Acts 1:8 – “You Will Be My Witnesses”

When asked if he was about to restore the Kingdom to Israel, Jesus reminds his disciples that “it is not for them to know” when the kingdom will be restored. Rather than knowing the “times and dates” God has planned, the disciples are to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth. To some extent, the kingdom is about to begin in the Temple in a manner which is not unlike what many expected. The Holy Spirit will fall upon people and they will speak the Word of God in power in the Temple itself.

Acts 1_8These men are to be witnesses, a very important word in Luke-Acts and this command is in many ways programmatic for the chapters which follow. In the chapters which follow, the 12 disciples are called witnesses 8 times, and the Holy Spirit bears witness on their behalf (Acts 5:32). Both Paul (22:15, and 26:16) and Stephen (22:20) are called witnesses in Acts.

The disciples are to give testimony of who Jesus was (the messiah) and what Jesus did (died for the forgiveness of sins) and what he intends to do (return to establish his kingdom). They are all eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and they will be witnesses to the coming of the Holy Spirit (in Acts 2). They are Jesus’ own personal representatives sent to report to others what Jesus said and did.

As in the modern use of the word, a ‘witness” often functioned in a legal context, giving testimony in a court case. As the disciples give their testimony in various speeches, sermons or other teaching opportunities, they are offering evidence concerning who Jesus is. This evidence can be corroborated other eye-witnesses. In Luke 1:2, the author claims to have done this already, confirming the events of his Gospel by eyewitnesses. That Luke himself is a part of the story after Acts 16 indicates that he is an eyewitness himself and can confirm the truth of his document.

This is an important historical point, since what accounts for evidence for a first century historian differs from that of a modern writer. As Keener points out, to call upon witnesses is common in other Greco-Roman histories. An eyewitness was the most important evidence a writer could give. Polybius, for example claimed that “sight is, according to Heracleitus, by far the truer; for eyes are surer witnesses than ears” (Hist. 12.27). As I suggested in a previous post, Luke can be both historical and theological, since the two are virtually the same in the literary world of the first century.

This commission to be the witnesses of the Messiah in Jerusalem is based on the activity of the Holy Spirit. They are verbally commissioned, but it will be the reception of the Holy Spirit which empowers them to preach and confirms the words of their preaching (through signs and miracles).

How does this theme of “witness” work out in the Book of Acts? How are the disciples witnesses for the Messiah? To what extent is “eye-witness” important in modern evangelism? (Or, is it?)

18 thoughts on “Acts 1:8 – “You Will Be My Witnesses”

  1. Apostle Peter, “the senior most among all apostles on many occasions” himself recognizes the authenticity of Pauline epistles. (2 Pet.3:15,16) I think that portion is enough to reject your accusations against the authenticity of Paul’s claims. Neither the early church (except some immoral Corinthians) and apostles, nor the church leaders come later rejected the authenticity of Paul’s writings.

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    • Thanks for the comment Jeby. I will assume you are responding to Matt Perri and not the original post (since I do not reject Peter or Paul). Perri is a semi-famous internet troll who hates Paul, it is best to ignore him since he cannot have a civil conversation.

      To play Devil’s Advocate, there is a growing majority in scholarship who would considered 2 Peter to be written by someone other than Peter in the second century, so the force of the evidence is less. I do think you are correct that virtually the entire Church accepted Paul as an authority very early on, and even the immoral Corinthians (as you called them!) considered Paul to be “their apostle.”

