize that Christians are not the only religion to have missionaries, teachers, and preachers. What makes us unique is who we commend, teach, and preach! We proclaim Christ from his Word (Col. 1:28).
As king, Jesus now reigns in the hearts of all who bow the knee to him. And he rules amid his enemies. Your local church has the blessing of serving as a little outpost of his kingdom. As the king’s people, the church is called to display the values of the king and the kingdom, and to commend the king to the world. As we read and hear of many stories from the field, we see that Acts 29—this diverse, global community of healthy, multiplying churches—is doing these things by God’s grace.
A Global Mission
In response to Paul’s evangelistic exposition, Luke tells us that the Jews were “disagreeing among themselves” (28:25a), and they began to leave after he cites Isaiah 6:9–10. This was an appropriate text as it highlights how many are unresponsive to the gospel—in this case, the Roman Jews. This Isaiah 6 quotation appears in various places in the New Testament (cf., John 12:39–40; Rom. 11:8), always in contexts of unbelief and hardness of heart.
My church and your church, and countless others are part of this ongoing, Christ-exalting mission. God replaces the messengers, but the message and the mission go on until the king returns.
The Jewish prophets foretold this glorious salvation in Christ, and the evangelists preached it in the book of Acts. While many do reject this saving gospel, the book of Acts shows us that many people worldwide embrace it.
Initially, in the book of Acts, Gentile conversions were the exception, not the norm (e.g., Cornelius). But notice at the end of the book, Jewish converts are the exception, and Gentile converts (those among the nations) are the norm. In Acts 2:28, Paul turns again to the Gentiles (like he did in previous settings: Acts 13:46; 18:6).
God’s kingdom encompasses the nations. Jewish evangelism must continue, but Christianity is for the globe because Jesus is not a tribal deity, but the Lord of the nations. As a diverse, global community of healthy, multiplying churches, we are seeing the gospel advance in all parts of the world, among all sorts of people, and for this we praise God.
A Spirit-Empowered Mission
The final two verses of Acts end this way:
“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:30–31).
Because the Romans weren’t in a hurry to address Paul’s situation, the apostle was able to receive all kinds of visitors. Though he couldn’t go anywhere, he still was able to commend the gospel. Prison couldn’t stop the gospel’s progress, and we have learned that a global pandemic cannot stop it either!
Luke’s final picture of Paul in the book of Acts is of his tireless ministry of the Word, proclaiming Jesus as king “with all boldness.” Throughout the book of Acts, one cannot miss the emphasis on the Spirit-produced courage of Jesus’s witnesses (cf., Acts 4:29–31). One of the signs of the Spirit at work in people is this holy boldness in evangelism and ministry.
The people in the book of Acts, including Paul, were clay pots. They were ordinary people. They were reliant upon the Spirit of God to continue the mission of God. Likewise, God has given us the necessary resources—the gospel and the Spirit of God. As you read the following pages, you will see how ordinary people of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, captivated by the Son of God, are accomplishing the mission of God, to the glory of God.
Luke concludes with an interesting phrase about the apostle’s ministry of the Word, saying that Paul continued his bold teaching “without hindrance” (akolutos, 28:31). I think this is Luke’s way of speaking about the boundless nature of the gospel. The message of the crucified and risen Christ triumphs over every worldly and spiritual barrier, regardless of what might come of its messengers.
This mission is “to be continued . . .” until Jesus concludes it, and we sing “Worthy is the Lamb” with people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Though Paul was chained up, the Word of God was running free (cf., 2 Tim. 2:9). Luke has stopped along the way to highlight the spread of the gospel (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20). And this, the verse that ends the book of Acts, is the final reference to its unstoppable progress and the unstoppable mission of Jesus.
Today that mission goes on through faithful saints in large cities and small towns. through large churches and small churches, through those under oppressive governments and those in favorable settings, among various people groups and in multiple languages. In the following pages, you will read about the myriad ways in which Jesus is building his church, and insights that will inspire faithfulness to this mission.
This mission is “to be continued . . .” until Jesus concludes it, and we sing “Worthy is the Lamb” with people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9, 12).