From William Barclay’s Daily Bible Study
So, when they had met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel at this time?” But he said to them, “It is not yours to know the times and the seasons which the Father has appointed by his own authority. But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power; and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and in Samaria and to the farthest bounds of the earth.”
Throughout his ministry Jesus laboured under one great disadvantage. The centre of his message was the kingdom of God. (Mk.1:14); but he meant one thing by the kingdom and those who listened to him meant another.
The Jews were always vividly conscious of being God’s chosen people. They took that to mean that they were destined for special privilege and for world-wide dominion. The whole course of their history proved that humanly speaking that could never be. Palestine was a little country not more than 120 miles long by 40 miles wide. It had its days of independence, but it had become subject in turn to the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. So, the Jews began to look forward to a day when God would break directly into human history and establish that world sovereignty of which they dreamed. They conceived of the kingdom in political terms.
How did Jesus conceive of it? Let us look at the Lord’s Prayer. In it there are two petitions side by side. “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” It is characteristic of Hebrew style, as any verse of the Psalms will show, to say things in two parallel forms, the second of which repeats or amplifies the first. That is what these two petitions do. The second is a definition of the first. Therefore, we see that by the kingdom Jesus meant a society upon earth where God’s will would be as perfectly done as it is in heaven. Because of that it would be a kingdom founded on love and not on power.
To attain to that men needed the Holy Spirit. Twice already Luke has talked about waiting for the coming of the Spirit. We are not to think that the Spirit came into existence now for the first time. It is quite possible for a power always to exist but for men to experience or take it at some given moment. For instance, men did not invent atomic power. It always existed; but only in our time have men tapped it. So, God is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but there came to men a special time when they experienced to the full that power which had always been present.
The power of the Spirit was going to make them Christ’s witnesses. That witness was to operate in an ever-extending series of concentric circles, first in Jerusalem, then throughout Judaea; then Samaria, the semi-Jewish state, would be a kind of bridge leading out into the heathen world; and finally, this witness was to go out to the ends of the earth.
Let us note certain things about this Christian witness. First, a witness is a man who says I know this is true. In a court of law, a man cannot give in evidence a carried story; it must be his own personal experience. There was a time when John Bunyan was not quite sure. What worried him was that the Jews thought their religion the best; the Mohammedans thought theirs the best; what if Christianity were but a think-so too? A witness does not say, “I think so”; he says, “I know.”
Second, the real witness is not of words but of deeds. When Stanley had discovered Livingstone in Central Africa and had spent some time with him, he said, “If I had been with him any longer, I would have been compelled to be a Christian and he never spoke to me about it at all.” The witness of the man’s life was irresistible.
Third, in Greek the word for witness and the word for martyr is the same (martus, GSN3144). A witness had to be ready to become a martyr. To be a witness means to be loyal no matter the cost.