Acts 1:8 holds to the settings of Acts 1:1-2:13 which opens up with explaining the Promise of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost. The foundation for Acts is laid in the first eleven verses as Luke discusses the Kingdom of God and the Great Commission. The Commission of Jesus is set within the context of a question concerning when the kingdom of Israel will be restored (Acts 1:6). The question the Apostles asked was a routine one since Jesus has been resurrected. The Promise of the Spirit led them to think that the Messianic Era had dawned, and the final salvation of Israel was imminent. The reality is that the Apostles were still thinking of a political and military kingdom that would drive out the Roman armies and restore national sovereignty to Israel. Jesus corrects the Apostles, telling them in Acts 1:8 that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, not to triumph over the Roman armies, but to spread the good news of the gospel throughout the world. In other words Jesus’ return is in God’s timing, and in the meantime there are key things believers are to do.
The backdrop for Acts 1:8 is Luke 24:44-48, “4Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.” Jesus statement “my words” refers to His teaching concerning His death and resurrection (Luke 9:21-22). Jesus of Nazareth and the risen Lord Jesus are one and the same. The Law of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms refers to the divisions in the Old Testament in Jesus’ day. “Psalms” is an example of a synecdoche, in which one of the books in the Writings represents the whole. True understanding of the Scripture occurs when one understands how all of redemptive history fits together and is a gift of God (Luke 9:45; 18:34). Luke 24:45 teaches that the Christ should suffer, which repeats verse 26 and emphasizes that Jesus’ death and resurrection were necessary in order to fulfill God’s providential plan. Repentance and forgiveness of sins form the basis for the content of the Gospel while in His name provides the authority for how salvation is affected. As eyewitnesses, the Disciples served as guardians of the Gospel (Luke 1:2). The Promise of My Father refers to the Holy Spirit who had been promised by God the Father (Acts 2:33). The coming of the Holy Spirit had been announced by John the Baptist as a sign that the Messiah had come (Luke 3:15-17). The Holy Spirit would enable the disciples to fulfill their commission as Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8). The futuristic present tense of the words (“I am sending”) emphasizes the certainty of the Spirit’s coming.
Acts 1:8 teaches that the Apostles (and every believer after them) 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 ends of the earth.” Jesus corrects the disciple’s question (v.6) with a commission: “this time” (v.6) would be for them a time of witnessing for the gospel, and the scope of their witness was not to be just Israel but the entire world. The word translated witness is the Greek martus meaning, “One who testifies, bears witness, declares, confirms.” A witness for Jesus Christ is simply someone who tells the Truth about Him. There is a sense in which believers do not choose whether or not to be witnesses. They are witnesses, and the only question is how effective their witness is.
Verse 8 is the thematic statement for all of Acts. It begins with the Spirit’s power that stands behind and drives the witness to Jesus. Then it provides a rough outline of the book: Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), Jude and Samaria (chapters 8-12), and the ends of the earth (chapters 13-28). “You will receiver power” is a phrase that has caused a great deal of discussion among interpreters on whether the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of ordinary believers prior to Pentecost or in a lesser way or not at all, except for the empowering for special tasks. On either view, something new that needed to be waited for was here. This powerful new work of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost brought several beneficial results: more effectiveness in witness and ministry (1:8), effective proclamation of the gospel (Matthew 28:19), power for victory over sin (Acts 2:42-46; Romans 6:11-14; 8:13-14; Gal 2:20; Phil 3:10), power for victory over Satan and demonic forces (Acts 2:42-46; 16:16-18; 2 Cor. 10:3-4; Eph 6:10-18; 1 John 4:4), and a wide distribution of gifts for ministry (2:16-18; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 1 Peter 4:10; Numbers 11:17, 24-29). The Spirit is tied to power, which refers here to being empowered to speak boldly by testifying to the message of God’s work through Jesus. The Disciples’ direct and real experience of Jesus and his resurrection qualifies them as witnesses, but the Spirit will give them the capability to articulate their experience with boldness. The Disciples likely understood “power” in this context to include both the power to preach the gospel effectively and also the power (through the Holy Spirit) to work miracles confirming the message. The same word (dynamis) is used at least seven other times in Acts to refer to power to work miracles in connection with gospel proclamation (Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7;; 6:8; 8:10; 10:38; 19:11).
Christ’s death and resurrection form the basis for the Christian faith. Paul said in Romans 4:25 that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessary for forgiveness of sins and justification. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, it was a demonstration that he accepted Christ’s suffering and death as full payment for sin, and that the Father’s favor no longer his wrath against sin, was directed toward Christ, and through Christ toward those who believe. Paul saw Christians as united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:6; 8:-11; Eph 2:6; Col 2:12; 3:1). God’s approval of Christ at the resurrection resulted in God’s approval of all who are united to Christ, and in this way results in their “justification.” As a result of believing in the death and resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit, who is the supernatural and sovereign agent in regeneration, baptizes all believers into the Body of Christ (1st Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit also indwells, sanctifies, instructs, empowers for service, and seals believers unto the day of redemption (Romans 8:9-11; 2nd Corinthians 3:6; Ephesians 1:13). The significance of the resurrection is that Jesus empowers believers through the Gospel to live lives that are transformed by His grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make disciples and be used for His glory.
