“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NKJV)
These are final words spoken by Jesus to His apostles before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). He uses two “you shall” statements that distinguish the apostles from every other disciple of Jesus. Understanding them eliminates many false concepts about the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and what it means to be witnesses of Jesus. First, Jesus told His apostles “you shall receive power.” Then, He told them when it would happen – “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” This Holy Spirit baptism was a specific promise made to the apostles, not to every Christian (Acts 1:4-5; Jno. 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). It would be fulfilled “not many days from now,” and ten days later on Pentecost, it was (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, 33). Holy Spirit baptism would equip the apostles for their assigned work, which is the second “you shall” statement. Jesus told His apostles “you shall be witnesses to Me.” Witnesses testify of what they have seen (Jno. 3:11). The apostles were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. They saw Him raised from the dead (Acts 1:22; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-42; 26:16; 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Christians do not “bear witness” of Jesus because we have not seen Him. They did, and we believe their testimony. Christ gave His church apostles “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Let us thank Christ for the apostles, not be led astray by false doctrines that would usurp their power and work.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21–23, NKJV)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). According to John’s account of this assignment, Jesus sent them into the world even as the Father had sent Him (Jno. 17:18; Heb. 3:1). The Father gave the Son the word of everlasting life to speak (Jno. 12:48-50). His apostles, who were sent into the world with the good news of God’s salvation, were guided by the Holy Spirit “into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). The word which the Holy Spirit revealed to them contained why, how, and when sins are forgiven and retained. The forgiveness and the retention of sins is not arbitrary, but available to all (Acts 10:34-35). A freewill decision to believe and obey must be made upon hearing the good news that Jesus is Christ. Those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins are forgiven (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19). Those who do not believe and obey the gospel call to be saved remain lost in their sins. The gospel saves the lost, yet, many will not believe it and obey it, therefore, their sins are retained. The decision to believe and obey the gospel to be forgiven continues to be the most important decision a person will ever make (Acts 2:21, 37-38, 40-41). Will your sins be forgiven, or retained?
21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21–22, NKJV)
Jesus spoke these words to His twelve apostles before sending them out to preach “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6-7). After His resurrection, He would send them into all the world to preach His gospel (Mk. 16:15). Jesus was preparing them for the resistance they would face because of their faith in Him and their work for Him. The gospel produced harsh reactions from faithless family and friends as well as strangers in the first century. (It still does.) Their lives would be endangered and embroiled in controversy. Jesus exhorted them to endure the hatred and persecutions “to the end” to be saved. This helps us understand what Jesus went on to say, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, 35-36). Many react to the truth of the gospel with hostility, including family members. Just as He called the apostles to endure, He calls us to love Him more, follow His truth first, deny ourselves, and always fear God rather than people (Matt. 10:37-39, 28). When we choose family (or ourselves) over the truth of the gospel we are no longer worthy of Christ. We will lose our life, not save it (Matt. 10:37-39).
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1, NKJV)
In the Roman Catholic Church, an imprimatur is “a license granted by a bishop certifying the Church’s approval of a book to be published” (thefreedictionary.com). The word is more generally used to denote “a mark of approval or distinction” (merriam-webster.com). No such ecclesiastical certification is issued by the church of Christ in the New Testament. Today’s verse affirms our conduct must imitate the apostles of Christ to the extent they also imitate (mimic) Christ. Some scoff at binding apostolic approved examples today. “Where is your apostle badge?” is sarcastically asked when an appeal is made to apostolic examples to authorize practices. The apostles not only left us their inspired words, they also left us examples to follow. Jesus said, “He who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Jno. 13:20). Their examples help us pattern our conduct after the will of Christ. By following their examples we are assured of the Lord’s favor (Phil. 3:17). How can one possibly think the Lord is pleased by refusing to follow the apostles’ examples (that imitate Christ)? “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9). The “imprimatur” of heaven is the apostolic doctrine, taught by their words and their examples. We ought to follow their examples because they have heaven’s approval (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:4, 9).
41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:41–42, NKJV)
The apostles had just been beaten and threatened for preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:40). One would think they would go underground to avoid further pain and threats of death. But, astonishingly, they continued daily to teach and preach, both publicly and privately. Their faith in Christ was greater than their fear of men. The apostle Paul vividly portrays the suffering of the apostles when he said, “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Cor. 4:11–13). Later, Peter would exhort us to have courage to gladly accept suffering as a Christian: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:16). Like the apostles, we must “not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” – regardless of the reactions of those who refuse to believe in the power and authority of Jesus Christ to save.
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him. (Luke 5:9–11, NKJV)
The carpenter told the fishermen where to cast their nets to catch fish. Like Peter, when the Master speaks, those who trust the Lord will follow His word. The miraculous catch of fish they hauled to shore prompted Peter to confess his sins to the Lord (Lk. 5:4-8). The fishermen were astonished and afraid, but Jesus eased their fears by assuring them of even greater catches to come. Peter, James, and John soon would be catching souls. The gospel these future apostles preached continues to capture lost souls by convicting sinners and converting them to Christ (Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:46-48). These men set us a worthy example of immediate conviction, uncompromising priority, and sacrifice of faith in order to serve Jesus. When Jesus speaks, we must forsake all and follow Him (Lk. 14:33; 9:23).
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2, NKJV)
Traditions hold a place of value in our lives. They distinguish families, enclaves, nations, and religions. The Bible discusses traditions we are to hold fast as the teachings and practices handed down to us by the apostles (2 Thess. 2:15). It is praiseworthy when Christians keep the apostolic traditions because they came from God by revelation and were transmitted by inspiration (Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Christians who refuse to live according to the truth the apostles taught are “walking disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6). Note how Paul commended the Corinthians because they kept the apostolic traditions “just as I delivered them to you.” They were not at liberty to change what the apostles taught and practiced to suit themselves. Indeed, they apostles taught the same truth “everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). Commit yourself to keeping the apostles’ traditions. They are the traditions that have eternal value.