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Spiritus Victor

The late John Stott encouraged fellow believers to read the book of Acts in tandem with the book of Revelation.1 Just as the Apostle John wrote two volumes from a heavenly perspective, Stott says, so Luke wrote two volumes from the perspective of a physician, that is, from an earthly perspective. So, Acts and Revelation are both continuations of the Gospels of John and Luke, which recount the activity of the Holy Spirit through the church, one from above and the other from below.

This was the way that the church fathers read the book of Acts, namely, as an account of Christ’s continued victory over Satan in the Holy Spirit and through the church, the body of Christ. John Chrysostom exhibits this method of exegesis in his reading of the persecuted Paul:

Nothing can be more blessed than that [afflicted] soul. In what does he glory? In bonds, in afflictions, in chains, in scars; “I bear branded on my body,” saith he, “the marks of Jesus,” (Gal. vi. 17.) as though they were some great trophy. And again, “For because of the hope of Israel,” saith he, “I am bound with this chain.” (Acts xxviii. 20.) And again, “For which I am an ambassador in chains.” (Eph. vi. 20.) What is this? Art thou not ashamed, art thou not afraid going about the world as a prisoner? Dost thou not fear lest any one should charge thy God with weakness? lest any one should on this account refuse to come near thee and to join the fold? No, saith he, not such are my bonds. They can shine brightly even in kings’ palaces. “So that my bonds,” saith he, “became manifest in Christ, throughout the whole prætorian guard: and most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philip. i. 13, 14.) Behold ye a force in bonds stronger than the raising of the dead. They beheld me bound, and they are the more courageous. For where bonds are, there of necessity is something great also. Where affliction is, there verily is salvation also, there verily is solace, there verily are great achievements. For when the devil kicks, then is he, doubtless, hit. When he binds God’s servants, then most of all does the word gain ground. And mark how this is every where the case. Paul was imprisoned; and in the prison he did these things, yea, saith he, by my very bonds themselves. He was imprisoned at Rome, and brought the more converts to the faith; for not only was he himself emboldened, but many others also because of him. He was imprisoned at Jerusalem, and preaching in his bonds he struck the king with amazement, (Acts xxvi. 28.) and made the governor tremble. (Acts xxiv. 25.) For being afraid, it is related, he let him go, and he that had bound him was not ashamed to receive instruction concerning the things to come at the hands of him whom he had bound. In bonds he sailed, and retrieved the wreck, and bound fast the tempest. It was when he was in bonds that the monster fastened on him, and fell off from his hand, having done him no hurt. He was bound at Rome, and preaching in bonds drew thousands to his cause, holding forward, in the place of every other, this very argument, I mean his chain.2

  1. See Stott, The Message of Acts.
  2. Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians.

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.