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Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Commentary on Acts - The Pattern.

Coming now to the commentary proper we find that, in accordance with the main theme of Acts, which is that the witness of the Apostles might commence at Jerusalem and finally reach to Rome (1.8), Acts divides naturally into four sections each of which ends with a summary stressing the effectiveness of the witness and of ‘the word’.

The first one majors on the ministry of the Apostles as a whole, with all of them powerfully active but with Peter as their main spokesmen. The second majors on the expansion of the ministry through chosen men appointed by the Apostles, and on the activity of Peter himself. The third focuses on the ministry of Paul. The fourth concentrates on how Paul is to be taken from Jerusalem to Rome.

Each of these sections finishes with a reference to the powerful success of the word:

  • (1) The word of God increases (6.7).
  • (2) The word of God grows and multiplies (12.24).
  • (3) The word of the Lord grows and prevails mightily (19.20).
  • (4) The Kingly Rule of God and teaching about Jesus Christ is proclaimed (28.31).

So the overall theme on which the book is built is the going forth of the word and its effectiveness in men’s lives (compare 1 Corinthians 1.18).

This might then be seen as dividing into subsections thus:

The Ministry Under The Apostles (1.1-6.7).

  • (a) 1.1-6.7. This section relates the commencement of the witness of the Apostles after the resurrection, beginning at Jerusalem. It includes the coming of the Spirit in chapter 2 followed by the ministry of the Apostles, which includes the preaching of Peter both then and when they are called to account by the Jews because of their activities, and follows it up with the appointment of the first official appointees of the Apostles who were to ‘serve’ (diakoneo) tables. It ends with the summary, "The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem; and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith."

    The Ministry of the Hellenistic Jewish Christians (6.8-9.31).

  • (b) 6.8-9.31 This section deals with the spread of Christianity throughout Judaea, the ministry and martyrdom of Stephen, followed by the ministry of Philip and the proclamation of the Gospel among the Samaritans, together with the conversion of Saul and his initial ministry in Damascus and Jerusalem. It ends with the summary, "So the Church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it was multiplied."

    The Ministry Of Peter (9.32-12.24).

  • (c) Acts 9.32-12.24. This section includes particular ministry of Peter, the reception of Cornelius, the Gentile, into the Church by Peter, the extension of the Church to Antioch, and Peter’s imprisonment and release, and his leaving Jerusalem ‘for another place’. Its summary is, "The word of God grew and multiplied."

The Ministry Under Paul (12.25-28.31).

  • (d) Acts 12.25-16.5 This section covers the extension of the Church throughout the main cities of Asia Minor and the preaching tour of South Galatia. It ends with, "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily."
  • (e) Acts 16.6-19.20 This section relates the extension of the Church to Europe and the work of Paul in great Gentile cities like Corinth and Ephesus. Its summary runs, "So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily."
  • (f) Acts 19.21-28.31 This section tells the story of his determination to go from Jerusalem to Rome (19.21), through his movement towards Jerusalem to that end It describes the original arrest of Paul in Jerusalem, and proceeds up to the arrival of Paul in Rome and his imprisonment there. It ends with the picture of Paul "preaching the kingly rule of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered."

These four sections and six subsections establish the pattern for Acts. Each begins with the idea of the spreading forth of the word, and ends with the word being seen as successful. Each subsection stresses the strengthening of the churches. That is the central pattern of Acts. Each section then expands on it.

  • The first section sees the Gospel established in Jerusalem by the Apostles as a whole.
  • The second section is divided into two subsections which see it firstly as being established among the Judaeans and the Samaritans, and secondly as being established among Gentiles by means of the proclamation of the Gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his group, and then to his fellow-Gentiles in Syrian Antioch. In each of these sections and subsections the person who is prominent in sealing and giving approbation to the work is Peter, but always in connection with others.
  • The third section is again divided into two subsections and sees the expansion of the work to Asia Minor, followed by the expansion of the Gospel into Europe, through the ministry of Paul.
  • The fourth section sees the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God in Rome by a resident Apostle, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. In the case of these last two sections the prominent authority is Paul.

