Ascension: “You Will Be My Witnesses!”

He is Risen! The Lord Jesus now prepares to depart, to return to His Throne in Glory, and in this section of the Acts of the Apostles He is giving His farewell instruction to the Apostles. He has, on several different occasions, spoken to them about the Holy Spirit, but what that means to them is still not clear, and will not be clear until Pentecost! They, of course, are eager to see Him do what they thought the Messiah was going to do, i.e., raise up a triumphant army, kick out the Romans, and re-establish the Kingdom of David, with Jesus ruling as the triumphant king (and John and James sitting next to Him). This was the common Jewish expectation of what the Messiah was intended to accomplish. In point of fact, some contemporary Jewish responses to Jesus today involves rejecting His claim to be the Messiah precisely because He did not do what the Messiah was expected to do, i.e. He did not “raise up the fallen hut of David,” etc., etc. But the Lord Jesus simply dismisses that approach with a somewhat blunt ‘none of your business’ kind of comment, because He is about to invite them into building the Kingdom in a way that far transcends their limited understanding of His role as Messiah. He refocuses the conversation on them, and what is about to happen to them, and what will be the consequences of it all.

“You will receive power,” He promises them. They had already experienced some power, as when He sent them out two by two and they came back from that mission marveling that even the demons were subject to them when they used His Name, but that was only a small taste of what they would receive on Pentecost. The Greek word for power that Luke uses is dunamis, which is the same word from which we get “dynamite.” It is an appropriate derivation, because this word in Greek is a high-powered word, denoting miracles, strength, visible displays of might, etc. It is not a word that denotes subtlety or hiddenness; it is about the visible manifestation of the power of God.

The consequence of the reception of this power is that they will then be His witnesses. The use of the word “will” here is very crucial. In Greek, there are different grammatical moods that are expressed by the verb forms. For example, if this statement had been in the optative mood, it would have been translated as “I wish you would be My witnesses”; or in the subjunctive mood: “You may be My witnesses.” But Luke places the verb in the indicative mood, which means that “you will be My witnesses” must be understood as an absolute statement of fact—not a wish, not a hope, but an actuality. There is no ambiguity in the Greek concerning the fact that all of those who receive that power from on high are then, necessarily, witnesses, witnesses to the Lord Jesus Himself and especially witnesses to His Resurrection.   The consequence for the disciple of having received His power is that it constitutes and empowers us to be witnesses for Him. This is the fundamental purpose of Pentecost.

As we celebrate His Ascension, now is a good time to examine our lives and ask ourselves, as intentional disciples of the Lord Jesus, how are we utilizing the power He gives us to be His witnesses? We can be witnesses in many different ways. One of the ways in particular that we can take advantage of what the Lord Jesus is doing in our parish is to take advantage of the upcoming Alpha course. Simply inviting someone to attend can be a very low-key, non-threatening way that we can witness to those in our lives, but if they take us up on the invitation, this can be a real life-changing event for them. Let us pray that we will use the power we have been given to truly be His witnesses, that the wondrous gift of new life in the Lord Jesus that we have received would be shared by all those we care for!  He is Risen! – Fr. Ed