The importance of Acts 1:7-8 is essential to a Biblical understanding of worldwide missions. Prior to these verses, Jesus had appeared to many, proving His resurrection. He then gathered “the apostles whom He had chosen” (1:2, 4) and promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit (vs.4-5). The apostles missed the importance of this promise and continued questioning Jesus about the timing of His restored kingdom. Unfazed, Jesus continued instructing the apostles and again promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What was Luke’s purpose in recording Jesus’ promise?
Spirit baptism was the spark for something new, not the renewal of Jesus' Messianic Kingdom but the ignition of His Church.
From the apostle’s perspective, Jesus would quickly reestablish His earthly rule as the rightful King of Israel. They sensed that it would quickly follow His resurrection, but their instincts were misleading. Jesus never denied that He would come and establish His earthly kingdom. Both the Old and New Testament authors give ample reason for the apostles and for us to expect Him to do so. Yet,Jesus warned the apostles that the timing and seasons in God’s prophetic calendar were hidden (vs. 7). Instead of explaining the timing of His coming kingdom, Jesus pointed twice to the forthcoming baptism of the Holy Spirit. Once in verse five and again with slightly different language in verse eight, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Historically, this promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (2:1-47). This is instructive because it demonstrates that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was the impetus for Christianity. Spirit baptism was the spark for something new, not the renewal of Jesus’ Messianic Kingdom but the ignition of His Church.
From the perspective of the apostles, Jesus’s promise of Spirit baptism was a truth that would have far reaching implications, most of which were not fully obvious. To prevent confusion, Jesus focused the apostles on a single obligation, “you shall be My witnesses.” For those who would be baptized by the Spirit, their primary duty and obligation was to be witnesses. Jesus established a theological and practical link between Spirit baptism and Gospel witness. Without the one, the other is impossible, yet with the one, the other becomes an obligation. Thus, Jesus’ final promise of Spirit baptism obligates all Spirit baptized Christians to be His witnesses.
Verse eight not only records Jesus’ commission to the apostles and all who follow their teaching, it also provides a functional outline for the rest of the book of Acts, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts1-2), and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria (Acts 3-9:31) , and to the end of the earth (Acts 9:32-28:31).”Jesus’ promise of Spirit baptism empowered the expansion of the Church and the book of Acts is the historical documentation of this first missionary enterprise. Jesus’ final promise continues to empower the expansion of Biblical Christianity around the world.
For missionaries today, a Biblical understanding of Spirit baptism is essential. Keep checking in as we consider the definition and the need for the empowerment that Spirit baptism provides for Jesus’ witnesses in our generation.