Note the pattern and emphases in the endings of the subsections:

  • (1) The word of God increases (6.7).
  • (2) The fear of the Lord and encouragement of the Holy Spirit (9.31).
  • (3) The word of God grows and multiplies (12.24).
  • (4) Strengthening in the faith (16.5).
  • (5) The word of the Lord grows and prevails mightily (19.20).
  • (6) The Kingly Rule of God and teaching about Jesus Christ (28.31).

It will be seen that each major section ends with the continual expansion of ‘the word’ (1, 3, 5 and 6), while each subsection ends with references to advancement in the faith. These last are expressed in terms of ‘walking in the fear of the Lord and encouragement of the Holy Spirit’ (2), and of ‘being strengthened in the faith’ (4). Along with this there is the emphasis on continual increase of Christ’s church as God’s purposes go forward.

The proclamation of the word is thus central and forms the major message of the book, especially for the first nineteen chapters from 1.1-19.20. From 19.21 onwards it is still proclaimed but in a limited environment. But interspersed with this are the attacks that gradually arise against the word in one way or another, and how God deals with them or uses them. These attacks arise because men need not only to turn from darkness to light, which is accomplished by the power of the word, but also from the power of Satan to God (26.18), which involves deliverance from tribulation. This last requires constant battle with the Evil One including facing persecution, martyrdom and the other varied consequences of all his more insidious attacks. Acts is a spreadsheet revealing all the methods that he uses. Thus we have:

  • SECTION 1 (1.1-6.7).
  • 1). The great commission that is given that the word is to be taken to Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the world, a commission which is followed by the power coming on them all at Pentecost and the manifestation of tongues of ‘every nation under heaven’ (i.e. within reasonable distance around). This produces initial success. (1-2)
  • 2). The healing of the lame man as a Messianic sign and the successful proclamation of the word, which results in arrest, imprisonment, and release with the required first warning. (3.1-4.22)
  • 3). Prayer and empowering with boldness to speak the word, which is followed by great spiritual growth in the church, and results in an attempt to undermine that growth from within by false dedication, a sign of the work of Satan. This is nipped in the bud by God’ swift execution of the culprits. (4.23-5.11).
  • 4). Further wonders and signs and preaching of the word, with multitudes added to the church, is followed by further arrest, release by an angel, re-arrest, an opportunity to proclaim the word to the Sanhedrin, beating and release, which results in further teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ and a giving of themselves to the ministry of the word (5.12-6.4)
  • SECTION 2 contains two subsections:
  • SUBSECTION 1. Stephen, Philip and Saul (6.8-9.31).
  • 1). Proclamation of the word by Stephen in the Hellenistic synagogues, with a further opportunity to proclaim the truth to the Sanhedrin, which is followed by martyrdom and persecution. But it causes the word to be scattered abroad. (6.5-8.4)
  • 2). Philip takes the word to the Samaritans, but this is followed by Simon the magician revealing his spiritual immaturity and having to be seriously rebuked. However, this does not hinder the word which continues to go forth to the Samaritans through Peter and John. (8.5-25).
  • 3). Philip takes the word to the Ethiopian High Official and then to the cities of the coastal plain, but this is meanwhile accompanied by severe persecution for the church, which is dealt with by the conversion of Saul. (8.26-9.18).
  • 4). Saul proclaims the word in both Damascus and Jerusalem, although each time followed by persecution, and escape, both of which result in further expansion of the word. The churches have rest. (9.19-31).
  • SUBSECTION 2. The Ministry of Peter And Its Repercussions (9.32-12.24).
  • 1). Peter proclaims the word in the coastal plain during which ministry he is called to preach to Cornelius, as a result of which it is recognised that uncircumcised Gentiles on whom the Spirit has come can be baptised. This results in his being put on enquiry, with the enquiry ending by praising God for what has happened. (9.32-11.18).
  • 2). The word then goes out to Syrian Antioch, and the repercussion is that James, the Apostle is killed, and Peter is imprisoned only to be finally freed by an angel. God then brings His judgment on the king involved, and the word of God grows and multiplies. (11.19-12.24).
  • SECTION 2.
  • This is divided into two subsections.

