By Steven Charles Ger

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

~ Acts 1:7-8 ~

Every so often, a commentary comes to the attention of the student of Scripture that strikes him or her as being head and shoulders above the crowd. Steven Charles Ger's Acts: Witnesses to the World has struck this editor and AMC's board secretary Mottel Baleston in just such a way. In fact, as I carefully read through the text for editing purposes - which includes no change in the text - I find myself engaged and absorbed not merely as an editor, but as a student. For these reasons Mottel and I have decided to present Acts in its entirety - not just for the wealth of information that may be gained from its study, but, as Mottel stated, as a model for how a Bible study ought to be done; so be on the lookout for an Acts segment in each Shofar for many editions to come. Links to previous increments of Acts: Witnesses to the World may be found in our Library. To gain the most from this study, it is suggested that the Scripture portions whose references are provided in the headings be read prior to considering Steve's comments on them. ~ editor

(ACTS 1:1-8)



Together, the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts comprise about twenty-five percent of the New Testament. Luke’s writing has made a significant contribution to the church’s collection of Holy Scripture. In this initial chapter of his second volume, Luke prepares his readers for the major events still to come. This chapter records a summary of the last conversation between Jesus and His apostles prior to His ascension and the selection of a replacement to fill the apostolic position vacated by Judas.

Prologue (1:1-3)

Luke begins Acts with a prologue that connects this book with his gospel, his first, or former, account. Luke meant for the book of Acts to be the sequel to his gospel, the next installment in a two-scroll series. In fact, Acts might be thought of as Luke, Book II. Long before Hollywood had conceived its first blockbuster sequel there was Luke, continuing his own gospel blockbuster, which just happened to be the greatest story ever told.

In his opening words, Luke briefly summarizes the contents of his previous work, his gospel, an account of all that Jesus began to do and teach. In using the term, “began,” Luke affirmed that what he had reported in his gospel was only the beginning, the “first stage” of Jesus’ work. In the book of Acts, the story of Jesus continues as He works, now in His resurrected state, through His apostles and His church, His body. Luke’s purpose in Acts is the same as was for his gospel: to convey accurate, systematic, chronological and historical information about his subject.

In the first two verses, Luke introduces the main players in the narrative. The three protagonists are Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the apostles. Luke emphasizes in Acts 1:2 Jesus’ specific choice of these individual men (as recorded in Luke 6:13-16) and His
personal invitation for them to carry out their commission as His witnesses. Ultimately, what Luke relates throughout twenty-eight chapters is the continuing work of the risen and exalted Messiah, Jesus, carried out by his apostles, with the guidance and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus and His apostles are organically interconnected to one another, bonded by the agency of the Spirit.

This is one reason that a full name becomes difficult to assign to the book. Some favor The Acts of the Apostles . This is the traditional title, which originated in the second century 160-180 AD. However, this is ultimately an unsatisfactory title because the book really only records the acts of Peter and Paul, with a smattering sampling of the acts of non-apostles like Stephen and Philip. For this reason, some propose the alternative title of The Acts of Peter and Paul , yet; again, this also does not take into account the contributions of apostolic associates Stephen and Philip.

The quest for a more accurate descriptive title for Acts has been a long and creative one. Another obvious alternative title is The Acts of the Holy Spirit, by reason of the Spirit’s being mentioned some fifty times throughout the narrative. Still others would capitalize on its sequel aspect as a continuation of the gospel of Luke and therefore favor variations on The Acts of the Resurrected Christ.

Since each title is partially accurate, most compromise and settle for the simpler The Book of Acts, or The Book of the Acts. The Greek word praxeis means “acts” or “deeds,” from which we derive the word, “praxis.” This term was used in ancient secular Greek literature to summarize the accomplishments of great men. Thus, this title seems to be most appropriate for Luke’s efforts.

Theophilus. As in the preface to his gospel, Luke once again addresses his work to the enigmatic Theophilus. Outside of Luke’s parallel prefaces, no mention of this individual is made, either within the New Testament record or outside of it. However, the preface to Luke’s gospel provides some insight, if not into the identity of Theophilus, at least into his background (Luke 1:4).

