But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses.

Acts 1:8

As we read the New Testament, we find a very simple and very plain and very forceful truth—the Holy Spirit makes a difference!

Consider the early disciples—Jesus Himself had taught them for more than three years—the greatest Bible school! But still He had to caution them and encourage them not to depend on their own wisdom and strength: “Tarry ye…until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). He promised that they would receive the Person of the Holy Spirit to carry out His plan of world evangelization.

After Pentecost, the Spirit brought them a new and vivid consciousness of the actual presence of God. He gave them the gifts of divine joy and peace. He gave them great and continuing delight in prayer and communion with God!

Finally, we recall that before Pentecost the disciples could only ask questions. After Pentecost, throughout the record in the book of Acts, they stood in the authority of the Spirit and answered all of the questions of the people concerning God’s plan of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ!

Lord, I pray that Your Spirit will “visit” our local churches and anoint them with a renewed sense of urgency to become involved in Your plan of world evangelization.[1]

  1. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In this text, Luke presents the theme for the entire book. This text contains the promise of Pentecost and the mandate to witness for Jesus in the following geographical areas: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the world.

  1. Promise. We see a distinct parallel between Jesus and his disciples when they are about to begin their respective ministries. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and strengthened him to oppose the power of Satan (see Matt. 3:16). Before the apostles are able to assume the tremendous responsibility of building the church of Jesus Christ and to conquer the strongholds of Satan, they receive the power of the Holy Spirit. In the upper room on Easter Sunday, Jesus breathed on the apostles and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). But immediately before this he told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (v. 21).

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. For instance, Jesus informs the disciples in his farewell discourse, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26, NIV). The Holy Spirit, therefore, is not an inanimate power but the third person of the Trinity. And the promise of the Spirit originates with the Father: “I will bestow on you the promise of my Father” (Luke 24:49a).

  1. Mandate. Only through the indwelling person and power of the Holy Spirit are the disciples able to witness for Jesus Christ. Not only the disciples receive the gift of the Spirit, but, as Luke shows in Acts, numerous persons are filled with the Holy Spirit and become Christ’s witnesses. “Effective witness can only be borne where the Spirit is, and where the Spirit is, effective witness will always follow.” Jesus’ word, “You will receive power,” applies first to the twelve apostles and then to all believers who witness effectively for Jesus Christ.

“You will be my witnesses.” In Acts, the term witness has a twofold meaning. First, it relates to the person who has observed an act or event. Next, it refers to the person who presents a testimony by which he defends and promotes a cause. Accordingly, the apostles choose Matthias to succeed Judas Iscariot because as an eyewitness he has followed Jesus from the time of John’s baptism to the moment of Jesus’ ascension. Further, Jesus commands Matthias to proclaim the message of his resurrection (1:21–22).

In the strict sense of the word, the expression witness does not apply to Paul and Barnabas, who during their first missionary journey proclaimed the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the people in Pisidian Antioch (13:31). Paul and Barnabas state that they are not witnesses; they tell the Good News. Jesus sends forth the twelve apostles on the day of Pentecost as true witnesses of all that he said and did.

These twelve have seen and heard Jesus and now tell others about him (compare 1 John 1:1). Filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin to proclaim the Good News in Jerusalem (see Luke 24:47). Then they preach the gospel in the Judean and Samarian countryside, and eventually they take it to Rome. Rome was the imperial capital from which all roads extended, like spokes in a wheel, to the ends of the then-known world (cf. Isa. 5:26, “the ends of the earth”). In the third Gospel, Luke directs attention to Jerusalem, where Jesus suffers, dies, rises from the dead, and ascends. In Acts, he focuses on Rome as the destination of Christ’s gospel. From Rome the Good News reaches the entire world.[2]

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).[3]

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)[4]

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

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 53–54). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] 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.

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


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