    SUBSECTION 1 The First Missionary Journey and the Gathering at Jerusalem (12.25-16.5).

  • 1). The word goes out to Cyprus through Barnabas and Saul, there is much blessing, but they are opposed by Elymas, the ‘child of the Devil’, whom God blinds, and the consequence is that the pro-consul believes. (12.25-13.13).
  • 2). The word goes out to Pisidian Antioch, and because of the intransigence of some Jews the word goes out to the Gentiles. The Jews respond by having Barnabas and Saul thrown out of the city, resulting in the word being taken on to Iconium. Meanwhile the disciples are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (13.14-52)
  • 3). The word is proclaimed successfully and powerfully in Iconium but the city is divided and plots set on foot against them, so, as a consequence of persecution and death threats, they move on Lystra and Derbe with the word. (14.1-6)
  • 4). The Good News is preached in Lystra, but because of their signs and wonders they are hailed as gods and have to repudiate the suggestion. Their earlier opponents arrive from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, who cause the people to stone Paul. But left for dead he stands up and returns to the city, and they take the word to Derbe without hindrance. Then they return through all the cities they have visited confirming the believers, and having established the churches return to Syrian Antioch. (14.7-26)
  • 5). This final section of 12.25-16.5 must be seen as being the result of the whole proclamation of the word in this whole section since first leaving Antioch. It is Satan’s response to the successful and powerful spreading of the word as he seeks to undermine its effectiveness by bringing a yoke heavy to bear on the Gentile converts which he hopes will discourage them and put some off for ever (compare 5.3; 13.10; 26.18).

    It commences with them in Antioch declaring what God has done and continuing their ministry in that city, proclaiming the word there for some considerable time, and this results in the arrival of Christian Judaisers who come to throw in doubt their whole ministry and declare that all converts must be circumcised and become full proselytes of Judaism, observing the law and the sabbath, attending the Synagogue and acknowledging the Temple, and following all the customs of the Jews, something which could undermine their whole ministry. Paul and Barnabas argue against this and with others go to Jerusalem to consult the Apostles and elders to have the matter dealt with once and for all. The assembly come down in favour of Paul and Barnabas with the result that the whole proclamation of the word since first leaving Antioch is sealed.

    It should be noted that this brings out that the assembly is not so much what the book was leading up to (for its results are not again mentioned) but is the response to a particular attack of Satan against the truth, and provides God’s solution to the problem, before moving on to further proclamation of the word. (14.27-16.5). It is, however, as our analysis will demonstrate, the central pivot of the middle of the three chiastic presentations, the first of which commences in Jerusalem and the last of which ends in triumph in Rome (see below). Its importance lies in that it finally settles the official position of the whole church to circumcision and the Law.

