It is not always easy to determine where one section of Acts ends and a new section of Acts begins. This is because Luke’s purpose in writing was not strictly historical but theological, and sometimes his theological concerns override the historical ones. There is an example of this difficulty in the verses we come to now. When we come to Acts 20, we have a new section of Acts in some ways. Yet we also have a wrap-up of what has gone before. There is a shift in Paul’s ministry. It is noticeable at the beginning of this chapter, but it becomes more noticeable as we advance toward the conclusion of the book.
Up to this point, Paul has been engaged in pioneer work primarily. He has been going into new areas and has founded churches. In these verses, by contrast, he is visiting churches he has already founded. That is not to say that Paul never broke any new ground after this. Probably he did. But so far as the book of Acts is concerned, we have seen Paul traveling throughout Asia, Macedonia and Greece, founding churches, and here, for the last time in Acts, Paul goes back over the territory he has covered, visits these churches and gives them final teaching and encouragement.
A number of other things change also. For one thing, there is a new concern manifested by Paul. It does not come in here as clearly as it does later, but it concerns this period of Paul’s life. Paul had a plan to reconcile the Gentile churches he had been instrumental in establishing to the Jewish church, which had its focal point in Jerusalem. The plan involved collecting a large offering from the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem church. His plan did not work very well, but its purpose was good and its intent spiritual.
We notice another shift, too. Up to this point, Luke’s focus has been largely geographic. That is, he has focused on the places Paul visited and on what happened there. Now there seems to be a greater emphasis upon Paul’s speeches. In this very chapter, we are going to find some important farewell words to the elders of the church at Ephesus. Later on, as Paul is hauled before one secular authority after the other, we find him giving addresses in defense both of himself and of Christianity. There are some interesting new emphases in these speeches.
There is also more autobiographical data than we have seen before. For example, Paul tells of his conversion in detail, explains why he had come to Jerusalem, and such things.
There is also a renewed emphasis upon the resurrection of Jesus. This may be a reflection of what was happening in the Gentile ministry at this time, as the early preachers were beginning to bring the Gospel to the non-Jewish communities and were thrown back upon the resurrection, as evidence for their claims. We also find an emphasis upon the call of God to Paul to go to Gentiles and, therefore, an emphasis upon the expansion of the church into Gentile areas.
These chapters tell of Paul’s imprisonment, and that was a great change, too. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Then he was imprisoned, first in Caesarea for two years, and then, after he appealed to the emperor, for two more years in Rome. This was not an easy time for him. Yet during these years we also find new opportunities for Paul to be a witness. Paul was bound, but the Gospel was not bound and God continued to bless his ministry.
The first verses of Acts 20 give details of Paul’s final tour of the mission field. They tell how he went back to the churches of Macedonia and Greece, no doubt strengthening them, teaching them, dealing with problems, training their leadership, and establishing them so that they might prosper when he was no longer able to come to them.