The term "missional" is growing watered down. When a church says they want to be missional, we oftentimes cannot comprehend what that actually looks like. In our pursuit of living our lives on mission, as people, small groups, and churches, our best bet in defining how we're going to do that will not come in using blanket statements or conceptual ideas, but digging into the Word and adapting a missions model explicitly from it. In my view, Acts 1:8 is one of the most multi-layered, practical and extensive helps to us in better defining a model for missions.
After Luke bridges the gap from Luke's gospel in Acts 1:1-2, he brings us onto the scene where Jesus is communing with the apostles and "speaking about the kingdom of God" and how they will be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (v. 3-5). This language confused the apostles, as they were expecting political domination. (v. 6-7). Jesus clarifies the mission of the kingdom in Acts 1:8: "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."
It seems simple. The apostles get the Holy Spirit, and they're going to go places. But there is deeper gravity to these thirty-four words than you may anticipate. It's important to notice upfront that these are Jesus's final recorded words according to Luke. As a man who knew all things (Jn. 16:30), it's highly significant that Jesus chose these words as the last things He would leave His apostles. They obviously carry a weight we need to explore further.
The Predictive Statement
This call to mission by Jesus is completely different than the Great Commission. In arguably the most popular "missional" passage, Jesus commands the disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" in Matthew 28:18-20. But unlike this passage, Jesus's words in Acts 1:8 serve as a predictive statement. Predictive statements are used in Scripture to inform us of how things prophetically will be. These statements are further authenticated when an omniscient Jesus says them.
When Jesus says "you will receive power" and "you will be my witnesses," this is His way of telling the apostles that there's no room for debate in this matter; if they are true apostles, this will be who they are and what they do. That's significant truth for us. If we consider ourselves part of Christ's missionary movement in the world, there's no expectation to meet a command or try a suggestion; we will simply be what He describes in this verse.
The Spirit of Witness
Jesus's predictive statements teach us a key truth here; the Holy Spirit is the lifeblood of our ability to be witnesses for the gospel. If we expect to do mission, endure in mission, but most of all to do so Biblically, it must be Spirit-filled. This requires us to do the foundational work first. We cannot truly be on mission for the gospel if we are first convicted of that message in our own lives. We cannot be witnesses for life in Jesus apart from the Spirit (Jn. 6:63). A commitment to sound doctrine and seeking empowerment by the Spirit, not trusting our own flesh, is critical to living on mission.
Every Tribe and Nation
Jesus mentions four geographical areas in this address. Jerusalem is the city in which the apostles already are. Judea is the provincial area surrounding Jerusalem. Samaria is north of Judea, well known as an area Jews wouldn't want to be caught dead associating with, much less even walking through. To the ends of the earth is an all-encompassing term for the outskirts, even the unknown, areas the apostles don't even know about yet.
The implications are endless. The first place Jesus called the apostles to was not unreached villages of Africa, but their very own city, Jerusalem, and then the surrounding area of Judea. Jesus demonstrates for us a primary and clear emphasis on domestic, local missional living. But we shouldn't just be living on mission within our comfortable context, but even going into our Samaria, places wildly unlike us, even what we deem "unworthy" of our attention. Finally, Jesus illustrates the importance of reaching places not even yet on our radar, the ends of the earth and going to invade other people's comfortable contexts with the gospel.
Some people take this principle and assume that this means some people are designed for local missions, and others for global missions. This causes a sort of dividing between the church's overall mission to make disciples, fueling us into justifying what's easy for us to do on the basis of "spiritual gifts" or being "one part of the whole body." But in Acts 1:8, Jesus doesn't micromanage the apostles and assign different teams to different places. He tells them all, collectively, that they will reach all these places. Was He leaving us to figure out who goes where? I don't think so. I think He rather indicates that we will all be in all these places. Further, just because with each geographic place Jesus moves out, we should not assume a wider area of mission means it's more important. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth are not a staircase of higher honor in mission; all of these places are of equal value and importance.
If we dig into Acts 1:8 we'll unlock a plethora of insight into what authentic "missional living" looks like. Jesus was clear on His plan for the kingdom, and we would be served to clarify it in our lives. The key to mission is threefold. Be. Empowered. Everywhere. Mission is not an item on a checklist, but a lifestyle. Mission is not mission if we are not Spirit-filled with gospel power. Mission is not picking one place, but devoting our whole self to every geographical context of the whole world.