  • SUBSECTION 2 (16.6-19.20).
  • 1). Paul and his companions are steered away from all else and are called to over to Macedonia to ‘preach the Good News’, and then move on to Philippi where they ‘speak to the women’ and Lydia’s household are converted. This results in a woman possessed with an evil spirit continually testifying to Paul which grieves him so that he cures her, with the further result of persecution and imprisonment, resulting in the conversion of the household of the Philippian gaoler, followed by release and an encouraging of the brethren (16.6-40).
  • 2). They come to Thessalonica ‘reasoning the Scriptures’ and proclaiming the crucifixion, resulting in some Jewish converts, a multitude of Gentiles believers, and many of the chief women being won for Christ, which results in the stirring up of an uproar and an examination before the courts resulting in their having to move on. (17.1-9).
  • 3). Moving on to Berea the people received the word and ‘searched the Scriptures’ with numerous response from many Jews, and many honourable women and men, with the result that persecution is fanned up by arriving Thessalonians, causing Paul to move on to Athens, while Silas and Timothy stay in Berea. (17.10-15).
  • 4). Paul waits in Athens for the coming of Silas and Timothy and ‘disputes’ in the synagogues with Jews and the ‘devout’, and in the market places and is invited up to the Areopagus to preach, where he proclaims Christ, and while some mock, others express interest, and some believe, including Dionysius the Areopagite. It is interesting that apart from Derbe Athens is the first instance where there is no persecution. (17.16-34).
  • 5). Moving on to Corinth the message is proclaimed first in the synagogues and then in the house of Justus over a period of eighteen months, resulting in further persecution and appearance before Gallio and the courts who reject the case as a mere religious dispute and ignore resulting misbehaviour. Paul then remains there a good while. (18.1-18a).
  • 6). Paul takes Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus, and then, because of a vow which necessitates his going to Jerusalem, he cuts short his ministry, visits Jerusalem (he went up and saluted the church), and then returns to report to Antioch, following it up with confirming the churches of Galatia and Phrygia. Meanwhile this gives Luke the opportunity to expand on Priscilla and Aquila’s work which results in the conversion and successful ministry of Apollos, who had been proclaiming the message of John the Baptiser in Ephesus, with the result that he moves to Corinth and expounds the Scriptures mightily. (18.8b-28). (We note that when Paul ceases to spread the word Luke abbreviates his ministry and turns to that of Apollos, for it is the proclamation of the word that is his main theme. The word goes on).
  • 7). In Ephesus, having brought about the enlightenment and coming of the Holy Spirit on disciples of John the Baptiser, Paul proclaims the Kingly Rule of God in the synagogues for three month, but the adverse reaction causes him to turn to proclaiming the word in the school of Tyrranus for two years, so that the word is spread abroad ‘over all Asia’ with wonders and signs being accomplished. ‘So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.’ (19.1-20).
  • SECTION 4.
  • From this point on Paul determines to go from Jerusalem to Rome (19.21) and the remainder of the book deals with this endeavour. The whole pattern becomes different and more complicated, although filled with incidents along the way, and ends up with him in Rome proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God (19.21-28.31).

The Basic Pattern of the First Two Sections.

Having demonstrated the basic divisions and theme of the book we must now consider the basic pattern of the first twelve chapters. These cover the period when Jerusalem is the centre of evangelisation and end with Jerusalem’s final rejection of its Messiah, and the transferring to Syrian Antioch of the mission of the church under the Spirit. They are in the form of a chiasmus which centres on Stephen’s defence and martyrdom. Note the chiastic pattern, the second part paralleling the first part in reverse order.

  • a Jesus speaks of the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God (1.3). He is asked, ‘Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? (1.6). His reply indicates that the present concern is to be the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God throughout the world in accordance with the teaching of Jesus, through the preaching of the word. Any other idea of a kingdom must be left with God.
  • b He declares the Great Commission - they are to be His witnesses and the Good News is to be taken to the uttermost parts of the world, and the resulting preparations for this are described (1.7-26).
  • c Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, life is given to the people of God at Pentecost. God is among His people (2).
  • d The lame man is made to leap like a deer indicating that Messianic expectation is being fulfilled (3).
  • e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (4-5).
  • f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Ananias and Sapphira (5.1-11).
  • g The ministry of the Hellenist Stephen (6).
  • h The pivotal speech of Stephen and his martyrdom (7).
  • g The ministry of the Hellenist Philip (8).
  • f Within this scenario comes sin within the church - Simon the Sorcerer (8.18-24).
  • e Persecution comes under the High Priest and its results are described (9.1-31).
  • d The paralysed man is made to walk (9.32-35).
  • c Through the resurrection, life is given to Tabitha - and to Joppa - God is among His people (9.36-42).
  • b The Good News goes out to the Gentiles confirming that God has given to the Gentiles ‘repentance unto life’ (9.43-11.30).
  • a Israel choose their last and final earthly king who is destroyed because of blasphemy and because he has attacked the Kingly Rule of God. The earthly kingdom is definitely not to be restored to Israel, and from now on Jerusalem virtually drops out of the frame (12).

It will be noted that in the initial ‘a’ the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God is emphasised, with the instruction that they should ignore the idea of an earthly Kingdom, and in the parallel at the end the Kingly Rule of God is contrasted with an earthly Kingdom of Israel, a Kingdom whose king is brought into judgment and whose people are rejected. In ‘b’ the commission is to go as witnesses to the end of the earth and in the parallel the Good News is opened to Gentiles ready for the fulfilment of this task.

