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"You Shall Be Witnesses to Me"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
June 27, 2007
Theme: This passage introduces us Christ's call to be His Spirit-empowered witnesses in the world.
We would be very impoverished if we didn't have the Book of Acts. It serves an important role. It is a "biblical bridge" that links the four Gospels to the words of instruction contained in the epistles of the New Testament. Without it, we would see the resurrected Lord Jesus ascend into heaven and read the letters of the apostles; but we'd have no way of understanding how the two were linked.
That "link" is more than just theoretical. The Book of Acts can be considered the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. The same author wrote both books to the same man named "Theophilus (compare Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1-3); and the author clearly intended Acts to be viewed in light of his Gospel account. The Gospel of Luke was concerned with giving an account of the things that Jesus did, "that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed" (Luke 1:4). The author (historically understood to be the "beloved physician" of Colossians 4:14) wrote his Gospel account as a careful work of historic research--gathering data from many different sources. It's safe to assume that much of Acts was written in the same way as the Gospel was written; but it is also clear that, from Acts 16:10, the author became a traveling companion with Paul, and was thus an eyewitness to many of the events he recorded.
The key verse of the book is 1:8. In it, we're told of the unfolding spread of the Gospel witness in three widening waves: (1) in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), (2) in all Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-12), and in the end of the earth (Acts 13-28). The first half of the book is concerned with the witness primarily through the apostle Peter (Acts 1-12), and the second half primarily through the apostle Paul (Acts 13-28). It's a book that ends somewhat 'unfinished'--with Paul in Rome; awaiting the opportunity to bring the witness of Christ to Caesar. This suggests that one of the reasons the book was written to give an orderly account of God's work through Paul in order to support him in his defense before Caesar. But the fact that it is unfinished may also be intended by the Holy Spirit to illustrate to us that the Book of Acts isn't really completed yet. We, today, are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and be Christ's witnesses in the world until He comes!
I. THE PROLOGUE TO THE BOOK (vv. 1-3).
A. Luke begins by referencing his "former account" (that is, the Gospel of Luke) to the man Theophilus. Theophilus is called "most excellent Theophilus" in Luke 1:4; which suggests that he may have been a high-ranking official (see Acts 26:25). But it seems apparent that he was also a disciple--or may have been growing toward becoming one, since Luke wrote to him specifically so that he might know the truth of the things in which he had been instructed.
B. The Gospel of Luke was an account only of all that Jesus "began" both to do and teach. The background for this introduction, then, is probably found in Luke 24; where we find some of the things described that Jesus did during the forty-day period between His resurrection and His ascension. There, we see "many infallible proofs" that He was alive (Luke 24:1-43), and read of the things that He taught them about the Scriptures concerning Himself and His kingdom (vv. 44-46). In that closing chapter of Luke, we also read of Jesus' commission to be His witnesses (vv. 48-49); and of a reference to His ascension (vv. 50-53). But now, at the beginning of Acts, we see that Jesus' work of "doing" and "teaching" had only begun. Now it would be carried on in His absence through His apostles (John 14:12-14). Acts tells the story of that ongoing work that had only been "begun"!
II. THE POWER TO WITNESS (vv. 4-5).
A. The NIV has it that Jesus spoke His words to them "while he was eating with them" (v. 4). The original wording itself, however, simply states that they were gathered together. It may have been true that they ate at this time, however (John 21:1-14).
B. It was at this time that Jesus commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but "to wait for the Promise of the Father"; which they had heard about from Him. This speaks of the Holy Spirit; and His coming was essential to the witness Jesus was calling the disciples to bear (John 14:15- 18, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-13). The full description of the Spirit's coming is given to us in Acts 2; and the rest of the book concerns itself with the Spirit-empowered witness that followed.
C. Note two important things. First, note theologically that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is described as "the Promise of the Father"; but Jesus Himself also affirmed that it was He Himself that would send the Spirit (John 16:7). Thus, the Holy Spirit's ministry in the church is the essential provision of the Son under the authority of the Father for the work of His church. And second, note practically that without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is no power to bear witness for Christ in this world. How grateful we should be for the ongoing empowering and enabling ministry of the Spirit! His indwelling is the privilege of every believer in Christ (Romans 8:9).
D. Jesus promised that, as John baptized people with water as a witness of Christ's soon coming, the believers would soon (in just a week's time) be baptized in the Holy Spirit. This "baptism" is best seen as a one-time spiritual act of God by which we are radically identified with Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:29; Colossians 2:12) and brought into the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13); and the "filling" is best seen as the continual act of obedience of the believer by which he or she submits to the Spirit's rule; and allows Him to control them and rule them in a prevailing and all-pervasive way (Ephesians 5:18).
III. THE PERIMETERS OF THE WORK (vv. 6-8).
A. The disciples, at this time, had an understandable question. They had held the expectation that Jesus, as the Messiah, would restore the kingdom to Israel in an earthly, political sense. They didn't expect Him to be crucified and then to rise. But now that He had done so, they wondered if it was now that their expectations of Him would be fulfilled. Jesus didn't deny that this was what would happen in the right time and at the right season; but He told them that it wasn't for them to know "the times or seasons that the Father has put in His own authority" (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).
B. But that's not to say that Jesus didn't tell them what it WAS their business to know! He reminded them that they would receive power after the Holy Spirit had come, and would then be His witnesses--first at home in Jerusalem; then around the neighborhood in the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria; and then finally around the world and into the remotest parts of the earth (which is were we live). Jesus' words not only constitute a command, but also a prophesy. Who but the Son of God would have known that such a tiny band from such a small beginning in such a tiny part of the world would grow to encompass the whole earth? This is an expansion of the Great Commission that we find in Matthew 28:18-20.
IV. THE PROMISE OF THE RETURN (vv. 9-11).
A. The command to be His witnesses is the last word Jesus spoke on earth. Immediately after He spoke this, He ascended as they watched; and a cloud received them out of their sight. But as they stood straining in their gaze into the heavens, two men--obviously angelic beings--came and told them that just as they saw Him ascend, so they will see Him return.
B. Theologically, this teaches us the doctrine of the bodily return of Christ (Revelation 19:11-16). He ascended in the same exact body as was crucified and raised; and in that same body He will return. There is, right now at the right hand of God and upon the throne of heaven, a physical but glorified Man! But practically, this also teaches us that the commission that Jesus gave continues. He has not returned yet; but will! And that gives us both hope and motivation to work until that great day! May the work go on in the power of the Holy Spirit!