“To the Ends of the Earth”: Acts 1:8 Throught the Eyes of Luke

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Acts is a book within the Bible written about beginnings. In it, Luke gives a history of the Christian church’s beginning, expansion, and mission work throughout Europe and Asia. The entire book hinges on one verse found early in Luke’s narrative. This verse is Acts 1:8 which states: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[1] What this verse meant to Luke is a subject of much debate, but the fact is that Jesus Himself gave this commission to the apostles so the meaning of the commission should be explored. The particular area of emphasis is on the phrase “the ends of the earth” and what it meant to Luke and the apostles. Luke’s narrative paints a vivid picture of not only what “the ends of the earth” means, but how the early church acted on Christ’s commission. Acts 1:8 is ultimately a call for evangelism and witnessing to all areas of the earth, which is realized when Paul finally reaches Rome.

A great place to begin the analysis of Acts 1:8 is to define what exactly a “witness” is in Luke’s narrative. Darrell Bock writes that “witness” means “those who experienced Jesus and saw Him in a resurrection appearance (1:22).”[2] For Luke, the best way to ensure a proper testimony was to be an eyewitness to Jesus Himself. This principle even shows itself in the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 where Christ Himself appeared to confront and question him. For the Christian today, this requirement may seem a bit troublesome since no one alive today saw Jesus during His earthly ministry. This does not mean that modern Christians cannot be effective witnesses in light of Luke’s narrative. The modern Christian can be an effective witness because the first witnesses of the apostles and the documentation provided by Luke are all firsthand eyewitness accounts both truthful and trustworthy. Bock also notes that a witness is able to establish facts that are objective through observations that are verified[3]. It seems that in light of Luke’s narrative, the church would not have grown and spread if it had not begun with the testimony of the eyewitnesses.

In Acts 1:8, Christ promised the power of the Holy Spirit to help the apostles become effective witnesses. The Holy Spirit would become the guiding power throughout the book of Acts and Luke’s narrative. Leander Keck notes: “Evidently, Luke regards the story of the church as the continuation of the story of Jesus, and he sees both as two phases of the same kind of story—one set in motion by the Spirit.”[4] In Luke’s narrative, Christ’s death and resurrection provided both an eyewitness and the Holy Spirit. It is obvious throughout Acts that the work of the apostles is attributed to the Holy Spirit’s power, namely when it arrives at Pentecost in Acts 2. What Keck is noting is that the Holy Spirit enables the work of Jesus to continue on the earth. For Luke, the Holy Spirit has the power to overcome any barriers the disciples may face in their evangelistic mission. It appears that Luke sees the Holy Spirit itself as the most effective witnessing tool in advancing the Gospel. Luke documents the first instances of this experience masterfully.

Witnesses in Luke’s narrative were those who experienced Jesus both in earthly ministry and resurrection, and that ministry is continued by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ then calls the disciples to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. These three areas are quite significant in Luke’s narrative. B. Steve Hughey has much to say on these three specific areas and what they meant during Luke’s day. For Jerusalem, Hughey notes that Jerusalem had people who were similar to the disciples and “Because the disciples shared the same culture and location, it was easier for them to reach out to this group with the Gospel and gather them into a believing church.”[5] In Judea, Hughey notes a similar culture, but a noticeable physical distance to travel: “The early Jewish Christians of the book of Acts planted churches in Judea when they preached the Gospel in Jewish communities outside Jerusalem-in places like Caesarea, Azotus and Lydda, and even farther afield.”[6] And in Samaria, Hughey notes a closer neighbor, but a culture that differs noting that in Luke’s day, Samaritans were viewed as “second class” to the Jews.[7] Christ has called on the apostles to take the Gospel to three specific areas to prove a point. This is where Acts 1:8 really takes shape. In this light, Luke’s narrative is that the Gospel should be shared locally, far away, and with various cultures. This element of the passage clearly sets the stage for the conclusion of Acts 1:8.

Acts 1:8 concludes with the phrase “to the ends of the earth” and what that means in Luke’s narrative is the measuring stick for the success of the commission given by Christ. To begin with, consider the Greek phrase heös eschatou tes gës for “to the ends of the earth”. Thomas Moore notes that this phrase is from Isaiah 49:6 and states: “Luke had investigated Isaiah extensively and had a deep appreciation for Isaianic themes.”[8] Luke channels Isaiah multiple times throughout Luke and Acts in the following passages: Luke 3:4 and 4:17 also in Acts 8:28, 30 and Acts 28:25[9]. It is apparent that Luke had a great deal of interest invested in the prophecies of Isaiah and saw the events unfolding in Acts as fulfillment of some of that prophecy. Therefore, it makes sense to connect the meaning of heös eschatou tes gës in Isaiah to what Luke meant when he used it in Acts 1:8. In Isaiah, the phrase simply meant “the end of the earth in a general sense.”[10] This means no barriers are present and the Gospel is for all to hear and is why the phrase “to the ends of the earth” itself implies salvation for Gentiles as well as the Jews[11]. This would become the focal point of Luke’s narrative. The early Christian church would come to grow and expand to areas full of Gentiles and varying cultures such as Ethiopia and Antioch. In Luke’s narrative, the message of redemption has no boundaries and no limits.

