“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”– Luke 24:49
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”– Acts 1:8
The book of Acts is the missionary account of the early church. As has often been recognized, it is not so much the Acts of the Apostles as it is the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. In fact, even the most cursory reading of the book demonstrates that the work of missions is the work of the Spirit.1 Those who would participate in the Great Commission must be filled, empowered, and led of the Spirit.
One of the greatest travesties of this generation is the neglect and even fear of the Holy Spirit. This is the result of the many heresies that have been taught regarding His person, work, and manifestations. Countless false teachings, which contradict the very Scriptures that the Spirit inspired, have been proclaimed in the Spirit’s name. Extravagant displays of the flesh, emotionalism, fanaticism, and behavior that is not fitting for the saints have been wrongly attributed to the Holy Spirit, even though they contradict the fruit that the Spirit promised in His Word to bear.2 Finally, the most foolish and harmful endeavors have been initiated, justified, and promoted by those who claim to have been led by the Spirit.
All these things and countless others have influenced many saints to be so cautious with regard to the Spirit that His person and power are rarely mentioned among them. However, if we are to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, we must regain what has been lost. Without falling prey to the heresies and false practices that abound, we must once again recognize the absolute essentiality of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the work of missions. In this article and those that follow we will consider the work of the Spirit in the Great Commission by considering His work in the life of the Apostles and the early church. In this article, we will look at the Apostles from three different perspectives: Before the Resurrection, after the Resurrection, and after the Day of Pentecost.
The Apostles before the Resurrection
Out of our abundant admiration for the Apostles, we have a tendency to set them on a pedestal and see them as more than mere men. This makes it difficult for us to identify with them or to see the true source of their life and power. However, when we consider their lives prior to the resurrection, it becomes clear that they were men with a nature like ours and subject to similar passions.3
Prior to the resurrection, Jesus often rebuked the Apostles for their hardness of heart and unbelief. They were men of little faith,4 they argued about who among them was the greatest,5 and in their self-righteousness and prejudice, they sought to call down fire from heaven upon their enemies.6 Once, Jesus even referred to them as a stumbling block because they had not set their mind on God’s interest, but on man’s.7 Finally, at the crucifixion they all abandoned the Lord, and Peter even denied Him before a little servant girl.8 All in all, prior to the resurrection, the Apostles were not great men of valor, virtue, or insight but in the very words of Jesus they were, ‘”Foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets had spoken.”9
The Apostles after the Resurrection
Although the reality of the resurrection had an obvious impact on the disciples’ lives, they were still a mixture of obedience, reverence, and unbelief. This is clearly seen in the verses immediately preceding Matthew’s account of the Great Commission:
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.”10
In this text, the Apostles’ obedience is seen in the fact that they proceeded to the place that Christ had designated for them. Their reverence is evidenced by the fact that when they saw Christ they worshipped Him.11 However, in the midst of their obedience and reverence, some of them were still “doubtful.”12 The word is translated from the Greek word distázo [dís = double + stasis = a standing], which denotes a double standing, a wavering, or an uncertainty. It is the same word used of Peter when he began to doubt while walking upon the sea.13 Thus, even after the resurrection, the Apostles were still not the men that we know them to be from the Book of Acts. They were not the kind of men who could upset the world.14
The Apostles after the Day of Pentecost
The Day of Pentecost represented the great turning point in the lives and ministries of the Apostles. It was on that day that they were empowered and emboldened to take on the world and to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the earth. At Pentecost, we no longer see the doubt and timidity that had marked the Apostles from the very beginning, but we witness in them the very thing that Jesus had promised:
“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”15
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”16
The word “clothed” is translated from the Greek verb endúo. In the passive voice, it means to be endued with, clothed in, or arrayed in. On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostles were literally clothed with or arrayed in God’s power, which enabled them to advance Christ’s cause through the Great Commission. The resurrection was a great vindication or demonstration of Christ’s claims. Yet, even this great event could not produce the needed results in the hearts of the Apostles apart from a supernatural work of the Spirit. The greatest knowledge and the highest degree of certainty regarding the Christian faith is not enough to propel a universal missionary endeavor. They needed the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Do we not need the same?
In the next article, we will consider the Day of Pentecost as a unique event in history that has powerful implications for all believers throughout every generation of the church. However, before we move on, we would do well to ask ourselves the following important questions: First, would we describe our life and ministry as endued with power, clothed with power, or arrayed in power? Secondly, can we say with the Apostle Paul that we labor according to the power of God, which mightily works within us?17 Thirdly and lastly, is it evident that our message and preaching are not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power?18 If these questions reveal that we are lacking or even bereft of the Spirit’s power, then a greater understanding of the Day of Pentecost is absolutely crucial.
- There are fifty-seven references to the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.
- Galatians 5:22-23
- James 4:17
- Matthew 16:8
- Mark 9:33
- Luke 9:54
- Matthew 16:23
- Matthew 26:56; 69-75
- Luke 24:25
- Matthew 28:16-17
- The word “worship” comes from the Greek word proskunéo, which is used in the New Testament to denote worship to God alone.
- They were battling in their minds over what they were seeing. Was it really Him? This is understandable in light of all they were being asked to believe, and the cost that such faith would require of them.
- Matthew 14:31
- Acts 17:6
- Luke 24:49
- Acts 1:8
- Colossians 1:29
- 1 Corinthians 2:4
Paul serves as the HeartCry Coordinator in Western Europe. He is currently overseeing our missionaries in Italy, Spain, and France. He is also the founder and director of the HeartCry Missionary Society. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer