“You Will Be Witnesses of Me”
How Jesus prepared his apostles to spearhead the preaching work
Based on Acts 1:1-26
THEY do not want it to end. To the apostles, the past weeks have been thrilling! The resurrection of Jesus lifted them from the depths of despair to the heights of joy. For 40 days now, Jesus has appeared repeatedly, further teaching and encouraging his followers. This day, however, he is appearing for the last time.
2 Standing together on the Mount of Olives, the apostles hang on Jesus’ every word. When he finishes—all too soon, it seems—he lifts his hands and blesses them. Then, he begins to rise from the earth! His followers gaze after him as he ascends into the sky. Finally, a cloud hides him from their view. He is gone, but they keep staring into the heavens.—Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9, 10.
3 This scene marks a turning point in the life of Jesus’ apostles. What will they do now that their Master, Jesus Christ, has ascended to heaven? Rest assured, their Master has prepared them to take up the work he began. How did he equip them for this important assignment, and how did they respond? And how are Christians today affected? The first chapter of Acts contains the encouraging answers.
“Many Positive Proofs” (Acts 1:1-5)
4 Luke begins his account by addressing Theophilus, the same man to whom he earlier wrote his Gospel.* Making it clear that this record is a continuation of the first, Luke begins by summarizing the events recorded at the end of his Gospel, using different wording and providing some fresh detail.
5 What will keep the faith of Jesus’ followers strong? At Acts 1:3, we read: “By many positive proofs [Jesus] showed himself alive.” In the Bible, only “the beloved physician” Luke used the word rendered “positive proofs.” (Col. 4:14) It was a term used in technical medical writings, and it signifies evidence that is demonstrative, conclusive, reliable. Jesus furnished such evidence. He appeared to his followers many times, sometimes to one or two, sometimes to all the apostles, and on one occasion to more than 500 believers. (1 Cor. 15:3-6) Positive proofs indeed!
6 The faith of true Christians today is likewise based on “many positive proofs.” Is there evidence that Jesus lived on earth, died for our sins, and was raised up? Absolutely! Reliable eyewitness accounts in God’s inspired Word provide all the convincing evidence we need. Studying these accounts prayerfully can greatly strengthen our faith. Remember, solid evidence can make the difference between genuine faith and mere credulity. Real faith is essential to gaining everlasting life.—John 3:16.
7 Jesus was also “telling the things about the kingdom of God.” For example, he explained prophecies that showed that the Messiah would have to suffer and die. (Luke 24:13-32, 46, 47) When Jesus clarified his role as the Messiah, he stressed the theme of God’s Kingdom, for he was King-Designate. The Kingdom was always the theme of Jesus’ preaching, and his followers today stick to the same theme as they preach.—Matt. 24:14; Luke 4:43.
“To the Most Distant Part of the Earth” (Acts 1:6-12)
8 When the apostles gathered on the Mount of Olives, they had their last meeting with Jesus on earth. Eagerly, they asked: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6) In this one question, the apostles revealed two faulty ideas that they were entertaining. First, they assumed that God’s Kingdom would be restored to fleshly Israel. Second, they expected the promised Kingdom to begin its rule right away, “at this time.” How did Jesus help them to adjust their thinking?
9 Jesus likely knew that the first notion would be corrected soon enough. In fact, his followers were about to witness the birth of a new nation, spiritual Israel, just ten days later! God’s dealings with fleshly Israel were almost at an end. As to the second idea, Jesus kindly reminded them: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:7) Jehovah is the Great Timekeeper. Before Jesus died, he himself said that even the Son did not then know the “day and hour” when the end would come but “only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36) To this day, if Christians become unduly concerned about the timing of the end of this system of things, they are, in effect, worrying about what does not belong to them.
10 Still, we should be careful not to look down on Jesus’ apostles, who were men of great faith. They humbly accepted correction. What is more, although their question sprang from faulty thinking, it also revealed a good attitude. Jesus had repeatedly urged his followers: “Keep on the watch.” (Matt. 24:42; 25:13; 26:41) They were spiritually alert, eagerly watching for evidence that Jehovah was about to act. That is the attitude we need to cultivate today. In fact, these climactic “last days” make it ever more urgent that we do so.—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
11 Jesus reminded the apostles of what should be their main concern. He said: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In Jerusalem, where people had put Jesus to death, the news of his resurrection would be proclaimed first. From there, the message would radiate outward into all of Judea, then to Samaria, then far beyond.
12 Fittingly, Jesus mentioned the preaching commission only after renewing his promise to send the holy spirit to help them. This is one of more than 40 times that the expression “holy spirit” occurs in the book of Acts. Again and again, this vivid Bible book makes it clear that we cannot accomplish Jehovah’s will without the aid of holy spirit. How important it is, then, that we pray for that spirit regularly! (Luke 11:13) We need it now more than ever.
13 The meaning of what constitutes “the most distant part of the earth” has changed since those days. As noted in the preceding chapter, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses have wholeheartedly accepted this assignment to witness, knowing that God wants all sorts of people to hear the good news of his Kingdom. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) Are you immersed in this lifesaving work? You will not be able to find a more fulfilling, satisfying work anywhere! Jehovah will give you the power you need to do it. The book of Acts will tell you much about the right methods to use and the attitude to develop in order to be effective.
14 As mentioned at the outset of this chapter, Jesus rose from the earth and disappeared from view. Yet, the 11 apostles kept standing there, looking into the sky. Finally, two angels appeared and offered this gentle rebuke: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky.” (Acts 1:11) Did the angels mean that Jesus would return in the same body, as some religionists teach? No, they did not. How do we know?
15 The angels said that Jesus would return, not in the same form, but “in the same manner.”* In what manner did he depart? He was out of sight when the angels spoke. Only those few men, the apostles, perceived that Jesus had left the vicinity of the earth and was on his way to his Father in heaven. The manner of Christ’s return was to be similar. So it has been. Today, only those with spiritual discernment realize that Jesus is present in kingly power. (Luke 17:20) We need to discern the evidence of his presence and convey it to others so that they too may see the urgency of our times.
“Designate Which One . . . You Have Chosen” (Acts 1:13-26)
16 It is little wonder that the apostles “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Luke 24:52) How, though, would they respond to Christ’s guidance and instruction? In verses 13 and 14 of Acts chapter 1, we find them gathered in an “upper chamber,” and we learn some interesting details about such gatherings. Houses in Palestine at that time often had an upstairs chamber, accessible by an outside stairway. Might this “upper chamber” have been atop the house mentioned at Acts 12:12, which belonged to the mother of Mark? At any rate, it was likely a simple, functional place for Christ’s followers to gather. But who gathered, and what did they do?
17 Notice that the gathering was not limited to the apostles, nor just to men. “Some women” were there, including Jesus’ mother, Mary. This is the last direct mention of her in the Bible. It is fitting to think of her in that setting, not seeking prominence, but humbly gathering to worship with her spiritual brothers and sisters. It must have been a comfort to her that her four other sons, who had not been believers during Jesus’ lifetime, were now with her. (Matt. 13:55; John 7:5) Since their half brother’s death and resurrection, they were changed men.—1 Cor. 15:7.
18 Note, too, why these disciples gathered: “With one accord all these were persisting in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) Gathering together has always been essential to Christian worship. We gather to encourage one another, to receive instruction and counsel and, above all, to join in worship of our heavenly Father, Jehovah. Our prayers and songs of praise at such times are very pleasing to him and vital for us. May we never forsake these sacred and upbuilding gatherings!—Heb. 10:24, 25.
19 Those followers of Christ now faced an important organizational need, and the apostle Peter took the lead in addressing it. (Verses 15-26) Is it not comforting to note how far Peter had come in the weeks since he had three times denied his Lord? (Mark 14:72) We are all prone to sin, and we need reminders that Jehovah is “good and ready to forgive” those who sincerely repent.—Ps. 86:5.
