What now: witnesses

Luke-upper-roomPointing to the life in the Early Church. Since these disciples are to continue Jesus’ ministry, perhaps it is not surprising that they are to proclaim the salvific message “in his name.” In fact, what is done in the “name” of Jesus surfaces as an important motif in Acts. Luke will portray a community very much oriented around Jesus (1:1, 21–22)—with salvation offered to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (= Jesus; cf. 2:21, 36), and people directed to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (2:38), appropriating the blessings available through and signaling their allegiance to him. Subsequently in Acts Christians heal (3:6, 16; 4:10, 30; 19:13), preach (4:12; 5:28, 40), and are baptized (8:16; 10:48; 19:5) in the name of Jesus; suffer for his name (5:41; 9:16; 21:13); and are those “who call upon the name” of Jesus (9:14, 21; 22:16). The mission role of the disciples is summarized in the words, “You are witnesses of these things.”

Jesus’ last statement to the disciples is an assurance that he will send “the promise of my Father” upon them and that they will be “clothed with power from on high” (v. 49). The assurance is notable for its ambiguity; it does not explicitly refer to the Holy Spirit. This part of the commission to the disciples will be repeated almost verbatim in Acts 1:4, but there it is followed by a clarifying comment: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).

The language of sending recurs frequently in Luke, almost in a Johannine sense. Jesus himself was sent (4:18, 43; 9:48; 10:16), and he sent the disciples (9:2, 52; 10:1, 3; 22:35). Now he promises to send what the Father promised (cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26). There is no previous reference to “the promise of the Father” in Luke, but various references to the Spirit, especially at the beginning of the Gospel (cf. 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25–26; 3:16, 22; 4:1; 10:21). The closest antecedent to Jesus’ assurance in v. 49 is the earlier assurance, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (11:13).

The metaphor of being clothed was used in early baptismal contexts (Gal 3:27; cf. 1 Cor 15:53–54; Eph 4:24; 6:11, 14; Col 3:10–12). “Power” (dynamis) has attended Jesus’ work throughout the Gospel (1:35; 4:14, 36; 5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 19:37). The Son of Man will be seated “at the right hand of the power of God” (22:69) and come again with power and glory (21:27), but now the risen Lord promises to confer that power on the disciples (cf. 9:1). The conferring of the Spirit from on high will also fulfill the Scriptures (see Isa 32:15; Joel 2:28). There will be plenty of work for the disciples to do, but for now their instructions are to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises.

A Final Reflection. Only the risen Christ Himself was able to conquer the fear, bewilderment and doubt of his disciples and to prepare them to enter the world as witnesses of the good news. Even today it is only the risen Savior Himself who can banish all fear from our hearts, and give us the inward rest and peace to enable us to be living witnesses of Jesus. And all the spiritual equipment that we need, He gives us through the Spirit, already given to his church on that first Pentecost and to every believer in the sacraments and in prayer. We possess the divine strength for the task to which we have been called.

Sources

Commentaries

  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 979-80
  • Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament ed. Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997) 851-59
  • Allen Culpepper Luke, vol. 9 in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1995) 484-88
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 available at http://www.usccb.org/bible

 

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