The motley crew of disciples gathered just outside of Jerusalem around their leader. He had been killed forty-three days earlier. To their shocked delight He had walked out of His tomb the third day after His burial. Now they anticipated the fulfillment of the ancient expectations prophecy placed on the Jewish Messiah. They inquired, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He seemed to deflect their question by reminding them that the Father does not always tell His children the schedule of events that He has set by His authority. He then spoke a sentence that became renowned to His followers for the next two thousand years: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8).
Most of us are familiar with the scene, yet many miss the fact that Jesus did answer the disciples’ question with His incredible prophecy (v. 8). He was saying, “Yes, the time for the expansion of My kingdom has come, but not as you imagine. You will be supernaturally empowered to build My kingdom to the end of the earth.” Jesus assumed the role of the prophet, telling them how He would powerfully build His kingdom through them. He revealed to them what would take place in the centuries to come.
This prophetic vision was overpowering for two reasons. First, the task was daunting. Jerusalem was the city where Jesus had been crucified. Samaria was the hated city of unclean, untouchable, half-breeds. Athens and Rome (the ends of the earth) were the epitomical centers of secular education and power. Second, the prophecy was overpowering because these were not men of wealth, education, position, or power. Jesus always calls His people to tasks that are far beyond their means. He walks out ten feet farther than we can jump and says, “Jump.” We reply, “That distance is too great for us.” The resurrection and power of Jesus are not proven when the church achieves the ordinary. That is why the disciples were commanded to wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit before they began their extraordinary mission.
Jesus prophesied that His kingdom would expand without regard to cultural, racial, economic, or national barriers. The disciples were no more eager to take the gospel to Samaria than Jonah was to take God’s word to Nineveh. These were the same men who wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans just a few months earlier (Luke 9:54). In His kingdom such barriers would be eradicated, and Jews and Samaritans would love one another. The Gentiles of Athens and Rome were considered “dogs” to the Jews. The Jews were regarded as self-righteous and arrogant by the world around them. Jesus’ words declared that under the cross Gentiles and Jews would embrace one another.
Paul, the ultimate Jew, the Pharisee of Pharisees, lived to see a church where those great dividing walls had been torn down. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). There was no place in his world except the church where Gentiles, Jews, educated, uneducated, slaves, slave owners, rich, and poor sat together in love with deep regard for each other. I too love the diversity that is displayed every Sunday in local churches. That demonstration of unity among diverse people proves the power of Jesus to destroy prejudice and hatred and replace it with respect and love.
Jesus prophesied His kingdom would expand, even invading hostile national boundaries. The authority and power of Jesus supersedes all other authority and power. Can you imagine Paul saying to Jesus: “We can’t go to Rome, for Caesar won’t allow us there”? Jesus sent His disciples into Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Amin’s Uganda. They were arrested, jailed, tortured, and killed. But His kingdom grew in those nations even at the height of their cruel opposition.
The prophecy Jesus spoke to that unlikely band is the prophecy He still speaks to us: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Are you discouraged by the post-Christian culture in which we live? I am. But His prophecy still drives me. Our society in the guise of being humanitarian has killed forty million babies as they rested in the womb of their mothers. Sexual perversion is celebrated and honored. Biblical principles are the scorn of the university and media elite. But I go back and stand with that ragtag group outside of Jerusalem. The world around them was even more intimidating. Yet, He fulfilled His prophecy through their efforts, feeble as they were. Will we be arrested? Will we be vilified? Will we suffer humiliation and derision? Will we be forbidden to speak in His name? Will we be jailed? Will we be killed for His name? I don’t know. But this I do know: The gates of hell will not prevail against the advancement of His kingdom.