There is another error into which some are falling today, and this is the error of thinking that the kingdom of God is advanced by the “miraculous” or by what those who argue for it sometimes call “signs and wonders.” The argument is that where the Holy Spirit is active, there signs and wonders follow. According to exponents of this view, we should seek healings and miraculous demonstrations of God’s power in the church today. If that is what we are looking for, we are in error, because that is not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that when we receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the result will not be miracles, signs or healings, but witnessing.
Some years ago, I studied all occurrences of the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” in the Book of Acts.1 There are fourteen of them, ten of which refer to the present era. I looked at the circumstances in which these phrases occurred, and I discovered that the one thing in common among them is that in each case in which a person or a group of persons was filled with the Holy Spirit the people involved immediately began to witness powerfully for Jesus Christ. That was the only thing that tied these passages together. This teaches that the one sure evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives is that they testify to Jesus.
Revelation 12:11 speaks of the victory of the saints over the devil, and this is how it comes. The verse says, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
Do you want to be Spirit-filled? Do you want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit? Testify to Jesus Christ. You say, “But I stammer.” It doesn’t matter. The Holy Spirit doesn’t stammer. He will speak clearly.
You say, “But I make mistakes.” That is all right. The Holy Spirit does not make mistakes, and He will cause them to forget your errors.
“But I don’t know my Bible well enough.” Work at it. But in the meantime, testify to the portions you know. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you understand the Gospel at least. Because if you did not understand it, you would not have believed it. Testify to that. You say, “But I am afraid it won’t work.” Really? It worked with you. Besides, how can you say it won’t work when Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will work through your testimony?
4. It is also a worldwide kingdom. This is the final point. It means that the kingdom of God must embrace all the nations and regions of this world, and it is doing it.
When Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses,” were those words: 1) a prophecy (“You are going to be my witnesses”), or 2) a command (“You will be my witnesses”)? The answer, surely, is both. They are a prophecy, because the disciples were going to be Christ’s witnesses. God had ordained it. They were going to take the Gospel into all the world. The world would hear. But, at the same time, these words were also a command, because Jesus was telling His followers what they had to do. They were to carry the Gospel everywhere.
The wonderful thing about this commission is that the disciples really did get what Jesus was talking about. They were like us, of course. They were awfully thick. Even after having been with Jesus for three years they still did not have the point quite in mind. Yet in the end they did get it. We know because their error in Acts 1 is the last flicker of their earthbound misunderstanding. We never read about them making this mistake again. They were slow, but in the end they really understood what Jesus was after, and they actually carried out the Great Commission. What they did is what the Book of Acts is all about.
The Great Commission is something every generation of Christians must obey. The early church obeyed it. They took the Gospel to the farthest reaches of their world. We must do exactly as they did. There have been times in the history of the church when God’s people have heard His voice and have taken this commission seriously. In those times the Gospel has flowed far and wide, and God has blessed it. Unfortunately there have been other times when the mandate has been forgotten and suppressed. Christians have been content and preoccupied with the world’s way of doing things, and they have suffered for their disobedience.
You and I must tell others who Jesus is and what the gospel of salvation by His death means for them. We must not think that this is unimportant. It is the most important thing in the world.
1Cf. James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, 5 vol. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 988-991.