Empowered Witnesses of Jesus

Empowered Witnesses of Jesus

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

Acts 1:8

When will Jesus Restore the Kingdom?

Three launchpads for meditation. The first focuses on the immediate context of the passage and what the conjunction at the start of the verse should point us back to. Jesus’ response in this well-known verse is prompted by a question from His disciples.

Picking up the story from the book of Luke, Acts describes Jesus appearing to his disciples during the 40 days after His resurrection. Much like in his pre-resurrection ministry, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God. Naturally, the disciples asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Was now the time when God would finally free Israel from foreign oppressors and establish His kingdom under the rule of the Messiah?

In response to this question Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Instead of focusing on the political kingdom of Israel that the disciples hoped for, Jesus challenges His disciples to be the ‘restored Israel’. Reading from the New American Commentary, “Jesus did not reject the concept of the restoration of Israel. Instead, he depoliticized it with the call to a worldwide mission. The disciples were to be the true, restored Israel, fulfilling its mission to be a light for the Gentiles so that God’s salvation might reach to the ends of the earth”.  

Rather than passively staring at the heavens waiting and speculating over when Jesus will return, as followers of Jesus we are to be His empowered witnesses throughout the earth. But what exactly does it mean to be a witness who receives power from the Holy Spirit?

Empowered Witnesses

In this second launchpad for meditation, we will explore what it means to be an empowered witness. The Greek word translated as power is the root word of our English words such as dynamite and dynamic. In the gospels, it is commonly used to describe Jesus’ miracles. Likewise, in the book of Acts, this power is what enables Jesus’ disciples to perform miracles and witness effectively.

We can see the combination of power, the Holy Spirit, miracles, and witness in Acts 4. Referring to a scene among a council of rulers and elders in Jerusalem, Acts 4:7-10 reads:

They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.

So, in the power of the Spirit, followers of Jesus can be witnesses. To be a witness is simply to speak from personal knowledge and experience. In the book of Acts, this is focused on sharing the message of Jesus, especially of His resurrection. For example, Acts 4:33 describes how “with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”.

In the power of the Spirit, witnessing was done boldly, even when the risks were high. Because for some followers of Jesus, such as Stephen, sharing about Jesus led to death. Indeed, our English word for ‘martyr’ is derived from the Greek word that is translated as witness.

To the Ends of the Earth

The third launchpad for meditation considers the importance of this verse. The Great Commission shaped the pattern of the early church, and it should continue to shape the life of every believer. Acts 1:8 provides an outline for the early church’s movement described in the rest of Acts. Jerusalem in chapters 1-7, Judea and Samaria in chapters 8-12, and the beginning of going to the ends of the earth in chapters 13-28.

In Jesus’ final command to His disciples, He was serious. All followers of Jesus are called to be His witnesses. The Great Commission is the primary task Jesus has left for His Church prior to His return. So, if we are not being His witnesses, then what purpose is there in anything that we are doing? Or as Alistair Brown argues, “No-one escapes the general call to mission. No-one can say, ‘Witness is not for me.’ The critical question is not whether we’re called, for we are. The critical question is ‘Where am I called to?”

In thinking about where God wants you to be His witness, consider the logic of James Gilmour, a Scottish missionary to China and Mongolia: “Even on the low ground of common sense I seemed to be called to be a missionary. Is the kingdom a harvest field? Then I thought it reasonable that I should seek to work where the work was most abundant and the workers fewest… In place of seeking to assign a reason, for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home”.

The task still remains, but how wisely is the Church using its resources? About 1 in 1800 Christians serves as a cross-cultural missionary. And of these cross-cultural missionaries, only 3% are working among unreached people groups. This works out to roughly one missionary for every 167,000 people within the 2 billion unreached people in the world today. It seems that we could be more faithful in being His witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Given this information, prayerfully consider where God is calling you to most fully be faithful to the Great Commission. And whether you are His witness in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, or anywhere on this earth, I pray that you would be a faithful witness. I pray that we would embrace the power from the Spirit in boldly sharing about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

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