Luke’s account of Jesus’ final instructions to his followers is my new favorite (24:45-49). It begins by describing the basis for the commission that follows. The basis is that the Messiah (or Christ) had to suffer, rise from the dead, and enter his glory (24:26, 46). This was God’s plan from the beginning, and he wrote it into the Scriptures. These Scriptures, then, had to be fulfilled (24:25, 44-45, 46). The suffering and resurrection of the Messiah are the basis for our mission in the world.
Jesus’ sufferings, however, were a stumbling block that kept many Jews from embracing him as the Messiah. They were looking for a victorious deliver, not a suffering servant. Yet Luke 24 makes clear that Jesus’ suffering and death were a part of God’s plan all along, and In his second volume (Acts), Luke often records the apostles making this very point when they proclaimed the good news (2:23; 3:18; 17:3; 26:23). We may not be particularly attracted to suffering either—in the case of Christ or in our own case as his followers—but it is a part of God’s plan, clearly written into the Scriptures. We, like Jesus’ first followers, need the help of the Lord to open our minds so that we can understand and embrace these truths (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45).
So, the death Jesus suffered, his resurrection from the dead, and his glorification to God’s right hand as the Christ are the basis for the commission Jesus gives. Luke next records what Jesus told his followers to do. He wanted them to proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins in his name. The commission is not merely to call people to repentance and forgiveness. Rather, this response and blessing are in the name of Jesus. They are based on and made possible by his suffering, death, and glorification. We must keep the response (repentance) and blessing (forgiveness) closely tied to the basis (Jesus’ death and resurrection).
Repentance is a drastic reorientation of one’s thinking, outlook, perspective, and attitude toward God. In light of the glorification of Jesus as the Christ, we certainly must not continue in blatant rebellion toward God. But neither is it sufficient to be marginally devoted to him. God has sent a deliverer, and that One is the reigning Lord of the universe. He is worthy of nothing less than wholehearted loyalty and allegiance. If that is not what we have for him, we need to make a sweeping change in our outlook. Jesus himself preached repentance as the necessary response to the kingdom (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32; 13:1-9), and his followers preached repentance as the necessary response to the king (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). If we follow Jesus’ instructions in this commission, we will call people to a drastic, comprehensive change of mindset toward God.
Those who drastically change their outlook on God in light of Jesus being the glorified king will have their sins forgiven. In contrast to what many people have sought and still seek from the Messiah, sin is the root problem he addresses, and forgiveness is one of the most profound blessings he offers. Forgiveness of sins, too, was often proclaimed in Acts (2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). Our commission is to announce to people the good news that their sins can be forgiven in the name of the one who suffered, was raised from the dead and glorified as Christ, if they are willing to drastically change their disposition toward God.
Notice that this good news was to be preached in Jerusalem first but then ultimately to all nations. In his second volume (Acts), Luke traces how Christ’s followers obeyed these words, beginning in Jerusalem and reaching even to the heart of the empire in Rome. God’s good news is for everyone.
Jesus tells his followers that they are witnesses of these things, namely, his sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. The eleven apostles were actual eye-witnesses of these, and they were called to “bear witness” or testify to what they had seen with their own eyes. Seeing all this was also a qualification for the apostle who would replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:21-22). The witness terminology is also occasionally used of people who were not eyewitnesses (as far as we know), such as Stephen (Acts 22:20) and Timothy (2 Timothy 1:8). This suggests that we, even though we are not eyewitnesses, can still testify about what we have learned and experienced of Jesus. It is important to remember, though, that “witness” is not a mere synonym for “talk to people about Jesus” as the word is commonly used today. Rather, it means to testify to truths that we have heard from reliable witnesses (Luke 1:2) and / or have actually experienced in our lives (cf. Hebrews 6:4-5).
Jesus also tells his followers he is going to empower them for this mission by sending what his Father promised, namely, the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). This he did about ten days later (Acts 1:4; 2:33, 39). The coming of the Spirit would clothe them with power for acting on the commission he was giving them (Luke 24:49), and we’ll see this again when we consider the Acts account of Jesus’ commission. Note here, however, that Jesus said the Spirit was vital for carrying out the commission, so much so that he instructed them not to begin it immediately but to wait in Jerusalem until they were imbued with his power.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ final words emphasizes the sufferings of Christ and his subsequent resurrection and entry into glory, of which the apostles were unique eyewitnesses. We are to bear witness too, in a slightly different sense of the word. We are also called to proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, but it is imperative that we be empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit whom God promised to impart to all his people.
Which aspect of this commission especially resonates most with you? Which aspect do you most need to add into your desire to make the good news known?