The name Theophilus itself means either “lover of God” or “beloved of God.” Luke uses the standard first century historical format in addressing his intended audience. Theophilus was perhaps Luke’s benefactor, and was most likely a Roman official of notable rank. Luke addressed his patron with the term kratistos, most excellent, which was a formal Roman designation of honor. Luke also applies this designation in Acts to Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and Festus (Acts 26:25). Additionally, an example of parallel usage is provided by Josephus, who also prefaced his writing with the same term of honor when addressing his patron, Epaphroditis. (7)

It may be presumed that Theophilus was a believer who, although he had received some Christian instruction, was in need of a broader education in the foundational history of his faith (Luke 1:1-4). Furthermore, it is probable that prior to becoming a Christian, Theophilus had been a God-fearer, a Gentile who worshipped the God of Israel. This might explain Luke’s preoccupation in Acts with God-fearers (Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16, 26, 43, 50; 17:4, 17; 18:7).

Luke was not writing a comprehensive volume of church history for Theophilus. That would have been a much bulkier volume for Theophilus to cart around! Rather, Luke carefully chose only to include selected vignettes culled from the broad panorama of church history’s first three decades. This is probably indicative of the specific questions Theophilus may have had and the concerns Luke wished to address on his behalf.

On the basis of what Luke has included in his Acts narrative, one may speculate that Theophilus’ questions may have included concerns about the nature of the relationship of the church to Judaism, Israel and the Temple; the relation between Jews and Jewish and Gentile Christians; the suitability and basis of Gentile inclusion within the church; the nature of Paul’s apostolic commission; whether or not Christianity posed a threat to the Roman Empire; and the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to believers.

Although solely addressed to Theophilus, Acts was clearly not meant to be sequestered away in Theophilus’ private library. Luke clearly intended for this work to instruct other believers and to be widely circulated among them as well as the general public.

In Acts 1:3, Luke provides a brief summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry to his apostles. The foundational task Jesus had to accomplish was to convince His apostles that He was alive. To this end, Luke records that Jesus had to furnish to them “many
convincing proofs,” from the Greek tekmeriois, to forever remove all doubt that He was resurrected in a physical, tangible, yet glorified body. The New Testament books are painstakingly careful to continually emphasize that Jesus was physically resurrected. There is to be no misunderstanding concerning His resurrection appearances. This was no ghost or spirit, no mass vision or hallucination. Jesus rose from the dead corporeal, touchable (John 20:27), and capable of eating and drinking (Luke 24:42-43; Acts 1:3).

Acts 1:3 is the only place where the forty-day length of his post resurrection ministry is recorded. Jesus did not appear continuously for forty consecutive days, but rather at intervals. The exact number of appearances Jesus made to His disciples is not recorded, but from the gospel records we know there were at least ten separate appearances over the forty-day period, if not more.

Luke relates that the main subject of Jesus’ teaching over the course of forty days during those appearances was the kingdom of God (1:3). This was the major topic of discussion between Jesus and the apostles and provides a major theme of the apostolic message in Acts. However, before launching into a discussion of what is meant by the kingdom of God and related teachings of Jesus, a brief overview of the name Luke used to refer to each of Jesus’ specially selected students, the main protagonists of Acts, the term, “apostle,” is in order.

Apostle. The term “apostle,” which appears some thirty times in Acts, is a transliteration of the Greek, apostolos. A key term in Acts, apostle is primarily used throughout the New Testament in a specialized sense to mean, “commissioned one,” with the commissioning having been done by Christ. Thus, an apostle is a commissioned representative of Christ who is empowered by His delegated authority.

The New Testament teaches two extremely restricted views of the apostolic office. There were two classifications of apostle. The first category was the more restrictive. This is the primary category of apostle, and membership was limited to the Twelve. In Acts, the term almost always refers to the Twelve (1:26; 2:37, 42, 43; 4:33, 35, 36, 37; 5:2, 12, 18, 29, 40; 6:6; 8:1, 14, 18; 9:27; 11:1). The Twelve were personally selected by Jesus to be His representatives, authoritative witnesses of His ministry, and provide the founding leadership for His church. In the impending kingdom, their leadership responsibilities will include ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt.19:28).

