TEXT: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NKJV).
The risen Christ has been presenting Himself and teaching His disciples for a period of forty days. The “kingdom of God” continued to be a main theme in Jesus’ instruction even as it was before He was crucified. As His apostles are assembled with the risen Jesus, evidently for the last time (1:9), a question is asked concerning the kingdom being restored to Israel “at this time.” The specific answer to that question is not given, except to say that the answer is not for them to know. That matter is under the Father’s authority.
Many today continue to ask that question, and many today want an answer to that specific question. The best approach to answering that question is to follow the lead of our Lord Jesus and redirect our attention to what the Lord Himself says next, and that is the focus of this time together.
This specific question from the apostles (evidently) comes after Jesus has been speaking about the “Promise of the Father” (1:4). Jesus has been telling them what is to happen in the next few days and that is the focus of His declaration in our text. It proves also and ultimately to be the focus of the Book of Acts because the Book of Acts recounts the continuation of the ministry of Jesus by His Spirit through His apostles and disciples.
As we consider Acts 1:8 as our primary text, notice first of all:
In the light of the “Promise of the Father” (1:4), these apostles were to receive power in and through the Holy Spirit. This reception of power is to be as specific as John’s baptism, but now it is not a water baptism, but a Spirit baptism. This event and experience were so important that these apostles were commanded not to leave Jerusalem, “but to wait” (1:4). This event was not an option. This event was not just a good idea. The coming of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit were necessary for the future life and ministry of the apostles and the church of Jesus Christ.
Acts 2 accounts the initial coming of the Spirit in fulfillment of Jesus’ words and God’s ancient promise found in various Old Testament prophecies. We read of subsequent receptions of the Spirit at strategic points in the spreading of the witness and the Word (8:17, 10:44-48, 19:5-6). Certainly, though, the account in Acts 2 is foundational in our understanding of the empowering of the Spirit, and it receives the fullest explanation in the preaching of Peter (2:14-39). This empowering of the Spirit was obviously next on the Lord’s agenda for His people, and it was critical to what was next in terms of His future ministry through His apostles and disciples (1:1).
Clearly, there are various ways that these Scriptures can be applied in Acts 1 and 2. What is revealed in the Book of Acts needs to be viewed within the context of Biblical Revelation as a whole, a study we cannot do here. We certainly need to avoid needless controversy or confusion in our present-day application of these historical accounts.
There was a foundational uniqueness to the original apostles’ ministry, especially as it had to do with the writing of Scripture itself. At the same time, I believe that we are still within this next stage in salvation history, and the power of the Spirit is essential in continuing the ministry of Jesus (1:1).
So, how do we apply Acts 1:8 to our lives today? We must, first of all, as my father used to say, “Believe the promise” of the Father. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power are a promised blessing and necessity. Do we believe the promises of God? Do we believe this promise specifically? The Holy Spirit has come to the Church of Jesus Christ. Every true believer is now indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God (See Romans 8). We do not need to seek His coming in an initial sense, but we need to seek His power in a continual sense. Are we willing “by faith” to seek and depend upon the power of the Spirit for fruitful witness and serving? The initial “waiting” in Jerusalem was not repeated exactly in subsequent history, but prayer and dependence were. The significance and necessity of the Spirit’s empowering and enabling for every facet of Christian witness are clearly to be believed and then lived. Our understanding of this power is not to be dependent upon specific outward manifestations, but rather it is to be essential to our living, speaking, and serving as Christians.
When it comes specifically to our witness and the ministry of the Word, my father (Dr. Stephen Olford) used to say, “Believe the promise, receive the power, and achieve the purpose.” When we speak of “receiving the power,” we are not speaking of a one-time unique experience, although some may have never responded in any way to this Biblical truth concerning the Spirit of God, and need to do so. We are emphasizing, rather, specific and continual prayer dependence on the Spirit’s power to enable witness, proclamation, and spiritual service. The Holy Spirit has come to His people, or they are not His people. We do not need to pray for the initial coming of the Spirit of God to His New Covenant people. We would affirm that the true Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9). But, the Christian must be “filled with the Spirit” to live the Christian life (Eph. 5:18), and those who would speak and serve should be empowered (anointed) by the power of the Spirit, even as Jesus was Himself. So, “receiving the power” is done by prayerful dependence as we walk by faith and pray in faith. This is one of those truths that to me has two parts to it. There is a seeking and a trusting. We should be seeking divine enabling prayerfully. But, also we must trust God to equip us as needed to do what He has called us to do.
There is a sense in which there are only two approaches to witnessing, preaching, teaching, serving, and doing anything in the work of the Lord. One approach is to do things “in the flesh.” The other approach is to do things “in and by the Spirit.” The one approach relies upon our own human giftedness to do what we sense God wants us to do. The other is to acknowledge our dependence upon the Spirit of God not only for our strength but for the genuine results that we seek.
