In the opening verses of Acts, Luke records Jesus giving his last instructions to the apostles before His ascension. Within this dialogue, we see Jesus tell the apostles to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8b). This verse is seen on bulletin boards, memorized among Sunday schoolers, and quoted in sermons across the brotherhood. Although this verse is widely known and commonly used, the precise language used by the Lord is much more profound than we may recognize.
What many do not know is that this single statement found in the opening verses of Acts is used by Luke to outline the book of Acts. In Acts 2:1-7:60 we see the apostles witnessing in Jerusalem. In Acts 8:1-4, we see the apostles witnessing in Judea. In Acts, 8:5-25 we see the apostles witnessing in Samaria. We see the apostles witnessing to ‘the remotest part of the earth’ for the remainder of the book.
There are two elements to be seen by the reader in Acts 1:8b. The first element to be noticed is the command; be My witness. The second element to be noticed is the specification on how to witness; in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the rest of the world. There are lessons to be learned from each of these elements.
When looking at the command in this verse, New Testament Christians should understand that witnessing is still necessary and commanded by God. Although Christians today are not eyewitnesses like the apostles in this specific context, all New Testament Christians have witnessed the love and grace of Christ to the point of being baptized. New Testament Christians should not have to ‘have their arm twisted’ to witness. Rather, when Christians experience the blessings of being in Christ, telling others about those blessings and the God they come from should be desired.
When looking at the second element of this verse, Christ’s precise language shouldn’t be overlooked. Jesus specifies the order that the witnessing is supposed to take place as far as geography. Jesus first wants the disciples to witness in Jerusalem, which was their current location. After Jerusalem, the apostles were supposed to go to Judea, which was the region surrounding Jerusalem. After Judea, they were to witness in the neighboring region of Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.
In no way is taking mission trips to foreign counties a bad thing. However, Christians often desire to support and travel to foreign missions to the neglect of their current location. The church shouldn’t forget the principle shared by Jesus in this verse: people need help where you are, help them, then move outwards. People need help where we are, in our ‘Jerusalem.’ Going to the uttermost parts of the earth is not wrong, but neglecting our Jerusalem is.
- Nate Miller