This foundational commission to rule Israel is why in v.15-26, at the dawn of their mission, selecting a replacement for Judas’ abandoned slot was essential. In other words, it was not because the apostolic slot was empty, per se, that there was a need to replace Judas. Otherwise, a continuous stream of votes would eventually need to be taken upon the death of each apostle. Rather, it was necessary for the empty apostolic slot to be filled because the unimaginable had occurred: one of the twelve apostles had abandoned his present and future position of responsibility. As the kingdom of God was imminent, the apostles wanted to ensure that they all stood ready to fulfill their commissioned roles.

This point is demonstrated some eleven years subsequent to the events of v.15-26. Following the execution of the apostle James in 44 AD (12:1-2), the eleven surviving apostles exert no effort to replace him. James is no Judas, and his apostolic slot remains unfilled after his death. When the kingdom of God arrives, James, unlike Judas, will not betray his future commission to rule over one of the tribes of Israel.

This balanced emphasis on apostolic responsibilities, both present and future, also clarifies why the focus is shifted away from the twelve apostles in the final division of the Acts narrative (13-28). Having fulfilled the outline of their initial apostolic commission of witnessing to the Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, Luke moves the Twelve into the background. After 12:17, none of the Twelve is mentioned in the narrative again, with the exception of a “cameo” appearance by Peter during the Jerusalem Council (15:6-29).

The concept of a perpetual apostolic succession cannot be derived from the Acts narrative. By definition, only those who had seen Jesus could ever be apostles. It was not an office that could ever be passed down to the next generation. The apostolic office of the Twelve terminated with their deaths.

The final division of Acts (13-28) focuses on those who are members of the remaining apostolic category. This second classification of apostle was more inclusive, but possessed requirements that were no less stringent. Luke does not supply a complete list of this group of apostles, but it includes James (the brother of Jesus), Barnabas and Paul.

From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we learn that the essential requirement for this level of apostleship is to have actually seen the resurrected Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1). Paul gives us a comprehensive list of those who have witnessed the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:5-8). We can infer from Paul that while the capacity of this category of apostle is seemingly not restricted to twelve, it is limited to a set number of individuals to whom Christ personally appeared. Moreover, Paul is clear that in addition to the unprecedented fashion by which he has witnessed the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:3-8), he is the very last (and least) one of this group to do so (1 Cor. 15:8-9). Paul is adamant that, by definition, there can never be any other apostles after him. (8)

There is one final delimiter Paul gives concerning this category of apostle. This is the ability to perform the signs of a true apostle, i.e., signs, wonders and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12). Like identifying “calling cards,” these signs were the divine validation, the credentials of those with genuine apostolic authority.

In addition to serving as commissioned witnesses of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles also provided the leadership of the community of faith, overseeing its growth and radical expansion outward from Jerusalem. Finally, Paul refers to apostleship as being one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11).

The Promise of the Father (1:4-5)

Luke’s gospel ended with the ascension (Luke 24:50-51), and this is the event with which Luke also begins his sequel. What Luke provides in the first 11 verses of Acts is a rough summary of his gospel ascension account (Luke 24:44-53).The narrative story of Acts picks up in Acts 1:4, with Jesus gathered together with His apostles immediately prior to His return to heaven. If Jesus’ passion and resurrection occurred in the year 33 AD, as is likely, then some precision may be exercised on the date of this event. The ascension of Jesus most probably occurred on Thursday, May 14, 33 AD, ten days prior to the Jewish festival of Pentecost.

As the parallel account in Luke 24:50 reveals, they are assembled near the village of Bethany, somewhere midway up the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. This area of the Mount of Olives is not visible from Jerusalem but in fact, is roughly a mile away from the “traditional” site of the ascension, which is incorrectly situated at the hill’s highest point of elevation. The Mount of Olives is not really a mountain but rather a two-mile long ridge one half mile east of the Jerusalem, which rises approximately one hundred feet above the city.

The Greek term synalizo, which most translations render as “gathering them together,” appears in the New Testament only here in Acts 1:4. A better translation may well be, “eating together with.” As mentioned previously, one of the “convincing proofs” of Jesus’ bodily resurrection was His ability to eat. However, whether the apostles are gathered together on the Mount of Olives with Jesus for instruction alone or instruction accompanied by a meal does not affect the point the passage, which is the content of Jesus’ final commission to His apostles.

