7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;
8 but 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." NASU
This passage sets the theme for the entire book of Acts. The disciples asked a question about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Jesus answers them in terms of what their current priority ought to be. The disciples will be witnesses. The theme of witnessing dominates the entire book. Thus, neither the question nor the answer is parenthetical. Luke was not dealing with extraneous details.
Jesus had taught the disciples about the kingdom of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Throughout His ministry (Luke 4:43), the kingdom of God had been a major focus. During the 40 days between resurrection and ascension, this (Acts 1:3) was his topic. Along with this emphasis on the kingdom of God, He taught concerning (Luke 24:) the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would enable them to be witnesses.
The disciples were Jews. They knew that the Jews were God's chosen people. Their hope and expectation had been that the Messiah would establish a political theocracy on the earth. Moreover, the disciples fully expected (Luke 22:24-30) to be an important part of His government.
Jesus had taught, also, about the spiritual nature of the kingdom. The kingdom of God was both present (Luke 17:20-21) and future. Apparently, the disciples did not understand that the spiritual kingdom, during the church age, would expand and grow without the political theocracy being established.
Along with the expectation of a theocracy, the disciples knew that God would use Israel to reach out to the nations of the world. In Isaiah 43:10 we read, "'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord." NASU Similarly, according to Isaiah :6, God said, "I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." NASU When Paul turned to the Gentiles to minister at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:47), he cited this verse. The Gentiles rejoiced when they heard this.
The disciples asked, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" Although Jesus had taught the disciples extensively about the kingdom of God, they still had this expectation. Therefore, we can safely conclude that Jesus had not taught them not to expect this. If He had taught them against it, they would not have asked the question. Indeed, His answer keeps the door open for a future fulfillment. To that answer we now turn.
Jesus answered, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority." This answer does not deny that the restoration of Israel might still come. To the contrary it lends some support to the idea that it will. At the same time, the answer does not close the door on the possibility that the prophecies about Israel might be fulfilled in ways that were different from the expectations of the disciples. This one passage does not provide a full answer as to what happens to national Israel in the future.
The immediate program of Jesus was for the gospel to spread to the entire world through the church. The church is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth today. It includes both Jews and Gentiles. It would take some time before the disciples would realize how extensively the Gentiles would be included. At this point the disciples clearly are to be concerned with witnessing rather than the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples. John the Baptist had prophesied that Jesus would baptize them in the Holy Spirit. Jesus had reminded them of this prophecy. Now, Jesus applies the prophecy to the experience they were about to have. According to Jesus, this coming of the Holy Spirit upon them was a baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus declared, "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come (epelthontos) upon you." Literally, the aorist participle epelthontos means "having come" upon you. Thus, the Holy Spirit "having come" upon you, you will receive power. Grammatically, we could say that the disciples would receive power either "when" or "after" the Holy Spirit had come upon them. In this verse, the best interpretation is "when." When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power.
Here, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is connected with power. The Holy Spirit and power are not synonymous terms. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person who has power. Power is one of His attributes. He does many things for us, through us, and in us. However, the point that Jesus emphasizes here is power. The disciples will receive power to be witnesses.
Some scholars argue that the baptism in the Spirit connects believers with Christ and that power is only a corollary of that experience. However, Jesus does not connect the baptism in the Spirit with conversion. He is concerned about the disciples being enabled to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Thus, power in this passage is not just the corollary of a conversion experience. Rather, it is central to the task of witnessing. We dare not attempt the task with the power of the Spirit.
The disciples, Jesus declared, "shall be My witnesses." Through the disciples, the gospel will be made known to the world. The power they receive will enable them to speak the gospel boldly and with powerful results. They would work many miraculous things in His name. With the power of the Spirit the disciples would fulfill their prophetic task.
Some interpreters put the emphasis on what the disciples would become in terms of moral qualities. In other words, they stress the moral qualities that the Spirit engenders. Certainly, the Spirit is the Holy Spirit. Any experience with Him should have an impact on the way we live. Furthermore, we cannot be effective witnesses in the long run without a strong moral life. However, this is not the main point that Jesus is making. He is telling the disciples that He will enable them to fulfill His commission.
The disciples will be witnesses "in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." NASU Obviously, Luke is setting up the outline of the entire book. As we follow the story, the gospel spreads from Jerusalem, to the revival in Samaria, and then to the entire world through the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul.
George M. Flattery
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