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The Book of Acts, written by Luke and completed around 61 C.E., is an essential historical record of the early Christian church. It begins with the ascension of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and chronicles the missionary efforts of the apostles, particularly Peter and Paul. But when we reach its final chapter, some readers express a sense of incompletion, stating that the Book of Acts does not have a “real” ending. However, as a conservative Bible scholar, I propose that Acts does indeed have a genuine ending—it’s just not the type of conclusion some might expect.
Understanding the Ending of Acts
Acts ends with the apostle Paul under house arrest in Rome, boldly proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31). At first glance, this abrupt ending, devoid of dramatic resolution or the detailing of Paul’s fate, might seem unsatisfactory to some readers. However, appreciating the ending requires understanding Luke’s intention and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Luke was a meticulous historian, and his Gospel and the Book of Acts were composed with a specific purpose: to provide an orderly account of the life of Jesus and the early Christian church. While the Book of Acts does not include every event in the history of the early church, it provides a comprehensive picture of the Christian movement’s development from Jerusalem to Rome.
The final scene of Paul preaching in Rome can be seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy given at the start of Acts, where Jesus said to his disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). By concluding the narrative with Paul teaching in Rome—the heart of the Roman Empire—Luke effectively shows the gospel message reaching “the end of the earth.”
The Work of the Holy Spirit
It is also crucial to understand that Luke’s writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The very nature of biblical inspiration means that the Holy Spirit guided Luke in his writing, including the ending of the Book of Acts. If Luke, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, concluded the narrative where he did, then we can trust that it was a fitting conclusion.
The Ongoing Narrative
Another point worth considering is that the seemingly unfinished ending of Acts invites us, as modern readers and followers of Christ, to continue the story in our own lives. The abrupt halt at Paul’s preaching in Rome symbolizes the ongoing nature of the mission of the church. Just as the apostles and early believers carried on the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, we, too, are called to participate in this grand narrative.
Acts in Light of Other Biblical Texts
It’s also important to note that the New Testament’s other books provide additional context and information about the events and individuals introduced in Acts. The Epistles, for instance, detail many of the doctrinal discussions and disputes that arose as the church expanded. The apostle Paul’s own letters offer valuable insights into his thoughts, struggles, and spiritual revelations during his missionary journeys and imprisonments.
Finally, the Book of Acts serves as a transitional narrative between the Gospels and the Epistles, establishing the history of the early church and setting the stage for the doctrinal and pastoral instructions found in the Epistles. The seemingly unfinished ending emphasizes the continuity of Christian teachings and the ongoing expansion of the church, both in geographic and spiritual terms.
To sum up, the ending of Acts may feel abrupt and unfinished to some, but it aligns perfectly with the book’s overall purpose and theme: to depict the initial growth of the Christian church through the power of the Holy Spirit and to demonstrate that the mission of witnessing about Jesus is ongoing. As such, it is not so much an ending as it is an invitation to carry on the work begun in the first century.
The Book of Acts might not have a conventional ending, but that does not make it an incomplete or unreal one. Instead, it serves as a powerful testament to the unstoppable progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to the heart of the Roman Empire. The narrative of Acts does not conclude with a ‘happily ever after,’ because the mission of the Church—to be witnesses to the ends of the earth—continues beyond the first century and persists today, making us a part of the ongoing story.