Foundational to the commission is Jesus’ command for the apostles to “sit tight” in Jerusalem and wait an indeterminate amount of time for what Jesus called, the promise of My Father. This same phrase of Jesus’ is quoted by Luke in the parallel account of the commission at the end of his gospel (Luke 24:49). In addition to what Jesus may have taught his apostles during His post-resurrection ministry, this promise had been discussed by Him some forty-three days earlier at the Passover Seder he shared with them on the evening of His betrayal, His “Last Supper.” At that meal, he had revealed to His apostles that the Holy Spirit, the parakletos, the “Comforter,” would be coming to empower them (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13).

Continuing His commission, Jesus then reveals to His apostles that they are about to enter into a major period of transition. A new age was about to dawn which would be defined by a new ministry of the Holy Spirit, that of Spirit baptism. This new age would be characterized by great acts of the Spirit. The expectation of the Holy Spirit, Ruach Hakodesh in Hebrew, was a key concept in first century Judaism, and the apostles would have been eager for this particular promise of the Father to be kept.

Jesus refers back to the ministry of his cousin, John the Baptist (Luke 3:16) to contrast water baptism with the impending baptism with, or by means of, the Holy Spirit. In total, Luke refers to John’s ministry of water baptism eight times in Acts (1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24-25; 19:3-4), usually in contrast to Spirit baptism. The example in Acts 1:5 is typical. John’s water baptism, done for the purpose of ritual purification to signify repentance, is contrasted with baptism with the Spirit for the enablement of ministry and the establishment of a holy lifestyle.

This promise of Holy Spirit baptism will be fulfilled at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. Before we continue, a brief discussion of baptism is in order.

Baptism. Baptism is simply a transliteration of the Greek word for immersion, baptisma. The parallel Hebrew term for immersion is mikvah. These terms may be used interchangeably. The first century world of the Bible knew of three different types of Jewish ritual immersion, mikvah, or baptism: baptism as practiced within Judaism, the baptism of John and Christian baptism.

Ritual immersion was an essential practice of first century Judaism. Observance of ritual immersion was standard practice for ritual cleansing from any state of impurity and served as a preparatory ritual for observance of holy days and entrance to the Temple.
Additionally, baptism or mikvah, along with circumcision (for men) and the offering of a sacrifice, was one of three ritual components that were integral for Gentile conversion to Judaism and their initiation into the people of Israel. This conversion ritual also included an element of purification as a Gentile entered the water in a state of uncleanness and rose up cleansed and reborn, no longer identifying with his former pagan status but as a Jewish proselyte.

John’s ministry was so characterized by ritual immersion that he was popularly nicknamed “the Baptist.” John’s baptism was neither for the purpose of ritual cleansing nor for the purpose of Gentile conversion. Both the New Testament (Matt. 3:1-11; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:7-14) and Josephus (9) record that John’s innovative emphasis to this ancient Jewish ritual was its focus on the personal repentance and future commitment to righteousness of the Jewish people desiring to be immersed. Those whom John baptized were then identified as his disciples. The reason for John’s innovative baptismal emphasis was his overwhelming concern to prepare Israel for the coming Messiah and the kingdom He would establish (Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-18; John 1:15-31). Jesus’ early ministry was also characterized by this same baptism of repentance (John 3:22).

Following Israel’s visitation by the Messiah and His exaltation, the early church quite naturally incorporated the common ritual of immersion, adapting it for the purpose of initiation into the community of faith and identification with the resurrected Founder of that community. Christian baptism incorporated John’s innovative emphasis on repentance and commitment and combined it with the purifying conversion ritual of Judaism. (10)

Commission (1:6-8)

This next section contains a profound question asked of Jesus by the apostles. This question and how it is answered (or is not answered) uncovers an essential interpretive issue that colors the entire book of Acts. What is this weighty question? The apostles
inquired as to whether it was at this time that Jesus would be restoring the kingdom to Israel.

Kingdom . This question about the kingdom was the most logical one they could have asked. After all, Jesus had primarily been teaching them about the coming kingdom of God over the past forty days (1:3). Furthermore, throughout their three years together,
Jesus’ preaching was continually characterized by such kingdom-oriented instruction. Even the model prayer, which Jesus had taught to his disciples, contained a phrase entreating God to establish His kingdom, Your kingdom come (Matt.6:10; Luke 11:2).

