Great Commissions 5

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…”

In Acts 1:1-8, Luke gives us another account of Jesus’ final commission to the twelve. Here we find three important foundation stones before the actual commission (in v. 8).

The first foundation stone is that, after his suffering and death, Jesus presented himself to the apostles and gave many convincing proofs that he really was alive (Acts 1:3). Some of these proofs are recorded in Luke’s first volume, in Luke 24. The resurrection of Jesus is indispensable to the commission he has given us not only because it is a vital component in the gospel message, but also because it shows that he is Lord of all and therefore has the authority to commission us to do his bidding (cf. Matthew 28:18).

A second foundation stone that serves as a basis for the final commission is the kingdom of God. This is the subject Luke says Jesus was speaking to his apostles about over the forty days between his resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). If you have read the Gospels carefully you know the kingdom of God was the major theme of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Since the kingdom is not directly referenced as frequently in Acts and the Letters, we sometimes relegate it to secondary importance or neglect it altogether. Acts 1:3 shows, however, that the kingdom was important to Jesus not only during his ministry but after his death and resurrection as well. What’s more, Jesus’ followers did indeed proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, as their Master had (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). We miss this sometimes because the word kingdom does not appear in the records we have of their messages, but these summary statements just cited show that they were indeed preaching the kingdom. When they preached Christ, they were proclaiming him as the King of God’s kingdom (cf. Acts 17:3, 7).

The third foundation stone for the commission is the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit that the Father had promised (Acts 1:4). They had heard Jesus talk about the Spirit (Luke 4:18-21; 11:13; 12:12), and centuries earlier God has also promised to send him (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:27; Joel 2:28-29). Jesus told the apostles they would be “immersed” in the Spirit and thereby receive power to carry out the commission (Acts 1:5, 8). This happened several days later on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12). By telling them to wait in Jerusalem, Jesus is in essence telling them not to attempt to talki to others about Christ without the Holy Spirit. He is an indispensable prerequisite to the mission.

This last foundation stone suggests some questions many Christians today will find challenging: how much do we know / how long could we talk about how indispensable the Holy Spirit is to sharing the good news about Christ? Or, how drastically different would our efforts to reach out to others be if suddenly the Holy Spirit were taken away? A. W. Tozer, preacher and writer, once said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” If Tozer is right, as seems likely, we are not following Jesus’ instructions.

These three matters, then, form an indispensable foundation for our commission: the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, the reality of the kingdom of God, and the reality of the Holy Spirit and his power.

Based on these foundations, Jesus commissions his apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We noticed the word “witnesses” previously, in Luke’s account of the commission in his Gospel (Luke 1:2; 24:48; Acts 22:20; 2 Timothy 1:8; see post). The word tells us we are to testify to what we have learned from and experienced in him.

We also noticed in other accounts of the commission that we are being sent to the whole world. Many have noted that the geographic areas Jesus outlined in Acts 1:8 correspond generally how the good news actually spread in Acts. There is certainly wisdom in starting where you are, Jerusalem in their case. But Jesus’ words also remind us that we must deliberately seek to share God’s message with the whole world. We have a special opportunity today since much of “the whole world” lives and works around us. Far from allowing racial and ethnic barriers to keep people separate, we should capitalize on the opportunities this presents for us to share the good news with “the ends of the earth” even in our own cities. Still, we will also need to go / send to other places all over the planet.

I’ll say just a word about the disciples’ bothersome statement in Acts 1:6. Though God chose and blessed Israel in the Old Testament, this was not so that they could be the elite of the world but so that they could pass on God’s blessings to the rest of the world (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; Isaiah 2:2-4). The view of the apostles in Acts 1:6 seems to me to be a lingering, unsanctified, nationalistic attitude that was characteristic of most Jews in the first century but that is not compatible to God’s purposes in the Old Testament or New.

Yet Jesus does not correct them overtly. Instead, he tells them they don’t get to know the times and dates for everything (1:7). Notice these are plural, so he is not referring to any one particular thing. That is, he is not saying, “you don’t get to know the date of the restoration of Israel,” as if there were in fact one, but is saying something closer to, “you don’t get to know the dates and times (or a lot of others things) that God establishes.”

Jesus also addresses their mistaken statement by turning them away from such notions and focusing them instead on being his witnesses (v. 8). His words about being his witnesses addresses their misunderstanding, first of all, by telling them their mission is not to Israel (whose glory they were seeking) only but to the ends of the earth. It also addresses their misapprehension by moving them away from speculating and toward working—telling the good news. Significantly, it is as Peter is actually involved in spreading God’s good news that he comes to “realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). Sometimes actual obedience and experience changes a person’s point of view where discussion does not (Mark 4:24-25). In other words, instead of correcting the apostles directly after their statement in Acts 1:6, Jesus directed them to obedient proclamation that would change their thinking as they experienced it.

The emphasis of the commission Jesus gave his followers in Acts lies on testifying to all kinds of people everywhere about what we have heard and experienced about him. To do so, we must be persuaded that he really is alive, believe his kingdom is real, and be filled with his Spirit. I am seeking to bolster these prerequisites while also praying and watching for opportunities to tell people what I have seen and heard in him.

Published by Marvin Bryant

After serving as a minister for churches for forty years, Marvin founded the Empowering Subjects to equip subjects of the King to change the world like Jesus did.

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