We can hardly fail to see that in these first twelve chapters Jerusalem is the starting point of all these ventures, which either commence at Jerusalem or are overseen from Jerusalem. We must therefore now consider, before commencing the commentary proper, the significance of Jerusalem in Acts.

The Significance of Jerusalem in Acts.

Luke has carefully constructed Acts in order to portray how Jerusalem fits into the purposes of God. He commences with it as the centre from which the witness of the Good News will go out, ever more widely, to the uttermost part of the earth (1.8). For a while it is then the centre of all activity. From 1.8-6.7 all is Jerusalem, and from 6.8-11.30 the Word of the Lord goes forth from Jerusalem and is overseen by Jerusalem.

But meanwhile the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem first reluctantly tolerate (4.13-23; 5.33-41) and then oppose the word and God’s people (6.12; 8.1-3; 9.1-2), in which they are assisted by the Jews (6.9-13; 9.23, 29), until in chapter 12 Jerusalem as a whole finally rejects its Messiah and His people and chooses a false Messiah who is finally doomed for his blasphemy. It is significant that at this point, with James the apostle having been martyred, Peter, seemingly the last of the Apostles in Jerusalem, ‘went to another place’ (12.17) and all evangelistic activity from Jerusalem ceases.

From this point on Antioch becomes the major centre for the mission of the Holy Spirit and the sending out of the word of the Lord. It is true that the church in Jerusalem (not Jerusalem itself which has been rejected) is called in. But this time it is not as the Jerusalem church overseeing the work, it is as the Apostles and elders advising on what they consider to be the mind of God. And significantly it advises only in order to pronounce its own demise (15). The decision made here releases the Gentiles from any tie with Jerusalem and its Temple (but not the tie with the Jerusalem church).

From this point on Luke only brings in Jerusalem in order to demonstrate that Paul, rejected by Jerusalem, goes from Jerusalem to Rome, although still stressing that the work in Jerusalem prospers (21.20).

We may portray this in more depth as follows:

1). Jerusalem Is Blessed (1.8-6.7).

  • The Spirit comes from above (2.1-4; 4.31).
  • The world has come to Jerusalem (2.5-11).
  • The Apostles proclaim the word to the Jewish world in Jerusalem (2.15-36; 3.12-26).
  • The Apostles perform great signs and wonders in Jerusalem (2.43; 5.12).
  • Jerusalem is the great centre of healing as people come from all parts (5.16).
  • The Messianic signs are being fulfilled - the pouring out of the Spirit (2.1-4); - the Messianic banquet (2.46; 4.35; 6.1-6); - the Messianic signs (3.1-10; 4.30).
  • The Sanhedrin itself is challenged with the Good News (4.8-12; 5.29-32)
  • The ‘church’ (the assembly of God’s people) is being firmly established in Jerusalem and growing rapidly and spreading (2.37-47; 4.32; 6.7).
  • A Messianic judgment takes place on Ananias and Sapphira (5.1-11).

All the prophecies concerning Jerusalem are thus being fulfilled.

2). The Word of the Lord Goes Out From Jerusalem (6.8-11.30).

The martyrdom of Stephen is then the signal for the word to go forth from Jerusalem as promised in Isaiah 2.2-4, as further prophecies are fulfilled. It goes out to Samaria (8.4-25), to Ethiopia (8.26-39), to the cities along the coast (8.40; 9.32-43), to Damascus (9.19-25). Churches are established and prosper throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria (9.31). And then finally the word goes to the Gentiles (10.1-48; 11.19-30).

3). Jerusalem Rejects Its Messiah For A False Messiah (12).

The hailing of a false Messiah and rejection of the true Messiah is clearly portrayed in chapter 12. (We are dealing here with Luke’s portrayal making use of the historical facts). ‘Herod the King’ as the people pleaser attacks the Apostles, is hailed by the people (they approve his persecution of the Apostles) and he then allows himself to be exalted as a god. But the inevitable consequence is that he is judged and his judgment is final. Here we have the anti-Messiah (one who sets himself up in place of the Messiah) who through pride worships Satan in order to receive his kingdom (Luke 4.6). What folly it proved to be. The only reason that Luke can have for bringing this in here, especially in view of the fact that Jerusalem now drops out of the reckoning, is in order to demonstrate that Jerusalem has forfeited its final opportunity by rejecting the Messiah and choosing the anti-Messiah. From now on the word of the Lord will go to the world and it will go from Antioch.

There is, however, a rather touching picture here of God’s care for His people. Surrounding this description of affairs in Jerusalem in chapter 12, as Jerusalem loses its significance under God, is the description of the love and care of the church at Antioch for the church of Jerusalem (11.27-30; 12.25). It is as though the people of God in Jerusalem and Judaea are cocooned in their love. God has not forgotten them.

4). The Church of Jerusalem Pronounces Its Own Demise (15).

While they were probably not aware of it at the time, the gathering at Jerusalem of the Apostles and the elders with the representatives from Antioch in chapter 15 would release the tie that bound the world to Jerusalem. From this point on universally speaking even the church in Jerusalem was mainly redundant. It no longer had any purpose. Having given the world the Messiah they had nothing further to give. From this point on they just fade into the background, until finally historically they disappear into the wilderness to linger on as nonentities (except to God) as the destruction of Jerusalem approaches.

Paul Sets His Face Towards Jerusalem and Jerusalem Despatches Paul To Rome (19.21;20.16, 22; 21.4, 11-14, 17-26).

Considering these verses it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, firstly that Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ (19.21;20.16, 22; 21.4, 11-14) in defiance of all warnings, in some way parallels that of Jesus Himself as portrayed in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9.51 on), and that secondly it is in order to portray the end of Jerusalem’s influence. He arrives in Jerusalem only for God (not Jerusalem) to despatch him to Rome in order that the word of the Lord and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God might go forth in Rome to both Jew and Gentile.

The whole situation here is somewhat strange. He was clearly warned by the Spirit against going to Jerusalem (21.4, 11-12), and yet he insisted on going (21.13-14), and even ‘purposed it in spirit’ (or ‘in the Spirit?) - 19.21). His purpose was seemingly in order to participate in the anniversary of the day of Pentecost (20.16). We can only assume that his desire was to enjoy the celebrations of the anniversary of Pentecost with his fellow-believers in Jerusalem. And as we know, humanly speaking it ended up disastrously. As far as Luke is concerned it had to do so for Jerusalem was no longer the springboard from which God was working. However, as so often, God overruled it for good.

The seeming purpose of Luke’s detailed description of this can only surely be in order once and for all to stress the cessation of the importance of Jerusalem except as a place which rejects God’s people because of its own fixations, while underlining the fact that the witness has gone from Jerusalem to Rome. Possibly also it was a warning to all Christian Jews of the danger of nostalgia for the past in view of what it did for Paul, the message being, ‘let go of Jerusalem, otherwise .it will be an albatross around your neck’. If this is so it would confirm that Acts was written before the destruction of Jerusalem when such ideas would become almost irrelevant. The result would be that when that destruction came it caused hardly a ripple for the Christian church (except that it did then throw them more into the limelight as being non-Jews and therefore an illicit religion).

But we must not see these as the only patterns that Luke is weaving, for as we shall see later there are a number of other interweaving patterns in Acts.

We can now move on to looking at the commentary in detail:

The Commentary

Chapter 1 Jesus Commissions His Apostles And Their Number Is Made Up Ready For The Great Move Forward.

This chapter is the chapter of the great commission. In it Jesus’ task for His own is described. It is often looked on as being preparatory to Acts 2, but while it is, of course, that, it is far more than that. Without it in fact Acts 2 would be meaningless. It is to be viewed positively as describing the giving of the great commission by Jesus to His disciples with instructions for them to take the Gospel to the whole world

It is then followed by His being finally received into heaven, leaving the responsibility with His Apostles. It is only because we have Matthew 28 and Luke 24 that we do not pay this more heed. It was a momentous occurrence. That they themselves recognised the responsibility that it placed on them comes out in that they make up the number of the twelve preparatory to that task. So Chapter 1 is their Commissioning for their task. Chapter 2 will be the empowering and first commencement of it.