In fact, during their last Passover meal together, on the evening of His betrayal, Jesus had made two specific promises concerning the coming kingdom. First, Jesus promised that He would not eat another Passover meal until the festival was fulfilled in the kingdom (Luke 22:16-18). Second, Jesus promised his apostles that in the kingdom, they would sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30). In fact, what had immediately precipitated this promise was the disciples’ argument over which of them was to be the most respected leader in the future kingdom (Luke 22:24)!

The eventual restoration of a concrete national, political kingdom was obviously taken for granted by the disciples, and Jesus did nothing to correct this assumption. Is it possible that Jesus would have purposely misled his disciples, or that He did not mean what He had plainly promised? These apostles had a vested interest in discerning exactly when that glorious kingdom would be inaugurated.

In the next verse, Jesus’ answer indicates that He accepted the question as a logical one but would not provide specifics. Jesus does not brush off the question; He treats it with a serious, yet mysterious, answer. By telling them that it was not for them to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority, He indicated His agreement with His students that the issue was “when,” and not “if” the kingdom is restored to Israel. It was simply a matter of divine timing, which just happened to be none of the apostles’ business.

The word translated times, is chronous, and expresses a quantitative aspect of time, the length of a period. The word translated epochs, kairous, indicates a specific time span, definite period or season. It was not for the apostles to know how far in time the
kingdom still was or on what eventual date it would arrive. The kingdom would assuredly come, but at an unknown future time. That knowledge was reserved only for the Father (Matt: 24:36).

Over the forty days Jesus had been teaching them, the apostles had finally become apt and capable pupils. Having sat at the resurrected Messiah’s feet for those forty days, having been granted a measure of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), and having spent over
three years in His company exposed to Jesus’ teaching, life and example, the apostles could not have received a better education.

There are some, however, who hold that the apostles were off base to have asked Jesus about the establishment of Israel’s national theocracy. These people do not accept the validity of such a conception of the kingdom. For them, the kingdom that Jesus brings is for the church and not for Israel; a spiritual kingdom and not a literal, national one. In fact, this spiritual kingdom is already here, among the church, as Jesus reigns within our hearts and lives. What the church is currently experiencing is the entire kingdom we can hope to expect until the day when Jesus returns and takes us back with Him to heaven.

So many of these preachers and theologians treat these apostles as “holy fools,” whose intellectual competence to comprehend Jesus’ teaching was abnormally impeded. The idea seems to be that if only the apostles could have had the keen perception and clear insight of these Bible “scholars,” then they would never have wasted Jesus’ time with their provincial concerns about a future kingdom that was never meant to be taken literally.

However, the apostles would have wondered what other sort of kingdom could be in view if not the physical kingdom promised to Israel throughout the Old Testament prophets. The apostles would have had no conception of the church being a “spiritual” kingdom or any sort of kingdom at all. One can imagine Peter asking something to the effect of, “What in or out of this world is a 'spiritual' kingdom?” The same lack of recognition would hold concerning the concept of a “spiritual Israel.” Both “spiritual kingdom” and “spiritual Israel” are ingenious notions born in European ivory spires, a great distance removed in both chronologic time and geographic space from first century Jerusalem, the apostolic witness, or any Jewish Christian with a basic education in the promises God made through the Hebrew prophets.

There is no question that both Testaments of the Scripture both present and confirm the reality of the future restoration of Israel as a nation. The coming messianic age will be characterized by the physical, actual rule and reign of the Messiah, Jesus. His throne will be that of His ancestor, King David, and as the kings of Israel did in ancient days, Jesus will rule from Jerusalem.

The physical land of Israel is integral to the fulfillment of this promise. The land of promise is inexorably bound together with the people of promise. Israel will be the chief of nations and God’s ancient promises to His chosen people will finally be fully realized. The Hebrew prophets foretold this future kingdom, Jesus’ ministry was characterized by His promise of this future kingdom, and the apostles certainly anticipated this future kingdom.