The receiving of power should not be separated from the purpose that Jesus is declaring. Jesus Himself embodies the connection between power and purpose. Do you remember Luke’s account as Jesus came to Nazareth? Read Luke 4:16-21. The Spirit’s anointing was for His Messianic ministry, which followed the pattern predicted by Isaiah in Isaiah 61:1-2, and 58:6.
The best way to explain the word “witness” in our text is to read the Book of Acts. But, before we look forward in Acts, it may be helpful to look backwards into the end of Luke’s gospel, and Luke 24:44-49 specifically. I believe that these verses serve as a picture or summary of the ministry that would take place after the Spirit came upon these Apostles. In short, with opened minds, understanding the Scripture’s testimony to Christ, the Apostles were to preach in the Name of Jesus Christ. In His Name, and in the light of His death and resurrection, they were to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And this ministry was to start in Jerusalem and was reach to all nations.
The whole book of Acts accounts and illustrates for us what a witness is, what the plan for witnessing is, and what a witness can expect. First of all, a witness is a witness to Jesus. Although there should never be a separation of lifestyle from ministry, throughout the Book of Acts the witness to Jesus is the declaration of the message of Jesus Christ the Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the message. The prophecies concerning Jesus, His life and deeds, His death and resurrection, His ascension and exaltation, His return, and the call for repentance and faith (baptism), and the receiving of the promised Spirit are all aspects of this witness. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of aspects of the gospel.) There is variety in presentation, but the witness is a declared “Jesus message” - Jesus as Lord and Christ. The spreading of this Word, even to Rome, is a major theme in Acts. And this Word is the witness to Jesus that was commanded and is empowered by the Spirit’s “coming upon” the apostles (1:4-8).
You can trace this theme of the spreading of the Word by reading these verses. (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 6:7, 8:4, 11:1, 12:24, 13:49, 17:11, 19:10, 19:20, 20:32, different wording 28:31). It is clear that the receiving and the rejecting of the Word are critical issues, and it is the genuine receiving of the Word that is the mark of God’s work in people’s lives.
What were these witnesses to do? What was the plan? They were to take this message about Jesus and declare it “……to the end of the earth.” This witness was to start historically, missiologically, and theologically in Jerusalem. We read of that in Acts 2-7. Then we read of the witness in Judea and Samaria and beyond. It should be no surprise to us that the latter part of Acts takes us on a number of journeys, including one that starts in Jerusalem and ends in Rome (21:15-28:31). This “going with the gospel” is God’s plan. As Paul states, this gospel is the “power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Paul himself had his eyes on Spain as he wrote these words to Rome! The purpose is to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere and to everyone.
Even today there are many who have never heard the gospel. There are unreached people groups and there are those who have never really heard the gospel presented clearly or fully. The potential to reach people through technology and mobility is wonderful, and we need to be about our Lord’s Great Commission.
What is interesting to see in the Book of Acts is the leading of the Holy Spirit alongside of the impact of circumstances, persecution, and human decisions. We see the sovereignty of God, the message of Christ, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But, these spiritual realities do not erase the need for wise decisions in response to “things” actually taking place.
With this in mind, consider next: What are witnesses to expect? The Book of Acts is fascinating in its recording of miracle and struggle, power and persecution, and the reception and rejection of the message. These aspects of the story go side by side. I believe this is instructive to us as we seek to be witnesses to Jesus today. Many of these early witnesses became martyrs for the Lord. Witnessing was not only a “matter of life,” it became a “matter of death” for many.
A misunderstanding emerges if we don’t acknowledge both the power of God and the reality of struggle and suffering for the witness. We have a supernatural message, about a supernatural Savior and Lord, to be preached and shared with supernatural power, and to be received with supernatural assistance. At the same time, we see problems, disagreements, controversy, and a whole lot of opposition, rejection, and serious persecution in the Book of Acts.
What is clear in the Book of Acts is that God is fulfilling His purpose and plan even in the midst of struggle and suffering. What is clear is that His Spirit is enabling the mission and witness. What is clear, also, is that the message continues to be about Jesus, and that must never change! Whatever the challenges we face, the hand of man cannot thwart the work of God. But, we must be committed to fulfilling His purpose for His people, which involves declaring His Word concerning His Son in the power of His Spirit to the “end of the world.”
These realities of salvation and suffering, progress and persecution that are testified to in the Book of Acts are reflected in a powerful section of Paul’s writings: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18. The Apostle did not lose heart because he treasured the gospel and the ministry, he was confident in God’s power, and he maintained an eternal perspective. At the same time, he speaks of the hardships and sufferings that he experienced, but even in the midst of these, he could see the life of Jesus being manifested.
What’s next in 2021? The Lord is still calling us to “be witnesses” to Himself, depending upon the power of His Spirit, and committed to seeing His message spread to “our Jerusalem,” to “our Judea and Samaria” and to “the end of the earth.” This our mission.
Why not write your own mission statement in the light of Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:18-20?