You Will Be My Witnesses (1:1-26)

Bible Passage: Acts 1:1-26

As Luke begins the book of Acts, he does so in a way that is a deliberate callback to the way he started his gospel. Once again, his work is addressed to Theophilus, and he describes the first book as ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach’, the implication being that now he will describe what Jesus continued to do and teach through his disciples. The story begins where the gospel of Luke ended with the ascension of Jesus.

The Ascension of Christ: In verses 9-11, Jesus ascends to heaven. This is all about his installation as king. The message of the resurrection is that the tomb is empty and the message of the ascension is that the throne is not. Jesus is given the highest place of authority as ruler of the heavens and the earth. His ascension was bodily, meaning that it is an embodied human who reigns on the throne. The ascension gives great confidence for how we approach prayer, assurance of salvation and hope in difficult times.

The Necessity of the Spirit: When the disciples ask Jesus about the kingdom coming, he does not give a direct answer to their question. What he can tell them is that they will receive power as the Holy Spirit comes upon them. This is what the kingdom coming in our age looks like, as a foretaste of the kingdom coming fully when Christ returns. We are meant to see the echoes of the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of the gospels. Just as his ministry was in the power of the Spirit, so too must the ministry of the church be. The ascended Christ received the promised Spirit from the Father and poured him out on his church. Until the Spirit was poured out they were to stay put and wait. It is a challenging reflection to consider whether the activities of these pre-pentecost disciples (meeting together, praying, teaching Scripture, appointing leaders, etc) are more characteristic of our church life than the post-pentecost description we see in subsequent chapters.

The Call to Mission: Jesus clearly states the mission he has given to the disciples, and we find this mission provides the structure for the whole of the book. They are to be witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This is an extension of their mission during Jesus’ earthly ministry where they preached the gospel and brought the kingdom in the towns and villages of Israel. Now the scope of the mission has been enlarged, and again this is linked to the ascension. Psalm 2 speaks of God installing his king and giving him the nations as his heritage and the ends of the earth as his possession. This is what happened when Jesus ascended, and this language is echoed as Jesus sent out his disciples as his witnesses. The task that we see started in the book of Acts now belongs to us.

Building the Team: Verses 12-26 speak of the first choice made by the disciples whilst waiting in Jerusalem. They recognised that they were one short, and Peter saw precedent in the Scriptures to bring in somebody else to the team. The disciples applied a good process – they shortlisted appropriate candidates who had been with Jesus from the start and witnessed the resurrection and asked for God’s guidance and who to choose. They used the method of casting lots to determine this as the Spirit had not yet been poured out. Some have suggested that this was a mistake as Matthias is not mentioned again, but the text does not say this. The disciples were wisely growing their team in preparation for the mission that Jesus was entrusting to them.

Potential Applications:

  • This is a good sermon to challenge people on their evangelism – are they being witnesses to those around them.
  • It is also a good opportunity to give people a global vision, and highlight the need for cross-cultural mission to ‘the ends of the earth’. Perhaps there are those in the congregation who he is calling to go.
  • You could pray for people to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit.