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Acts 1:8 (ESV):

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.”

What does it mean to be a "witness"? If it means to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, then we know that the number of people that could possibly fulfill this definition is quite limited (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Did Jesus have a broader, more flexible definition in mind?


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Witness as used in Acts 1:8 refers specifically to witnessing Jesus as risen from the dead. Yes, this number is limited. No one today can be a witness in that specific way. Paul witnessed the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. A Christian today can witness to his personal convictions, but he cannot be a eyewitness to the risen Christ as those were in the first century. The power promised to the 12 was the power of signs and wonders which confirmed and validated their word. See Acts 14:3

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Let’s bring in the context. In the previous verses Jesus revealed that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, certain things would be put under the disciples’ power, and He proceeded to speak of them being His witnesses. The power to witness the Gospel to others has been delegated to us, the disciples of Jesus, and is not under God’s direct control.

Not even angels are allowed to preach the Gospel for us (Acts 10:3-5). We have received the power to be witnesses. It is not by God’s choosing that some have still not heard the Gospel. It is because we have not been faithful to be His witnesses.

The Greek word used for “power” here is “DUNAMIS,” and it means “miraculous power” (Strong’s Concordance). This word was also translated as “ability,” “might,” and “strength.” It is the root word from which we derive our words “dynamic” and “dynamite.” This clearly speaks of the presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit as being the power source in the believers’ lives. It was this anointing power of the Holy Spirit that worked miracles in the life of Jesus (Acts 10:38).

The Lord has empowered us to be witnesses, not the judge and jury. Witnesses simply relate what they have experienced, thereby providing evidence to true of something. We are to witness in word and deed to the truth of Jesus being alive in us, and let God be the one who convicts (John 16:8).

Jesus specified an orderly progression in the way we should be His witnesses. First, we start in Jerusalem (i.e., where we live). Then, we go to Judea (nearby). Finally, we take the Gospel to Samaria (elsewhere.)

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In Jesus' instruction found in Acts, 1, Paul and many others of the great preachers were absent. They had not been "eyewitnesses" to Christ's suffering. However, they could still be witnesses to the "power of the Holy Spirit" as specifically mentioned in Acts 1:8 -

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We see this several times during the ministry extended by such Spirit empowered people in the book of Acts. Paul was NOT an eyewitness to Christ's sufferings but was one of the most successful evangelists.

Significantly, Peter in Acts 2 never says anything about being an eyewitness but the people were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37) - this could only occur by the power of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:33.

See also Acts 10:38, 1 Thess 1:5, Rom 15:13, 19, Acts 8:19, etc.

APPENDIX - Book of Acts

The book of Acts presents the specific fulfillment of Jesus' commend to the disciples to be witnesses to the entire world in a specific order:

Reference Progress Summary
1:1 – 6:7 Gospel preached in Jerusalem 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
6:8 – 9:31 Gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Samaria 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
9:32 – 12:24 Gospel spreads to Antioch and 1st Gentile convert, Cornelius 12:24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
12:25 – 16:5 Gospel spreads to Asia Minor including Galatia 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
16:6 – 19:20 Gospel spreads to Europe 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
19:20 – 28:31 Gospel spreads to Rome 28:31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ--with all boldness and without hindrance!
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  • Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses ...." The empowerment that came upon the Apostles and others in Acts was prophetic empowerment so that they could speak by inspiration and confirm their witness (seeing the risen Jesus- 1 Cor 15:3-8) by miracles.
    – Forester
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 15:18

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