Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who Was Theophilus and the Meaning of the Right Hand of God

If you are anything like me you have probably read the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, on more than one occasion and never gave any consideration to who Theophilus was. To me he was just another funny name in the Bible, but to Luke he was much more than that. Theophilus was first mentioned in Luke 1:3-4. In centuries past there was speculation as to whether or not Theophilus was an actual person or merely a designation for a group of people. [1] In regards to who Theophilus was Bock sums up the majority of commentaries I referenced by saying

“In treating Luke 1:3, Bock (1994a: 63-64) suggests that Theophilus’s identity is unknown but that he appears to be a person of high social standing and could well be a Christian Gentile wavering in his faith because of the pressure placed on the church (see also Polhill 1992:79)… He could be a patron or simply the most important intended reader.”[2]

When we go back to the Gospel of Luke we notice that when Luke addresses Theophilus he uses the phrase “most excellent”, but in the book of Act the phrase is lacking. We are not sure if when he was first written to if he was a believer in Christ, even though Luke 1:4 speaks of him “having certainty of the things he had been taught.” Concerning the title Bruce suggests,

“We cannot be sure, however, whether the title “most excellent” is bestowed on Theophilus in a technical sense, indicating his rank, or is given him by way of courtesy. Nor is much to be gained by pondering the omission of the title in Acts, as when it is suggested that Theophilus had become a Christian since he received the “first volume” and therefore would no longer expect worldly titles of rank or honor from a fellow-Christian.”[3]

Through all of this we can at least gather that Theophilus was a real person of some importance. While we may not know who he was exactly we can be grateful that Luke felt it important to write two very important books of the Bible to him.

In Acts 2:33-35 we come across a phrase not used very often in our culture and that is the “right hand of God”. The Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Themes defines it this way, “A figure of speech that represents God’s ultimate power and authority, and where the exalted Jesus Christ now sits.”[4] Luke references Psalm 110:1 that speaks of the Lord ascending the right hand of God. Many people were confused by this quotation thinking that David may have been referring to himself. Bruce points out,

“The invitation to sit at God’s right hand was not addressed to David: David did not ascend personally to heaven to share the throne of God. The invitation was addressed to the son of David, and has found its fulfillment in Jesus. He has been exalted not only by God’s right hand (as has been stated in v. 33) but to take his place at God’s right hand, the position of supremacy over the universe.”[5]

We are beginning to see who Jesus truly is and the power he possesses. Bock points out,

“From this place of honor and unique glory, Jesus mediates the blessing of the Spirit and salvation in accord with the promise of God’s plan… The implication of this text is great, because for most in Judaism no person is able to sit permanently in God’s presence. God’s glory and person are too unique to allow this.”[6]

I think Wayne Grudem explains it well when he says, “…Christ sat at the right hand of God as a dramatic evidence of the completion of his redemptive work and his reception of authority over the universe…”[7] So in all of these quotes we come to the conclusion that Christ has received all power over the universe and he is in ultimate control.


Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2007.

Bruce, F.F. The book of the Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

Fernando, Ajith. NIV Application Commentary: Acts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Manser, Martin H. Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. Grand Rapids, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1999.

Polhill, John B. Acts. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1992.

Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. Colorado Springs,CO: David C. Cook, 2007.

[1] Bruce, F.F. The book of the Acts. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988) 29.

[2] Bock, Darrell L. Acts. (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2007)52.

[3] Bruce, F.F. The book of the Acts. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988) 29.

[4] Martin H. Manser, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1999).

[5] Bruce, Acts, 67.

[6] Bock, Acts, 133-134.

[7] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 619.