The Holy Spirit and Christian Witness (Part 1)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in my ministry the subject of the Holy Spirit has been the most requested topic to preach/teach on.  I am guessing that this is because the Holy Spirit has been an enigma in many churches that, while not denied in confession, is functionally  or practically ignored in the life of the church.  For some, myself included, this stems back to a heretical teaching which viewed the Holy Spirit as nothing more than the Bible (fortunately few hold that view anymore).

In the book of Acts, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his church.  It was promised first to his apostles (Acts 1:8) and then that promise was extended to all who would repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38-39).  So what would does it look like when Christians live by the power of the Holy Spirit?  The simple answer to that question is to read the rest of Acts.  But I want to elaborate on Acts 1:4-8 to make a point because I am afraid that there are too many Christians living by the power of another spirit.  In this post I’ll discuss what I believe is happening in this text, given it’s historical context and then in tomorrow’s post I’ll discuss why this is such a concern to our contemporary context.

So here is the passage from and as you read it, pay attention to the exchange that takes place between Jesus and his apostles.  Acts 1:4-8:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In this passage, Jesus is saying two things: 1) Jesus’ disciples will be his witnesses and 2) they will receive the Holy Spirit as the source of power to be his witnesses.  Yet there is more going on here which is often overlooked by Christians today due to the large historical gap between then and now.

The conversation begins simply with Jesus telling his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit.  But then the apostles ask Jesus about Israel and the restoration of the kingdom.  It is only when they ask this question that Jesus elaborates on the reception of the Holy Spirit.  Why?

I used to think that v. 7 was a warning about not getting caught up in the endless musings about the when and how of the end times.  That is because questions pertaining to the end times is a fascination of our culture.  But the more I read about the world of Israel and Second Temple Judaism, the more I realize this is not what the Apostles are asking Jesus.

Though I still believe there is much wisdom in not worrying about the how and when of the end-times, I realize that the apostles were asking Jesus about the political future of Israel… when the kingdom would be restored “to Israel.”  The question was about when Israel would once again be the kingdom it was prior to her exile; when their “return from exile” would be complete; when Israel’s enemies would be defeated in judgment [1].  The question the apostles ask Jesus reveals their nationalistic concern rather than a missional concern [2].  So when Jesus responds by redirecting his apostles, he is essentially telling them that they are concerned about the wrong thing.

Instead of worrying about nationalistic concerns, Jesus redirects the thinking of the apostles by reminding them that their agenda is to live as his witnesses.  This idea of being witnesses finds it’s origin in the Old Testament, in passages like Isaiah 43:10-12 and 44:8-9, where Israel was to live as witnesses of God before the nations [3].  Thus, in the context of Jesus recent crucifixion and resurrection and now ascension to the throne as King, being witnesses is a call to proclaim Jesus in all that they do and say.  In other words, the charge to be Jesus’ witnesses is to show that God is reigning through Jesus [4].

————————-

1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 205-206.

2. Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 62.

3. David G. Perterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 110.

4. Justo González, Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 20.

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6 responses to “The Holy Spirit and Christian Witness (Part 1)

  1. This is another great article, Rex, thanks. Have been in Acts myself recently. I have a question, maybe you would have some insight. I realize the early disciples were looking for the restoration of the nation of Israel from the moment they began following Jesus. Apparently they are still asking this question in Acts. At what point did they realize this promise had been fulfilled in His death and resurrection? Did the Holy Spirit help them in their understanding? I know Jesus also opened the scriptures up for them in their understanding. It seems after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, this was no longer a question. Something changed for them.

    I realize this isn’t a significant question, just curious!

    • Amy, that is a good question. My understanding, which I am in debt to N.T. Wright for, is that the ascension became that “aha” moment for them where everything finally made sense. Of course that moment came right after the apostles we told that they would received the power of the Holy Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses. As they saw Jesus then taken up into the heaven on a cloud, two men appeared (probably angels) assuring them that Jesus would return in the same way. That would have triggered the memory of many OT passages speaking of God’s vindication, most notably the passage from Daniel 7:13-14, 21-28.

      • Amy, that the apostle’s “aha” moment came upon witnessing Jesus’ ascension seem also to be supported by the fact that in Peter’s Acts 2 sermon, he not only proclaims the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus but also his ascension to the “throne” (2:30) where Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God” (2:33).

  2. Yes, of course, I see what you are saying. The ascension and the placing of Jesus at the right hand of God would have left no doubt in the disciples minds of His deity. It must have been a very big “aha” moment as their way of thinking about the Kingdom and the way of living it was certainly different than they first imagined. To realize the very thing they had hoped for had happened and that they were witnesses to it along with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit must have been a frightfully wonderful time. Thanks for shedding some light on this, it has been helpful. Amy

  3. Pingback: “The Holy Spirit and Christian Witness (Part 2)” | Kingdom Seeking

  4. Pingback: “The Holy Spirit and Christian Witness (Part 2)” | Kingdom Seeking

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