Paul in Ephesians 1:19-20 gives us a hint of the meaning of Jesus “sitting at God’s right hand” when he said, “And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly places.” God’s great power that very power which raised Jesus from the dead and lifted Him by ascension back to glory to take His seat at God’s right hand, is given to every believer at the time of salvation and is always available (Acts 1:8, Col 1:29). Paul therefore did not pray that God’s power be given to believers but that they be aware of the power they already possessed in Christ and use it (Ephesians 3:20). The power Jesus gave us was power to be His witnesses. The term “power” appears ten times in Acts, sometimes referring to miracles or other effects of power (Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7; 8:13; 10:38; 19:11) and other times to enablement (Acts 3:33; 6:8). The “right hand of God” was a sign to the disciples that Jesus had gone to heaven. Jesus told the disciples that He had to go away so that He could send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15). He had told them in Acts 1:8 that they would, “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” which would be on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), proving Jesus’ statement as truth. Paul says in Romans 8:34 that Jesus, “is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. The meaning of “God’s right hand” refers to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. Jesus is of equal position, honor, power and authority with God the Father (John 1:1-5). The very fact Jesus is sitting refers to the fact that His work of redemption is done.
There is much discussion in Christianity today regarding the definitions of biblical evangelism and discipleship. Luke teaches in Acts 1:8 that power was granted not to establish believers own kingdom but to build the Kingdom of God. John Calvin on Acts 1:8 said, “For hereby he meant to drive out of his disciples’ mind that fond and false imaginations which they have conceived of the terrestrial kingdom, because he showeth unto them briefly, that his kingdom consisteth in the preaching of the gospel. There was no cause, therefore, why they should dream of riches, of external principality, or of any other earthly thing, whilst they heard that Christ did then reign when as he subdueth unto himself (all the whole) world by the preaching of the Gospel. Whereupon it followeth that he doth reign spiritually and not after any worldly manner.” Much of the discussion regarding evangelism and discipleship in the Church begins with, “How can I reach postmodern people?” While this question is valid by beginning immediately with, “How can I reach postmodern people?” and not with the Gospel the Church is relegated to the arena of philosophical speculation rather than authority from God’s Word. The Church does not stand on its own authority but on the authority of Christ’s finished work. Believers have received power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ’s glory.
The Church is robbed of its God given authority when it compromises the person and work of Jesus. There is a need for a clear understanding and a rediscovery of the gospel in the 21st century. Jerry Bridges says, “The gospel is not the most important message in history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living their lives by it. Only the Holy Spirit can take the gospel to the hearts and minds of men and women and change them into disciples of the Lord.” Liberal Christianity has contributed to a faulty understanding of Christianity that focuses on what a believer needs to do in order to please God rather than living out the truth of the Gospel. The Church is being robbed of its power not from just false doctrine, false teachers but by a faulty approach to the Gospel. American Christianity is experiencing decline because of a Gospel of performance rather than Gospel of transformation.
The message of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 15:1-8; Romans 4:25). The Gospel is the message of the Bible and the means God uses to draw sinners to Christ, bring them into relationship with Himself, build the Church, and expand the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is not just a call to salvation but the call to discipleship. Jesus’ “call to discipleship” is the call to abandon all, take up the Cross and follow Him. Jesus in [Luke 9:23-27] said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
Discipleship is not a program, but the very mission Jesus gave the Church to fulfill. Discipleship is not just an object to be achieved because that focuses on the numbers of people. Biblical discipleship focuses on becoming like Jesus. In His ministry, Jesus cared about where people were going, and spent time with people who were hurting, ill, sick, afflicted, and demonized. Jesus shows people in His life how not only to care for people, but how to love people the way they were created to experience love. Biblical discipleship is thoroughly grounded in the person and work of Jesus.
Bock, L, Darrel, Acts (Michigan, Baker Academic, 2008), 63-64.
Boice, James Montgomery, Acts (Michigan, Baker Books, 1997), 10.
Bevins, Winfield. “Gospel Centered Discipleship: The Foundation for the Gospel”, July 2009, accessed August 9th, 2009. http://theresurgence.com/gospel-centered-discipleship
Calvin, John, Acts 1-13, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVII (Baker Books, 2009), 47.
Ger, Steven, The Book of Acts: Witnesses to the World (Tennessee, AMG Publishers, 1994), 25.
Macarthur, John, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 1-12 (Illinois, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1994), 21.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to his wife, Sarah. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021), The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022), and Contentment: The Journey of a Lifetime (Theology for Life, 2024). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.