20 Peter perceived that Judas, the apostle who had betrayed Jesus, should be replaced. But by whom? Peter said that the new apostle should be one who had followed Jesus throughout His ministry and had witnessed His resurrection. (Acts 1:21, 22) That was in harmony with Jesus’ own promise: “You who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28) Jehovah evidently purposed to have 12 apostles who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry form the future “twelve foundation stones” of New Jerusalem. (Rev. 21:2, 14) God thus allowed Peter to see that the prophecy, “his office of oversight let someone else take,” applied to Judas.—Ps. 109:8.
21 How was the selection made? By casting lots, a common practice in Bible times. (Prov. 16:33) However, this is the last time that the Bible shows lots being used in this way. Evidently, the later outpouring of holy spirit rendered that method obsolete. Note, though, why lots were used. The apostles prayed: “You, O Jehovah, who know the hearts of all, designate which one of these two men you have chosen.” (Acts 1:23, 24) They wanted the choice to be Jehovah’s. Matthias, likely one of the 70 disciples whom Jesus had sent out to preach, was chosen. Thus, Matthias became one of “the twelve.”*—Acts 6:2.
22 This incident reminds us of the importance of organization among God’s people. To this day, responsible men are selected to serve as overseers in the congregation. The elders carefully consider the Scriptural qualifications required of such overseers, and they pray for the guidance of holy spirit. The congregation thus views such men as appointed by holy spirit. For our part, we remain submissive and obedient to their lead, promoting a cooperative spirit in the congregation.—Heb. 13:17.
23 Now that those disciples had been strengthened by Jesus’ resurrection appearances and fortified by organizational refinements, they were fully prepared for what lay ahead. The next chapter will discuss that momentous event.
In his Gospel, Luke addresses this man as “most excellent Theophilus,” suggesting to some that Theophilus might have been a prominent person who was not yet a believer. Here in Acts, however, Luke addresses him simply with the words, “O Theophilus.” Some scholars suggest that Theophilus became a believer after reading Luke’s Gospel; hence, they say, Luke leaves out the honorific address and writes to the man as a spiritual brother.
Here the Bible uses the Greek word tro′pos, denoting “manner,” and not mor·phe′, meaning “form.”
Paul was later appointed to be “an apostle to the nations,” but he was never reckoned among the 12. (Rom. 11:13; 1 Cor. 15:4-8) He had not followed Jesus during His earthly ministry, so he did not qualify for that special privilege.
1-3. How does Jesus part from his apostles, and what questions arise?
4. How does Luke open his account recorded in the book of Acts?
5, 6. (a) What will help Jesus’ followers to keep their faith strong? (b) How is the faith of Christians today based on “many positive proofs”?
7. Jesus set what example for his followers in teaching and preaching?
8, 9. (a) What two faulty ideas were Jesus’ apostles entertaining? (b) How did Jesus adjust the apostles’ thinking, providing what lesson for Christians today?
10. What attitude of the apostles should we cultivate, and why?
11, 12. (a) Jesus gave his followers what commission? (b) Why was it fitting for Jesus to mention the holy spirit in connection with the commission to preach?
13. How extensive is the preaching assignment given to God’s people today, and why should we embrace it eagerly?
14, 15. (a) What did the angels say about Christ’s return, and what did they mean? (See also footnote.) (b) How did Christ’s return prove to be “in the same manner” as his departure?
16-18. (a) From Acts 1:13, 14, what do we learn about Christian gatherings for worship? (b) What can we learn from the example set by Jesus’ mother, Mary? (c) Why are Christian meetings vital today?
19-21. (a) What do we learn from the active role that Peter played in the congregation? (b) Why did Judas need to be replaced, and what can we learn from the way the matter was handled?
22, 23. Why should we be submissive and obedient to those taking the lead in the congregation today?
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We remain submissive and obedient to the lead of appointed overseers