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  2. In biblical times eye witnesses were critically important (Long). Many of the rulings in court were dictated by the people who directly witnessed the events. Though the situation was different, Jesus’ disciples carried an equally important role. Their job was to be witnesses of what Jesus had done. “The missionary role of the disciples consists primarily in their proclamation of how God’s power and authority has been enacted” (Jipp 38). They were to go to the world and share what they had witnessed Jesus do. After the Pentecost in Acts 2, their role was extended. Since they were indwelled with the Holy Spirit, they were able to perform many signs and miracles. The disciples, then, further witnessed the work of God, because it is happening directly through them. By the works the Holy Spirit empowered them to do, the disciples could broaden their display of God’s power. Jesus’ command in verse 8 is very important, and the disciples lived out the calling well. However, I believe it is crucial to examine verse 7 as well, because it offers a reason for their work. Jesus states that, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority, but…” (Acts 1:7 emphasis added). The but is important in this section of scripture. Despite them not knowing, or rather because they do not know when Jesus will return, it is crucial that they witness of what He has done. Since they did not know the time when Jesus would come back to earth, they most likely had a drive to share His story with as many people as possible before His return. This gave them urgency in their mission. The same should be true for God’s followers today. Believers still do not know when Jesus will return, so their desire to share the wonders of God should be just as strong.

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    • Haley I really like the points you made about eye witnesses being important within court cases and how Jesus’ disciples played a similar role. The disciples has to keep telling others about Jesus and who better to do that than an eye witness. Eye witnesses are hard to argue with since if we were not at the event, we cannot say that they are incorrect because we did not see what happened. It also was the prime way that information was shared and spread back in those times. I also really like the point you made about how the disciples were able to further see the work of God through the miracles that He performed through them. It is a refreshing way of looking at the miracles done through the disciples. You also made an interesting point about how since the disciples did not know when Jesus was going to come back, they had to share the gospel with as many people as possible. This pushed them to share the gospel with as many people as possible as quickly as possible. This forced them to keep their motivation to share the gospel because they were unsure of when they would no longer be able to.

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    • Haley, I really liked how you compared the work of the disciples to the followers of Jesus today. The idea that the disciples walked with Jesus and did life with him gave them this drive to spread the gospel is something that I think readers today miss out on. They witnessed the miracles that Jesus performed and were eager to share it with the rest of their community. Jesus actually commands them to “be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The job or role of the disciples was to”witness and provide testimony to God’s powerful activity in raising Messiah Jesus from the dead and God’s out pouring of the Spirit” (Jipp 38). Like you mentioned, they did not know when Jesus would return and Christians today do not know that either. That means that this sense of urgency to spread the gospel should also be in the believers in today’s world. Often times, I think that believers have a hard time with the urgency aspect because they forget that Jesus could come at any point. Jesus commanded his disciples to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Believers today also have that same command, so I agree that their desire should be strong to spread the wonders of God.

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  3. According to Jipp, Acts 1:1-8 is connecting the plot with God’s promise to fulfill his promises to Israel (Jipp, 34). So, how does the them of witness apply to this? Having witnesses is crucial in Jesus’ story. Along with the Gospels; Acts is a huge part of Jesus story. So, the theme witness applies directly in the Book of Acts. I look at Acts 1:6 and this shows how the disciples were witnesses for Jesus. Acts 1:6 is about the ascension. This verse states, “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, at this time will you restore the kingdom of Israel?” This is something that needs an eyewitness. One reason is because, Jesus was speaking directly to people in this encounter (Jipp. 36). Having an eyewitness for an encounter with Jesus is extremely important in Scripture. This is one of the things that was spoken of earlier. I go back to Luke in this scenario. Luke wrote things down, but not everything. He also used eyewitnesses in his writings, because he did not record everything. Next, I do believe that I witnesses are extremely important in order to understand Scripture and God’s story. A lot of Scripture is eyewitnesses, so it is a history.
    So, as Juipp mentioned Acts is about connecting with God and the people. He illustrates the importance of eyewitnesses and how they are extremely influential in Scripture. I agree 100 percent with Jipp and I believe that they are a part of what makes Scripture so unique.