Jewish rejection? There are some who believe that the Jewish people have forfeited God’s promises of a glorious future kingdom as a result of their rejection of Jesus. They believe those earthy, physical promises of land possession, numerous descendents and
multiple blessing made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their progeny have now somehow morphed into ethereal, spiritual promises which have transferred to the church. These people believe that God is through with the Jews; that He has broken off His relationship
with them. His concern has now been transferred to the church. What this concept practically means, for most of the people espousing it, is that God has abandoned the Jews and is now working exclusively with the Gentiles.

Yet the book of Acts is a strong testament to the fact that in spite of the national, corporate rejection of their Messiah, God cannot and will not ever abandon his people Israel. Throughout twenty-eight chapters, the longest book in the New Testament, God’s faithfulness to Israel and His unrelenting and continuous call for their repentance is practically deafening.

Even in the final chapter of Acts, a chapter which many claim is proof positive that God has “washed his hands” of the Jews, Paul calls Jesus the Hope of Israel (28:20). God has not rejected His people. As Paul exclaims, may it never be (Rom. 11:1)! God has preserved for Himself a faithful remnant (Rom.11:5).

Indeed, the entirety of the Jewish people did not reject the Messiah. If they had, there would be no book of Acts at all! Every one of the protagonists in this book is a Jew who accepted Jesus as Messiah. The first actual Gentile believer does not even enter into the
historical account for seven years, a full ten chapters into the narrative. From Acts chapter one through twenty-eight, thousands of Jews responded to the gospel. Moreover, we Jews are still responding to Jesus to this very day. The ancient promises of God’s kingdom program, His glorious restoration of Israel, have merely been postponed, not abandoned.

Those theologians who posit such a theology of “replacement,” must choose a different book than Acts to bolster their position. They will find no support here. Indeed, they will find that support is lacking not only in Acts, but also throughout the New Testament.

Spirit and kingdom. Another reason the apostles would have asked their question is that the Davidic Kingdom, the kingdom of God, is linked five times in the Hebrew Scriptures with the return of the Holy Spirit, the Shekinah glory of the Lord, to Israel (Is. 32:15-20, 44:3-5, Ezek 39:28-29, Joel 2:28-3:1, Zech 12:10-13:1). In fact, Acts 1:6 begins with the Greek, men oun, translated so. This so connects the apostle’s question with Jesus’ statement about Spirit baptism in the previous verse. The outpouring of the Spirit was an integral component of what the prophets had written concerning the institution of the messianic kingdom. In other words, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is clearly in the context of Israel’s national restoration. Since the apostles were conscious of the connection between the messianic kingdom and the baptism of the Spirit, they were asking whether, as a result of this coming Spirit baptism, all Israel would finally be saved.

The apostles were soon to learn that the corporate salvation of Israel would not be accomplished in short measure but was dependent on a still future outpouring on Israel just prior to the return of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom (Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 11:25-27).

However, what Jesus indicated in telling his apostles to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit was that the Spirit’s outpouring was not dependent on the establishment of the kingdom. Indeed, the events of Pentecost demonstrate that one component of the future kingdom program, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, was delivered as promised, despite the entire kingdom program’s delay. The Spirit is a down payment, an earnest (Eph. 1:13-14), of the glorious future inheritance of the kingdom to come. Nevertheless, what a down payment He is! As a mother allows her children to sample the dough to help them endure the grueling interim between cookie mixing and cookie eating, God has blessed the church with a sample taste of the coming kingdom to help us endure these last days prior to Christ’s assuming His appointed throne.

Acts 1:8 begins with a strong contrast, alla, a big “but,” as Jesus changed the subject from Israel’s future kingdom to the present responsibilities of the apostles in Israel. Jesus, referring back to His subject of Spirit baptism (1:4-5), prepares His apostles for the
awesome power they would presently receive (in 2:1-4). It was by means of this power that they would be enabled to carry out Jesus’ orders.

The apostolic commission is to be Jesus’ witnesses. Consequently, the concept of witness becomes a key, perhaps the key word, in the book of Acts (1:22, 2:32, 3:15, 5:32, 10:39, 41, 13:31, 22:15, 26:16). The word translated as witness, the Greek martus , means
“One who testifies, bears witness, declares, confirms.” Indeed, this witness would be discharged by the entire church, even unto death (7:60; 22:4).

