In Acts 1:8, Luke records the resurrected Jesus saying to his disciples: “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.” (ESV) One of the fundamental mistakes that many people make (Sadly, some preachers make this mistake also!) as they are reading the Bible and want clarity, is to first consult an English dictionary to look up the meaning of English words in the text. When studying the Bible, to seek clarity of meaning, you DON’T START WITH THE ENGLISH WORD in the version you are reading. That is a fundamental exegetical mistake! You should start with the meaning of word in the original language in which the text was written! For the Old Testament, that would primarily be Hebrew and for the New Testament, it would be Greek! Hence, you don’t start with a Webster’s dictionary, but rather with a Hebrew and Greek lexicon!
I mention that because the Greek word that is translated as ‘witnesses’ in Acts 1:8 has a completely different primary meaning than the English word! A witness in English is someone who can attest to a fact or an event. It is someone who testifies, thereby provides verbal evidence to support the validity of a fact or an event. However, the primary meaning of the Greek word that is translated as ‘witnesses’ in Acts 1:8 is the word from which we get the English word; ‘martyr.’ The witnesses Jesus talked about were those who didn’t just ‘talk’ about him, but rather those who ‘died’ for the faith and the testimony of Jesus!
Now, I may be splitting hairs here, but I also noticed, as I read Acts 1:8, that the Greek word that is translated as ‘witnesses’ is not a verb, but rather a noun! The verb is the word that shows action; it is what you do, but the noun is the word that names, it is who you are! I believe Jesus was not telling them primarily to ‘do witnessing’ but rather to ‘be witnesses’ in the sense that they were not just to talk about him and give testimony of what they had seen and heard, but rather to also ‘be the evidence’ of Him! In other words, although telling people about Jesus was and is part of it, I think the primary point was and is for the followers of Jesus to actually be the evidence or the proof of Jesus and His claims! This point is illustrated in Acts 4:13, when Peter and John stood before the Council. The Bible says: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (ESV) How did they recognize that Peter and John had been with Jesus? Not primarily because Peter and John had told them, but rather because Peter and John themselves were the evidence; the proof; the witness of that fact! Yes! Peter and John testified about Jesus, but the convincing evidence was their ability to heal the man who was lame! Not only did they ‘talk’ about Jesus, but they ‘did’ what Jesus did; they made the lame walk again!
I believe the Lord is looking, not just for people who ‘talk’ or give testimonies about Him, but rather for people who are living examples (evidence; living witnesses) of His power to transform lives! It’s like when you are thinking about buying a product! No matter how many commercials you see advertising the product, the evidence that really convinces you is the people who have already bought the product! When you see what the product has done for them, you have evidence, you have witnesses of what the product can do for you! So, I believe Jesus was telling his disciples then, and those who would believe later on, that when you are empowered by My Spirit, you yourselves will be the witnesses; the evidence (exhibit: A), the convincing proof, that I AM who I say I AM!
See also: Can I Get A Witness?