God’s Word for You
Luke 24:48-49 You are witnesses of these things
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 17, 2019
48 You are witnesses of these things.
This short statement is a nominal or verbless sentence in Greek (ὑμεῖς μάρτυρες τούτων); this means that the subject “you” and object “witnesses” are identical. You, my apostles, are witnesses, and the witnesses who will testify about these things are you and only you. Jesus had no need for other witnesses. There would be a need for other preachers, but this would be due to the expansion of the church and the passage of time, not because these apostles had missed something.
The preaching of the gospel needed to happen in Jerusalem (verse 47). Luther maintains that this is an important point. “God did not allow this preaching to be published in a corner somewhere or in some indefinite place but among that people and in that locality where the royal throne of King David was, to whom Christ had been promised. Furthermore, it was not published secretly or among a few people but by public preaching and the visible revelation of the Spirit. Now, it is a fact that no other teaching was published in Zion than the one we have and preach according to the four evangelists, the same one that was preached by the holy apostles” (LW 13 p. 271).
All other Christian preachers take their message, therefore, from Christ and his apostles. This doesn’t mean that there is an apostolic succession from each apostle to various preachers or groups today, or that all preachers in the Ukraine can trace their ministry to Andrew, those in Italy to Peter, or those in Ethiopia to Matthias, etc. It is the message, not the men, that remains as the witness for us today. Consider: What if the Christian faith, which is present today on every continent and in every country, were to be persecuted in a place so that it died out entirely? Imagine that place were Minnesota. Whatever persecution happened, imagine that it left not a single believer alive or remaining in the state, and that every church and Christian school had been destroyed, every tombstone with a cross was defaced, etc., so that no trace of the Christian faith was left. Then, decades or centuries later, a Bible was discovered, perhaps by an archaeologist, or when a casket was opened. Some future Minnesotan, whether atheist or pagan, could read that Bible, be converted to faith by the message of the Gospels, the Epistles, the Psalms and the Prophets, and begin a Christian ministry without any connection whatsoever to any other ministry or minister on earth. It is the message which is the witness to Christ.
49 Watch! I am going to send you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
It isn’t always easy or obvious how we should translate the Greek exclamation idou (ἰδοὺ), “Behold!” When I was working as a translator for what became the Evangelical Heritage Version, we followed quite a few rubrics or rule/guidelines for how we would handle certain common expressions. Our rubric for idou was this:
ἰδού idou – will be reflected in the translation by such expressions as “at once”, “listen”, “look”, “see”, “suddenly”, and ! In some contexts, hineh (a similar Hebrew word) and idou may be omitted, but try to convey the meaning in some way, if it is possible (see lexicons for help). Perhaps “remember, consider, just then” as well.
Here, since Jesus is telling the disciples to wait for what was promised, I feel that “Watch!” is a fair translation. What were they going to receive? It was the Holy Spirit. He is what the Father had promised, and he is what the Lord Jesus would send. This is why in the Creed we say that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Holy Spirit is the “power from on high.” He was sent by both Father and Son to point mankind to Christ through the Means of Grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament. There is nothing the Spirit says or does that veers from the message of Christ crucified for our sins.
In this way, Luke brings bookends to his Gospel. When Mary was given the promise of the Savior as her child, the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Now Jesus makes a similar promise to the apostles, but not about a coming baby who was the Second Person of the Trinity. Now Jesus was talking about the coming of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit who would dwell in the hearts of all Christians for the rest of time. More than that, he would be the power and authority behind the preaching and teaching of the gospel from now on. We see this in the Holy Spirit’s words, spoken to the Church: “Set apart for me Saul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
One important part of the labor of the Holy Spirit during the first century was the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Peter says, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Peter also tells us that Paul’s letters are to be accepted as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), and Paul and Peter quote from the Gospels. Paul quotes Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18, and Peter places the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels on a par with the rest of Scripture in 2 Peter 1:17-21. It is the message of the Bible that is our witness. As John said, “These (words) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31; cp. John 5:39). Trust in God and trust in God’s holy Scriptures.
Pastor Timothy Smith