And ye shall be witnesses unto me.

Acts 1:8

The teachings of Jesus belong to the Church, not to society, for in society is sin, and sin is hostility to God!

Christ did not teach that He would impose His teachings upon the fallen world. He called His disciples to Him and taught them, and everywhere throughout His teachings there is the overt or implied idea that His followers will constitute an unpopular minority group in an actively hostile world.

The divine procedure is to go into the world of fallen men, preach to them the necessity to repent and become disciples of Christ and, after making disciples, to teach them “the ethics of Jesus,” which Christ called “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

The ethics of Jesus cannot be obeyed or even understood until the life of God has come to the heart of a man or woman in the miracle of the new birth.

The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who walk in the Spirit. Christ lives again in His redeemed followers the life He lived in Judea, for righteousness can never be divorced from its source, which is Jesus Christ Himself!

Lord, pour out Your Spirit upon our nation today, that men and women will be convicted of sin and turn their lives over to You.[1]

The Mission

“you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (1:8b)

Rather than engage in useless speculation over the time for the coming of the kingdom, the apostles were to focus on the work at hand. Witnesses are those who see something and tell others about it. I once witnessed an attempted murder. When I testified in court, they wanted to know three things: what I saw, heard, and felt. I was reminded of 1 John 1:1–2, where John writes, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life … we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you.” A witness for Jesus Christ is simply someone who tells the truth about Him. The apostles, as Peter points out, “were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

This was the foremost purpose for which the empowering of the Holy Spirit came. And the early church was so effective that they “upset the world” (Acts 17:6). Jesus commands all believers to be His witness in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20).

So many Christians sealed their witness to Christ with their blood that marturēs (witnesses) came to mean “martyrs.” Their blood, as the second-century theologian Tertullian stated, became the seed of the church. Many were drawn to faith in Christ by observing how calmly and joyously Christians met their deaths.

There is a sense in which believers do not even choose whether or not to be witnesses. They are witnesses, and the only question is how effective their witness is. If the church is to reach the lost world with the good news of the gospel, believers must “sanctify Christ as Lord in [their] hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks [them] to give an account for the hope that is in [them]” (1 Peter 3:15). Titus 2 indicates that how Christians live their lives lays the platform of integrity and believability on which effective personal witness is built. In that text, Paul writes that we are to so live “that the word of God may not be dishonored” (v. 5), “that the opponent [of the Christian faith] may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (v. 8), and “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (v. 10), so that we may make it possible that the saving gospel comes winsomely to all.

Beginning in Jerusalem, the apostles carried out the Lord’s mandate. Their witness spread beyond there to all Judea and Samaria (The neighboring area), and finally even to the remotest part of the earth. Verse 8 provides the general outline for the book of Acts. Following that outline, Luke chronicles the irresistible march of Christianity from Jerusalem, into Samaria and then through the Roman world. As the book unfolds, we will move through those three sections of the expansion of the church.

This beginning was to dramatically alter the course of history, and the spread of the gospel message has continued past Acts to reach all the earth. Today, believers continue to have the responsibility for being Christ’s witnesses throughout this world. The sphere for witnessing is as extensive as the kingdom—all the world. That was and is the mission for the church until Jesus comes.[2]

1:8 Having suppressed their curiosity as to the future date of this kingdom, the Lord Jesus directed their attention to what was more immediate—the nature and sphere of their mission. As to its nature, they were to be witnesses; as to its sphere, they were to witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

But first they must receive power—the power of the Holy Spirit. This power is the grand indispensable of Christian witness. A man may be highly talented, intensively trained, and widely experienced, but without spiritual power he is ineffective. On the other hand, a man may be uneducated, unattractive, and unrefined, yet let him be endued with the power of the Holy Spirit and the world will turn out to see him burn for God. The fearful disciples needed power for witnessing, holy boldness for preaching the gospel. They would receive this power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Their witness was to begin in Jerusalem, a meaningful prearrangement of the grace of God. The very city where our Lord was crucified was first to receive the call to repentance and faith in Him.

Then Judea, the southern section of Palestine with its strong Jewish population, and with Jerusalem as its chief city.

Then Samaria, the region in the center of Palestine, with its hated, half-breed population with whom the Jews had no dealings.

Then the end of the then-known world—the Gentile countries which had hitherto been outside the pale as far as religious privilege was concerned. In this ever widening circle of witness, we have a general outline of the flow of history in Acts.

  1. The witness in Jerusalem (Chaps. 1–7)
  2. The witness in Judea and Samaria (8:1–9:31)
  3. The witness to the end of the earth (9:32–28:31)[3]

8 The mandate to witness that stands as the theme for the whole of Acts is here explicitly set out. It comes as a direct commission from Jesus himself—in fact, as Jesus’ last word before his ascension and, therefore, as a mandate that is final and conclusive. All that follows in Acts is shown to be the result of Jesus’ own intent and the fulfillment of his express word.

This commission lays an obligation on all Christians and comes as a gift with a promise. It concerns a person, a power, and a program—the person of Jesus, on whose authority the church acts and who is the object of its witness; the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the sine qua non for the mission; and a program that begins at Jerusalem, moves out to “all Judea and Samaria,” and extends “to the ends of the earth.” The Christian church, according to Acts, (1) is a missionary church that responds obediently to Jesus’ commission, (2) acts on Jesus’ behalf in the extension of his ministry, (3) focuses its proclamation of the kingdom of God in its witness to Jesus, (4) is guided and empowered by the very same Spirit that directed and supported Jesus’ ministry, and (5) follows a program whose guidelines for outreach have been set by Jesus himself.

Whereas the geographical movement of Luke’s gospel was from Galilee through Perea to Jerusalem, in Acts the movement is from Jerusalem through “Judea and Samaria” and on to Rome. The joining of Judea and Samaria by one article in the Greek (en pasē tē Ioudaia kai Samareia, “in all Judea and Samaria”) suggests a single geographical area that can be designated by its two ethnological divisions. And the fact that neither Galilee nor Perea is included in 1:8 as a place to be evangelized (even though 9:31 speaks in summary fashion of a growing church in “Judea, Galilee and Samaria”) is probably because Luke has already shown in his gospel how Jesus had earlier evangelized those areas. So here Jesus’ mandate to witness not only gives us the theme of Acts but also a basic table of contents by its threefold reference to “Jerusalem,” “all Judea and Samaria,” and “the ends of the earth.” To be sure, Luke’s development is fuller and subtler than its succinct form here. Nevertheless, in what follows he shows through a series of vignettes how the mission of the church in its witness to Jesus fared at Jerusalem (2:42–8:3), throughout Judea and Samaria (8:4–12:24), and as it progressed until it finally reached the imperial capital city of Rome (12:25–28:31).[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (pp. 19–21). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1578–1579). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 718–719). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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