Let’s imagine that you are attempting to do an in-depth study on the book of Acts. Today you are going to tackle Acts 1:1-5. You find yourself studying and applying Acts 1:4;
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father… –Acts 1:4
Clearly from this text we see that Jesus’ charge to his disciples—prior to his ascension and after his resurrection—was to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Spirit before they took the gospel to the ends of the earth. So how do you apply this passage? What does this mean for the church of the 21st century?
The most obvious lesson for us to learn is that it is vital for us to wait on the Holy Spirit before doing things. The disciples needed the Spirit’s power before they were able to complete the mission of proclaiming the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We too would be fool-hearted to launch into mission without the Spirit’s powerful presence.
The biggest difficulty with the above interpretation is that what Luke has written here is meant to be descriptive and not prescriptive. He’s telling his readers what happened, not what his readers ought to do in response. In fact if you keep reading through Acts you will discover that the apostles did receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And what is even more astounding is that when Gentiles become followers of Jesus they too receive the gift of the Spirit.
This means that the condition which Jesus mentioned in Acts 1:4 has already been fulfilled—always and forever. Therefore, believers do not need to sit around and wait for the “Spirit to come” before they engage in mission. He already has come.
The way, then, that we apply Acts 1:4 is to realize that the Spirit is vital to our mission. But we do not stop there. We celebrate the fact that Jesus has kept His promise and we have the indwelling Spirit. We have the Spirit that is needed to engage in the mission of Christ.
This isn’t permission to launch into out own missions, doing so upon a whim. This is permission to boldly engage in Christ-exalting mission because we know the Spirit is always present when Christ is exalted.
This little illustration shows why it is important to always read a text in its context; not only it’s immediate context but also read a text within it’s place in God’s unfolding story or redemption. If we fail to do this we will apply passages wrongly. We will find ourselves praying for things that God has already provided.
You and I don’t need to “wait on the Spirit” in the same way that the early apostles did. So let’s get busy.