One Passage, Two Views
“…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
Acts 1:8 is familiar to many Christians as a verse about missions. We see that Christians will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to every unreached people group. However, Christians often use this passage as a reason to not do mission work. This should concern or confuse us. How can a command by Jesus to take the Gospel to the entire world be used to excuse us from missions? The answer to this question is found in the way that Christians interpret the verse.
Let’s look at the two different ways that this verse can be interpreted and look closer at these views to measure the truth and validity of each:
View One: A Literal Look
This view takes a literal look at the verse. When Jesus says “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” He means the literal city of Jerusalem, the actual regions of Judea and Samaria, and the literal ends of the earth. In this view, we do not know from this verse if it is meant to be fulfilled in any particular order.
View One Deconstructed
If we are to believe that Jesus was speaking of literal places in Acts 1:8, then the consequences are that the early church would have a very specific plan to follow in beginning to take the Gospel to others. Obviously, we know from the rest of the New Testament that Jerusalem was reached with the Gospel as well as Judea and Samaria. That would mean, then, that we are currently in the “ends of the earth” section of the command, not because any specific order is given here but because the first three parts of the command are already fulfilled.
View Two: A Personal Look
The view takes a personal look at the verse. Instead of Jesus meaning actual places, this view interprets Him as meaning “spheres of application.” This view says that Jesus meant to say, “You will be my witnesses, in your Jerusalem (your family or city,) your Judea and Samaria (your state and country,) and the ends of the earth. Once again, it is unclear in this interpretation if there is a specific order to the command.
View Two Deconstructed
If this view of Acts 1:8 is the correct interpretation, that means that every believer that will ever live should in fact bless their own local and regional areas and the ends of the earth as well. If Jesus in fact meant, “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, AND the ends of the earth,” then all Christians must impact each of those areas personally. No one is exempt from any of these personalized regions. You must, in this view, be witnesses in your Jerusalem, your Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. A cross cultural missionary must find a way to not only bless the unreached people group that he/she works among, they must at the same time be a witness to their local and regional areas back home. Here’s where View Two becomes difficult. Obviously, one can’t be in Algeria and Alabama at the same time, so to apply this verse to our lives as View Two would demand of us, we must find a way of putting an extra-Biblical (not found in scripture, but made up) order to the areas of outreach…one must happen first and then another, then another. This approach often is used by Christians to avoid moving out of their comfort zones to spread the Gospel of Christ. They will say, “I have to reach my family (my Jerusalem) before I can reach anyone else,” as if to say that every one of our relatives must first accept Jesus before we can minister to others. Often, this statement is really an excuse. If you were to ask those who say this if they are indeed preaching Christ to their family, most would not be able to say, “yes.”
AND not THEN
AND not THEN is a common mistake in reading this verse. Many believers will substitute the word “then” for the actual word “and” in Acts 1:8. The Greek word KAI is fairly specific in its meaning: And. Therefore, we cannot view this verse as saying, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, THEN Judea, THEN Samaria, and THEN the ends of the earth.” Instead the verse reads, “in Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” The followers of Jesus are supposed to be witnesses to each of these with no order given here.
Elsewhere, Jesus does clarify that the disciples are to start in Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47) So, the question still remains-“Does this mean that we reach out locally, then regionally, then in global mission, or does it mean that Jesus’ followers would be witnesses in the city of Jerusalem, the regions of Judea and Samaria, and the literal ends of the earth?”
The Interpretation of the Early Church
Well, we know that the disciples did not take a View Two approach to this command. They started with Jerusalem instead of their own home region of Galilee. We see in their actions that they weren’t starting in THEIR Jerusalem, but in the literal Jerusalem. As we follow the early Church, we see that after a great persecution breaks out, most of the believers in Jerusalem were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, (Acts 8:1) and are witnesses to these areas. If we watch long enough, we see the Lord finally convincing Peter that He loves all people, not just Israel (Acts 10) and the Apostle Paul is raised up as a missionary to the Gentiles. Gentiles are non-Jews. Basically, if you are anywhere besides Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Samaritans were half-jewish), everyone you see will most likely be a Gentile. The ends of the earth are Gentile nations. The focus of the early Church after Acts 8 is the Gentile world…the ends of the earth. The early Church, by practice, endorsed View One.
What That Means for Us
This means that we can not put an order to our outreach. We can’t just focus on reaching those who are still unbelievers in our family, city, or country and forget about the nations. Jesus, in Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” The Disciples started in Jerusalem, spread the Gospel to Judea and Samaria, and then began to move out to the ends of the earth. Jesus says that the end of history will not come until all ethnic groups are reached with the Gospel. We have a task that Jesus expects for us to finish before the end of all things. It entails taking the Gospel to the ethnicities at the ends of the earth. We have a task! Let’s get to it!