The inclusion of the Gentiles in the early church was one that turned many Jews away. The startling fact is that, though Christ was a Jew who fulfilled Jewish prophecies, He is the Savior for all of man as far as Luke is concerned. In Luke’s mind, there would be no other explanation for the various foreign tongues spoken at Pentecost[12] and Peter’s vision to open his message to Cornelius in which Luke notes Peter saying “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”[13]. For Luke, the Cross itself makes all men equal in sin and equally dependent upon Christ for atonement. Luke clearly understood Christ’s commission as the call to bring the entire world to Christ. This is a call that is still in effect today in an ever growing world.

Speaking of an ever growing world, Acts concludes with Paul in Rome. If “to the ends of the earth” means reaching everyone, was the mission of the early church a failure? Not even close. Bertram Melbourne states: “Luke traced the spread of Christianity from the religious capital of the world, Jerusalem, through distant cities in Asia Minor and Europe, and on to the political capital of the world, Rome.”[14] It is important to recognize that Rome was essentially the center and capital of the world in Luke’s day. When Paul arrived in Rome, he was allowed a rented house and Acts concludes noting that he spent two years spreading the Gospel in Rome to all that visited him in his home[15]. Here, Paul would be able to reach a wide variety of cultures and people as he sees success in sharing the Gospel.

Dr. Thomas Constable notes that after Acts 1:8: “Luke proceeded to record the fulfillment of this prediction until the gospel and the church had reached Rome. From that heart of the empire God would pump the gospel out to “every other remote part of the world.”[16] Because Rome was the center of the world in Luke’s day, it was a city that saw many travelers and had a lot of trade with other countries. Paul’s witnessing to a traveling merchant in this instance could enable that merchant to take the Word with him to those in his own home country. On the same token, a visitor to the city could receive the Gospel from Paul and take it back to their home country. The possibilities are endless. Luke’s narrative clearly views Rome as the destination Christ had for the disciples in his day. Little would have been known of many other countries and reaching Rome ultimately enabled the Gospel to reach a mixed bag of cultures and regions. Acts ending in Rome does not represent an end point; it represents a launching pad for the spread of the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” quite literally.

For Luke, Christ’s commission was clear. The apostles were being called to boldly witness to the world about Jesus through the enabling of the Holy Spirit’s power. For Luke, a “witness” is an eyewitness to Jesus Himself. Luke viewed the Holy Spirit as a continuation of Christ’s ministry which was to be carried out by the disciples. For Luke, Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria represented various cultures and indicated the intent of Christ to welcome Gentiles into the Heavenly kingdom. Luke’s narrative is latent with Isaianic themes which paint a more literal meaning to the phrase “to the ends of the earth”. Finally, though Acts ends in Rome, Rome was the center of the world in Luke’s day and allowed the Gospel to reach the entire world. Further investigative study of the sources used in this paper is encouraged as they bring a much needed clarity to the issue of Acts 1:8 and the meaning it had for Luke. Looking at all of these factors presented through the eyes of Luke, a reader can only evaluate the commission given by Christ in Acts 1:8 in one way: Mission Accomplished.


[1] NIV.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 64.

[3] Ibid. p. 64.

[4] Leander E. Keck. “Listening to and Listening For: From Text to Sermon (Acts 1:8).”

Interpretation 27, no. 2 (1973): pp. 186-187.

[5] Steve B. Hughey. “Witnesses… Where? The Four Arenas of Mission Involvement.” Missio Apostolica 7, no. 1 (1999): p. 49.

[6] Ibid, p. 50.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Thomas S. Moore. “‘To the End of the Earth’: The Geographical and Ethnic Universalism of Acts 1:8 in Light of Isaianic Influence on Luke.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:3 (1997): p. 392.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Thomas S. Moore.  p. 393.

[11] Ibid. p. 394.

[12] Acts 2

[13] Acts 10:48, NIV.

[14] Bertram L. Melbourne. “Acts 1:8 Re-examined: Is Acts 8 its Fulfillment?” Journal of Religious Thought 57/58: 2 (2005): p. 14.

[15] Acts 28:30-31.

[16] Thomas L. Constable. “Dr. Constable’s Notes On Acts”, Sonic Light, 2013, p. 18.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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