Although Acts 1:8 does not specify the proposed content of the apostolic witness, the parallel passage at the conclusion of Luke reveals the specifics. The apostles were commissioned to witness of the ministry of Jesus: His life, death, resurrection and exaltation, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47).

The phrase, you shall be my witnesses, recalls the use of that same phrase by God in the nation of Israel’s commission, as the corporate servant of the Lord, to proclaim that He is the only legitimate means of deliverance, the sole savior of His people (Is. 43:12)
and God’s repeated use of the phrase you shall be my witnesses in Israel’s related commission to testify among the idolaters that the Lord is the only God (Is. 44:8).

Jesus specifies where they will receive the Holy Spirit, Jerusalem, and vaguely alludes to when, not many days from now. Significantly, there is no mention made of how the apostles will receive the Holy Spirit. No conditions whatsoever are placed on the apostles in preparation for the upcoming baptism of the spirit. There are no instructions, no uncertainties, no last minute provisos. The baptism of the Spirit will not in any way depend upon the apostles’ faith, attitude or behavior. The Spirit will be the certain and sovereign gift of God to His children (Luke 11:13).

Jesus provides broad geographic parameters for this commission to witness. Indeed, it is these geographic designations that provide Luke’s structural outline of his Acts narrative, as noted in the introduction. Jesus’ commission begins in Jerusalem, extends through the rest of Israel, Judea and Samaria, and eventually reaches the ends of or the remotest part of the earth.

Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem is mentioned 670 times within the Hebrew Scriptures. From the time of David, it has had an unparalleled grip on the heart and imagination of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is the historic and eternal capital of the Jewish people. By the time of the events of Acts, Jerusalem had been the Jewish capital for over a thousand years. From antiquity, Jews have considered Jerusalem to be the center, the very “navel” of the earth (Ezek 5:5; 38:12). Jerusalem has always been the political, economic, military, social and religious heart of the Jewish nation and leadership.

On the surface, there is absolutely no economic, geographical or topological explanation for the magnitude of Jerusalem’s significance. It has never been a strategic center of commerce. Jerusalem has no valuable natural resources, its soil is not particularly fertile and it has a limited water supply; in fact, it is situated on the edge of the Judean desert. The profound importance of the city to the Jewish imagination can only be explained with reference to the Biblical narrative.

Jerusalem played a role in Jewish history from the beginning. It was known in the time of Abraham as Salem (Gen.14:18) and is the location of Mount Moriah, where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac (Gen. 22). Jerusalem was conquered from the Jebusites by David and chosen to be his capital over 3000 years ago (2 Sam. 5:7; 1 Chron. 11:5). Jerusalem was thereafter popularly known as “the city of David.” David relocated the sacred ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:12) and his son, Solomon, built the Temple on Mount Moriah to house the ark (1 Kings 6:1).

Solomon’s Temple, along with the entire city, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, in 586 BC (2 Kings 25; 2 Chr. 36; Jer. 39). When Israel returned from exile at the end of the sixth century, the Temple was modestly rebuilt (Hag. 1:14). Five centuries later, Herod the Great elaborately renovated and enlarged the Temple and the Temple Mount. In addition, he reconstructed and extensively modernized the entire city of Jerusalem, recreating a city of sufficient architectural splendor to rival any other in the entire Roman Empire.

The Hebrew Scripture eloquently conveys the key role Jerusalem plays in Biblical theology. The Psalms record God’s specific choice of Jerusalem as His holy city (Ps. 2:6; 9:11; 74:2 78:68; 87:2; 102:16; 132:13). The prophets affirm that salvation will spread to the Gentiles from Jerusalem (Is. 37:32; 52:7; Joel 2:32; 3:16; Obad. 1:17; Zeph. 3:14) and that the Gentiles will pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple (Is 2:2–4; 18:7; Mic. 4:2, 7; Zech. 14:16–19).

Even for those Jews living outside of Israel, Jerusalem remained a central focus of religious consideration as well as of sentiment. Annual pilgrimages were made to Jerusalem, up to three times per year, to observe the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. The Temple was also the only authorized location where one could present required sacrifices to the Lord. Even the obligation of the annual Temple tax focused an entire people’s attention on the city.