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  4. It is interesting to compare the accounts of Luke/Acts as eyewitnesses to the practices of the Pharisees oral tradition. Before Jesus came to earth and people were able to experience his ministry firsthand, the sagas of the Old Testament were heard and not seen. This means that the Jews had to believe what was being told to them by their religious leaders. As modern Bible students, we know that the Pharisees were often proclaiming ideas that were not completely accurate. We see this with respect to the Laws when they would put up theological fences or other small laws to protect them from breaking the major original law. This would mean that oral tradition might not have been the most accurate, which leads to the authenticity of eye witness accounts. Jipp references how Acts is the product of what Luke thought actually happened, not just a historical account ( Jipp 8). This backs up the claim that the disciples were eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. Luke 1:3-4 plainly states that Luke had been following the scene and intended to document his experiences so that Theophilus would be assured and confident in what he was taught. So although the eye witnesses were retelling the miracles and life of Christ ( Luke to Theophilus), their primary role was testify about God’s role in the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit ( Jipp 38).

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  5. To have witness of something is to have a personal observation or experience (Websters dictionary). To speak about a relationship with Jesus means that we have had an experience of that type of relationship. To speak about the Bible means we have witnessed the ways in which it relates to our lives now, we have observed these ways. In today’s world it is hard to just have witness, there has to be a proof or action behind what we are witnessing, otherwise the words we say as witness fall short, are not listened to. Many people in today’s world have a hard time with belief because their is no eye witness to Jesus, we are left to believe the eye witness written in the Bible. We have blind faith. A good example of this type of blind faith comes from the Old testament. Job was a man who endured many trials, he had never seen God but he trusted God’s promises and lived according to God’s leading.

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    • I really enjoyed reading your post and how proof is still a big part of Jesus’ story in the modern world. Witnesses were a big part of Jesus’ story because there wasn’t any other way for proof. Word of mouth was how the people would hear about things that’s why witnesses helped are so important to Jesus’ story. The book of Acts has many proofs that show the witnesses that Jesus is the Son of God. In the modern world there is a lot of debate about the existence of God and if he was real than where is your proof. In the modern world people will only believe it if they see it. This makes the Bible irrelevant to many because they can not see the proof but, the Bible is the proof that they need. John 3:16 is an important verse in the Bible that helps guide those who are new to Christianity because it assures them that “He gave his one and only son to die for our sins.” Teaching others that you must believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior even without the physical proof of Jesus because the physical proof is the Bible. I really enjoyed that you explain the different experiences between Jesus and reading the Bible. Jipp explains that the book of Acts connects the people with God and the importance of eyewitnesses that gave people the belief they needed to know that Jesus was the “Son of God.”

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  6. It is important to recognize the use of the word “witness” today. This word refers to someone fully witnessing an event before their eyes. Someone cannot stand before a jury in a court case and tell them details of a crime when they were not indeed at the scene of the crime. As believers with a personal relationship with Jesus, we are bound to witness Jesus working in our world throughout our lifetime. In Acts 2, Peter heals a lame man so that he can walk. People pass by and recognize him as a lame beggar, seeking alms from them. Those at the scene witnessed this man being healed or at least saw that once he could not walk and now he can. This is a perfect example of being an eyewitness to the workings of the Holy Spirit. This is something so powerful because by being a witness, your faith may strengthen and you can testify to those around you of Jesus’s works. Although we can witness the workings of Christ in our world today, it is impossible for us to have witnessed Jesus’s death and resurrection. Acts 1:22 says that the Apostles are to be “a witness to his resurrection.” It was so important that the Apostles be direct eye-witnesses to the events of Jesus so that they could confidently and accurately evangelize the gospel. This gives us confidence in Christ today, knowing that these people physically saw and witnessed Jesus Christ and all that He went through.

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    • “We can see now even more clearly why it is necessary to have twelve apostolic witnesses as the symbolic representation of the leaders of the restored Israel” (Jipp 41).

      “But they also must have knowledge of Jesus’s comings and goings starting with John’s baptism and extending until the resurrection, and so we will not be surprised to see the apostles narrating Jesus’s earthly ministry in their role as the Messiah’s witnesses” (Jipp 40).

