After his resurrection and just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told the eleven remaining apostles (and perhaps others, such as the 120?), “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.” (Acts 1:8 ESV) Jesus made similar statements at other times and to other people before his ascension. At one, according to Paul, Jesus spent time with over 500 people. (1 Corinthians 15:6)
In this post, I want to consider Jesus’ statement, “You will be my witnesses…” While people often focus on the geographical statements of “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth,” I would like to examine the idea of being Jesus’ witnesses.
While the word translated “witness” eventually came to mean “martyr” (i.e., someone who is killed because of their beliefs), it didn’t not have this meaning when Luke wrote the book of Acts. Instead, a “witness” is someone who attests to something. It is similar to a courtroom “witness” today, but the legal implications are not necessary.
There two questions that I would like to consider:
First, does Jesus’ statement (really, a command), “You will be my witnesses,” only apply to those who heard him, or does it apply to disciples of Jesus today?
If we look at the examples and incidences in the Book of Acts and in other writings of the New Testament, it seems that others (besides the original eleven, 120, or even 500) understood themselves to be “witnesses” of Jesus Christ.
For example, consider this passage from the Book of Acts:
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly [to Jews in Antioch of Pisidia], saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:46-49 ESV)
As a result of the Gentiles “rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord,” the word of the Lord began spreading throughout the region around Antioch in Pisidia. The work of all disciples as witnesses to Jesus Christ is made even more apparent by Paul in his letter to the church in Thessaloniki:
And you [the believers in Thessaloniki] became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV)
Again, we see that both the word of the Lord and the faith of the Thessalonians had “sounded forth” through the region around their city. So, at least from these two passages, it seems that other believers (beyond the original eleven, 120, or even 500) considered their role to include being witnesses of Jesus Christ.
The second question is this: what does it mean to be a “witness” of Jesus Christ today?
In Scripture, we see several different examples of disciples of Jesus Christ being his witnesses. The different people “witness” about Jesus Christ in different ways. I think we should expect differences today as well.
But, what are some of those different ways that followers of Jesus Christ can be his witness today? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that question. (And, if you want to discuss the first question, feel free to do that as well.)