In the gospels, Jesus mentions Jerusalem on some fifteen occasions, mostly in reference to His upcoming rejection and suffering. The climax of each gospel account occurs with Jesus’ rendezvous with His destiny. As He lamented, despite all the rich theological significance of the city to the Jewish people, Jerusalem is also the city which kills its prophets (Luke 13:33). The gospel records make it clear that Jerusalem was also the center of Jewish opposition to Jesus.

Following their receipt of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles continued their Jerusalem residence. These former Galileans made the holy city their new center of ministry from which the gospel witness would advance. However, the Acts narrative reveals that Jerusalem would remain the center of opposition for Jesus’ disciples.

Included in the designation of Judea were also Galilee and the rest of Israel. Samaria was the region in Israel populated by followers of a hybrid religion hostile to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

The remotest part of the earth, or ends of the earth, is the Greek phrase heos eschatou tes ges . This was a Jewish idiom for Gentiles, originally derived from the parameters of the Servant of the Lord’s mission as relayed in Isaiah 49:6. Jesus, the definitive “Servant of the Lord,” delegated His commission to His apostles through His Great Commission.

Although this phrase, as used in Acts, is commonly understood to be a reference to the capital of the Gentile world, Rome, this is far too limited an understanding. Although the apostolic mission of traveling over fifteen hundred miles to the then capital of Western civilization was not chopped liver, Rome cannot be considered the limit of what Jesus meant by the ends of the earth. To what Jesus referred in His use of this phrase extended far beyond Rome’s geographic boundaries, and in a broader geographic sense ultimately denoted the entire earth, every Jewish and Gentile community worldwide. God himself exclaimed to the ends of the earth, i.e., to the nations, all mankind, that He was the one true God (Is. 45:22)

The apostles’ initial understanding of Jesus’ commission, however, may have been more restricted. What they most likely understood by the phrase, ends of the earth, based on the context of the first fifteen chapters of Acts, was the entire realm of the diaspora; that they were being commissioned to take the gospel to every Jewish community both inside and outside of the land of Israel. Their minds may have automatically focused on another passage from Isaiah, where God announced to the ends of the earth the “good news” that salvation had come specifically to Israel (Is. 48:20).

The gospels climaxed with Jesus’ arrival in the capital of Israel. Acts begins in Jerusalem and climaxes with Jesus’ church reaching the first stage of the ends of the earth, the exalted capital of western civilization. This fact is certain: there is no other possible explanation for the explosive numeric and geographic growth of the church within those initial decades other than for the unshakable apostolic conviction that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah. In the face of ostracism, persecution, imprisonment, torture and eventually execution, these devout but very human Jewish men remained undeterred n carrying out their commission. The record of Acts is that the apostles and their disciples were witnesses of their Messiah both in word, with the proclamation of his resurrection, and in deed, exemplified by their mighty acts of temerity, faithfulness and supernatural power.


7. Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), Apion I 1.
8. P.W. Barnett, “Apostle,” in Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 45-50.
9. Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), Ant. XVIII, v 2.
10. A comprehensive discussion of baptism in the NT is contained in Richard E. Averbeck, “The Focus of Baptism in the New Testament,” Grace Theological Journal (Grace Seminary, 2:2, Fall 1981) 266-301.


1. What is an apostle?
2. Why or why not does Acts teach a literal future kingdom for Israel?
3. What is the importance of Jerusalem for Jews? For Christians?

Steven Charles Ger, Th.M., is a fourth generation Jewish believer. In addition to Acts: Witnesses to the World, his body of work includes a biblical commentary on Hebrews and co-authorship of The Popular Bible Prophecy Commentary. He is also a contributing author to The Gathering Storm and the Zondervan KJV Commentary: Old Testament. He is the former host of the weekly radio show, "The Jewish Heart of Christianity," and has appeared as a guest expert on both radio and television. Steven's main work is directing Sojourner Ministries, an organization dedicated to exploring the Jewish heart of Christianity.

Steven has led 11 tours to Israel and has done on-site research in the actual locations found in the Book of Acts. Autographed copies of Acts: Witnesses to the World may be purchased from the Sojourner Ministries website at

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