‘It is often asserted,’ writes John Stott, ‘that in the book of Acts the apostles’ emphasis was on the resurrection rather than the death of Jesus, and that in any case they gave no doctrinal explanation of his death.’
I have heard this assertion myself, and so was interested in reading what Stott has to say about it (in The Cross of Christ, 32-35).
Not only is the death of Christ often mentioned in Acts, but the seeds of the doctrine later developed in the epistles are there too.
The core of the message of both Peter and Paul may be summarised as follows:-
‘Jesus was a man who was accredited by God through miracles and anointed by the Spirit to do good and to heal. Despite this, he was crucified through the agenda of wicked men, though also by God’s purpose according to the Scriptures that the Messiah must suffer. Then God reversed the human verdict on Jesus by raising him from the dead, also according to the Scriptures, and as attested by the apostolic eyewitnesses. Next God exalted him to the place of supreme honour as Lord and Saviour. He now possessed full authority both to save those who repent, believe and are baptized in his name, bestowing on them the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, and to judge those who reject him.’
The following points emerge from this core message:-
1. The death of Jesus was attributed not only to human wickedness but also to divine purpose, Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28.
2. Although a full-scale atonement doctrine is missing, the apostolic preaching of the cross was not undoctrinal. There is, for example, deep doctrinal significance in calling the cross a ‘tree’, for this takes us back to Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which pronounces God’s curse on anyone who hangs on a tree.
3. The apostles presented the resurrection as the glorification and exaltation of the Jesus who had died, Acts 2:33; 3:13.
[To all of this we should add what is the clearest statement of the atoning work of Christ, in Acts 20:28].