Acts 1:8 (Lk 24:49)
These daily notes on the Lukan Spirit-theme will now focus on the book of Acts. The remaining references to the Spirit in the Gospel will be examined in light of the corresponding development of the Spirit-theme in Acts.
The first reference to the Spirit is found in the introduction to the book (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence, the syntax of which is most difficult and involves detailed textual questions that are beyond the scope of this note. The main point involves the character of vv. 1-5 as a summary of the Gospel (the first volume of the 2-volume work). Jesus’ ministry—especially his teaching to his disciples—took place “through the holy Spirit” (dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou). In the previous note, we saw how, in the Lukan narrative, the presence of the Spirit was central to the description of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning:
- The Spirit comes upon Jesus at the Baptism (3:22)
- Jesus is filled and guided by the Spirit as he is led into the desert (4:1)
- The presence of the Spirit enables Jesus to overcome the Devil and come through the period of testing (implicit in the narrative)
- Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14) to begin his ministry
- In the synagogue at Nazareth he quotes Isa 61:1-2 (4:18-19ff), identifying himself as the Messianic figure of the prophecy, one who has been anointed by the Spirit.
The reference to the Spirit here in Acts 1:2 suggests that the Holy Spirit has remained upon Jesus throughout the entire course of his earthly ministry. Now, the time of his ministry has reached its end, and he is about to depart from his disciples (his ascension to heaven, vv. 9-11, cf. also Lk 24:51 [v.l.]). Much like the prophet Elijah, upon his departure to heaven (2 Kings 2:1, 11-12), who gave his prophetic spirit over to his disciple (Elisha, vv. 9-10), Jesus does the same for his disciples (on the connection between Jesus and Elijah, cf. the previous note and Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The Spirit will come upon them, in a manner similar to the way it came upon Jesus (at the Baptism). This coming of the Spirit upon Jesus was described as an anointing (vb xri/w) in Lk 4:18 (Isa 61:1), and it would be fair to say that this anointed (i.e. Messianic) aspect extends to the disciples of Jesus (believers) as well. Certainly this is suggested by the Elijah/Elisha parallel, since the giving of the prophetic spirit to Elisha is connected with the idea of a prophetic anointing (1 Kings 19:16).
At the close of the Gospel, Jesus promised that the Spirit would come upon his disciples:
“And, see! I send forth the e)paggeli/a of my Father; but you must sit in the city, until the (moment) at which you should be put in(to) [i.e. clothed in] power out of (the) height(s).” (24:49)
The noun e)paggeli/a is etymologically related to eu)agge/lion (“good message”). It literally means a message about (e)pi/) something, or upon a certain subject. Often it is used in the sense of a promise—i.e., that a person will do something; in a religious context, it typically refers to something that God has promised He will do. This is an important theme that is developed in the book of Acts, identifying the person of Jesus (the Messiah) and his presence (through the Spirit) as the ultimate realization of the covenant promises God has made to Israel (2:39; 13:23, 32; 26:6; cf. also 7:17).
We know that the e)paggeli/a in Lk 24:49 is a reference to the Spirit, because this is made explicit in Acts 1:4, and again in Peter’s Pentecost speech (2:33):
“… he gave along the message to them not to make space [i.e. move] away from Yerushalaim, but to remain about (for) the e)paggeli/a of the Father, of which you have heard (from) me.” (1:4)
“…so, (hav)ing been lifted high to the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of God, and (hav)ing received the e)paggeli/a of the holy Spirit (from) alongside the Father, he poured this out, [even] (as) you (have) seen and heard.” (2:33)
The Christological portrait in Luke-Acts accords with the Johannine tradition: the exalted Jesus receives the Spirit from God the Father, and then gives it, in turn, to his disciples.
The restatement of this promise of the Spirit (by Jesus) in Acts 1:8 represents the keynote message and theme of the entire book:
“…but you will receive power, (with the) coming of the holy Spirit upon you, and you will be my witnesses, (both) in Yerushalaim and [in] all Yehudah and Shimron, and even unto (the) last (parts) of the earth.”
On the important association of the Spirit with power (du/nami$), cf. Lk 1:17, 35; 4:14; 8:19; 10:38; cp. in Paul’s letters, Rom 1:4; 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5, etc. The use of the verb e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”) reflects the Spirit-theme in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35); it is a distinctly Lukan verb, as seven of the nine NT occurrences are in Luke-Acts. Even as the Spirit comes upon Mary—who, in some ways, represents the first believer in the narrative—so also it will come upon all the believers as they are gathered now in Jerusalem (2:1-4).
In the next note, we will explore the context of the statement in Acts 1:8 a bit further, particularly in relation to the Pentecost scene that follows in chap. 2.