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  7. The disciples are witnesses for the Messiah because they walked alongside him and learned from him up to the time of his death. After the Pentecost, they are able to do miraculous things through the Holy Spirit so that people saw the acts and then it gave the disciples a platform to talk about the gospel and what they learned following Jesus around. “The missionary role of the disciples consists primarily in their proclamation of how God’s power and authority has been enacted” (Jipp 38). They are no longer just following Jesus around and watching him. Now they are responsible for going out into the world and telling the world all about the Messiah and what he accomplished and is still accomplishing through them.

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  8. I think a great point is that an eye witness is the most important evidence that can be given. Chris, I would also agree with you to that point, as well as the point that God is fulfilling his promise to Israel. They are told to wait for the promise (Jipp 35). Acts 1:8 mentions that the disciples will indeed be witnesses, but I think the important part of that lies in the beginning of the verse where Jesus that before they carry this out, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. So, I believe that they them spreading the gospel and being witnesses might have looked different if they would have attempted to do so without the Holy Spirit. I think that this relates well to another point that you made that, which is that they were able to do what they did because of what was happening directly through them. Being indwelled with the Holy Spirit, as a witness giving an account on the works seen through the disciples is important. It is first hand that they are witness the power of God. I think that we can also witness to others about what God has done in our lives. We may not be doing miracles in the same manner that the disciples were, but we still have something to offer as believers. I think that our lives are reflections of God’s power. People will question your theology, but no one can question your life experiences and what you have been through. Our testimonies are us acknowledging and witnessing the goodness of God.

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  9. The witnesses in the book of Acts serve as examples of Jesus’ work on earth. The witnesses display in themselves the change that Jesus has brought to the earth. This change for the disciples came as a result of seeing and hearing Jesus in person. They were not only witnesses of the change that the Holy Spirit brings but also that of the very ministry of Jesus. This is why the disciples are the original witnesses. They witnessed first-hand the work of Christ and the dramatic change He brought to the world. However, not all apostles were disciples. Paul for example never closely followed Christ and His ministry. Rather, he witnessed Christ’s power in a much different way from the rest of the apostles (Acts 9). In the same way, we are all “witnesses” of Christ in our own lives; though having witnessed Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, because we are also witnesses of Christ’s work, we are also under the direction of the great commission. While we were not there to see Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension as eye-witnesses, we are still required to view the mission Jesus gave the disciples as our own mission. Furthermore, the importance of being an eye-witness diminishes, since all who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit. Just as the disciples, we are required to be Christ’s witnesses; giving testimony to Jesus’ work on earth and the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

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  10. Why did Jesus have to prove anything? We read throughout the gospels all he incredible miracles that he performed, but yet he needed to prove that he was able to be raised from the dead? Did everyone already forget about him per-defeating death when he raised Lazarus from the dead. The proof of power Christ had over death was used when Lazarus was confirmed dead. ” Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.'” (John 11:14-15). Jesus rising from the dead was is something that needed no proof because of the witnessing that had taken place, but yet he still gave it. I feel that at time we have a stronger faith at times then most did back then when they were seeing things with their very own eyes. We live in a time that having faith is believing and that we need no visual proof of Christ doing what we already know he did for us. Peter shares that even though Jesus shared all his miracles and words of wisdom from God he was still killed. This was all God’s plan all along and it set him up for the ultimate comeback story. We live in a world that has the word of God and it is by our obedience of that word that we see that God has given us all the proof we need in our everyday walk with him.

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  11. It is really fascinating how back then eye witnesses were crucial to a court case. They are still important today but the human brain has been studied how our eyes sometimes see the things we want them too or how we can miss things. Also there are multiple times in the Bible when people are falsely accused and all they have against them is an eye witness that the high priest planned against them, an example of these is the trial of Stephen. But when it comes to the multiple books of the Bible even though many people today would discredit the eye witnesses I would say they are correct in what they said happened. Many of the claim the same stories just from different perspectives which would make sense being different people. Also it speaks in the Bible about hundreds of witnesses to the miracles of Jesus, it is easier for one person to lie then it is for 500 people to lie.

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