Distorting Acts 1:8

Posted on October 19, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

We invoke several “Great Commission” passages of Scripture to challenge and motivate churches and individuals to give priority to our mission task. I say, “our mission task” as it is something that has been relegated to us as Godʼs people. In reality, however, it is Godʼs mission. God is actively pursuing redeeming a lost world and His ultimate purpose of the kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdom of our Lord. “Missions” is the activity of Godʼs people to fulfill Godʼs “mission.”

Most prominent in our awareness are Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8, different perspectives on the mandate Jesus gave to His disciples before He ascended to the Father, having completed His earthly ministry. These are not two different interpretations of the same statement. Jesus obviously had many more words of exhortation and instruction than are captured in the Gospels. These are two summary excerpts from that final message as the Holy Spirit inspired separate writers to capture what Jesus said.

Jesus had already told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to empower them once He had ascended to the Father; just as He had been alongside them, the Holy Spirit would actually be within them. In Acts 1:8 He clarifies the primary purpose for which the Holy Spirit indwells us; it is to empower us to witness of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are many aspects of the Holy Spiritʼs ministry–He convicts of sins, regenerates, guides, comforts, forms Christlike character, but it is all for the purpose of focusing on and glorifying Jesus.

Jesus explains how the Spirit will use His followers for witness to fulfill Godʼs mission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That geographic extension of a gospel witness was outlined in the Book of Acts. The witness of the apostles filled Jerusalem and spread throughout the province of Judea. It extended cross-culturally in the revival at Samaria and Peterʼs witness to Cornelius. Then Paul was called, and others joined him, to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, and the witness began to spread to all peoples, tribes and nations.

We have made an appropriate analogy of Acts 1:8 to understand that our own witness is to spread like it did in the early days of the church. We are to proclaim the gospel in our home town but also to reach out to the surrounding communities of our state. We are to reach the farther geographic areas and those of different races and cultures throughout our nation and engage in foreign missions around the world. There is no problem with the concept except as we see those concentric circles of witness as sequential responsibilities.

Many churches and Christians feel no responsibility to witness to the nations until they have evangelized their own community. That hasnʼt happened and is not likely to happen anytime soon as there will always be those who reject the gospel. Meanwhile, lost ethnic groups right around us are never confronted with the claims of Christ, and nations remain unreached. One pastor challenged me by contending adamantly that the Scripture tells us to witness in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. I responded in pointing out there is no “then” in the passage. We are responsible for reaching the whole world.

Actually, one has to resort to clever hermeneutical gymnastics to even apply this verse to our sequential geographic witness. What Jesus was talking about, indeed, did happen as the witness progressed from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the Gentiles. It now remains to reach the ends of the earth, and that includes us, our communities, ethnic groups where we live and throughout America. We cannot use Scripture to justify engagement in local witness exclusively; our witness is to be among all peoples everywhere!

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