However, as Acts is the second part of Luke/Acts the introduction of Luke needs first to be mentioned here as it is the ‘former treatise’ mentioned in Acts 1.1. The principles outlined there therefore also apply to the book of Acts. It too was addressed to Theophilus (see 1.1 below). It reads as follows:

Luke 1.1-4 “ Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them to us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write to you in order, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the certainty concerning the things in which you were instructed.”

Made clear in this introduction is the basis on which Luke is going forward. He is basing his work on the testimony of eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, (‘the word’ which throughout Acts will multiply and expand in effectiveness as seen in the summary above), and stresses the effort that he has put into tracing all things accurately from the beginning so that Theophilus may know with certainty about such things. It would be difficult to imagine a stronger claim to historicity and factualness. Luke wants us to know that he has written on the basis of the strongest testimony possible. And given his accuracy where we can prove it, we have good grounds for accepting that he will be accurate where we cannot prove it. That being established we may now move on into the second volume of his work.

Introductory Words (1.1-3).

1.1-2 ‘The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen, to whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God.’

Luke reminds Theophilus of what he has previously written. In his first volume (his former treatise) he has informed him of all that Jesus began to do and to teach until He was ‘received up’, that is, taken up into heaven after preparing His disciples for what lay ahead.

Note the inferences that we can obtain from these words.

  • Firstly that Luke’s Gospel had only included a description of ‘the beginning’ of Jesus’ ministry, what He ‘began’ to do and to teach. The implication therefore is that His ministry will now continue through the teaching of the Apostles. Thus he stresses that Jesus had not come just to be a teacher, He had come to establish a forward going movement which must now carry on until it has reached out to the whole world with the message of the Kingly Rule of God (compare verse 8). In the words of Matthew 16.18 He had come to build a new congregation of Israel. Thus Jesus’ claims were unique. None other made such claims.
  • Secondly that He had given commands to His Apostles through the Holy Spirit concerning their carrying on of His ministry (Luke 24.31-38; Matthew 28.18-20; Mark 16.15-18; John 20.22-23). Note how the Apostles are seen here as having already been powerfully influenced by the Holy Spirit, and as having received Jesus’ commandments through Him, something further made clear in Luke 24.44-48; John 20.22. Pentecost would not be the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s ministry for them.
  • Thirdly it is clearly affirmed that He has been received up into heaven. It is necessary for it to be made clear that Jesus has satisfactorily fulfilled His own mission and has returned to His Father (verses 4, 7), by Whom He has been received as the One Who has accomplished His mission and by Whom He has been given His rightful place (compare John 17.5), which we later learn to be His throne as both Lord and Messiah (2.36).
  • Fourthly he stresses that Jesus had shown Himself alive to His Apostles after His crucifixion with ‘many infallible proofs’, appearing to them a number of times ‘over a period of forty days’ (see for examples of these appearances Luke 24.13-43; Matthew 28.9-19; Mark 16.9-20; John 20.11-29; 21.1-23). He wants it to be clear that what is to be spoken of is not based on a hope and a prayer. It is based on something of which specific and definite proof was given. We should note this continual stress by Luke on the certainty of what is being spoken of. Far from just ‘believing’, the words of eyewitnesses have been called on (Luke 1.2), and these eyewitnesses men who had had certain and infallible proofs presented to them. He and the Apostles knew what a great claim they were making and wanted it known that it was not done in a corner. Physical proof had been given. Paul has previously laid the same emphasis on these infallible proofs of which he too had learned from eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15.3-8). They based their positions on certainties.
  • Fifthly he stresses the connection of all this with the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God. Thus the book commences with the primary nature of this (‘the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God’ - 1.3) and ends in the last verse of the final chapter on the same note (‘preaching the Kingly Rule of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’ - 28.31). The message that they were going forward to proclaim was that the Kingly Rule of God had now begun, that it was to be entered into by faith in, and submission to, Him, and that it would finally culminate in enjoying His Kingly Rule in Heaven.

In the light of this fact we must consider what the New Testament says about the Kingly Rule of God.

Excursus on the Kingly Rule of God (of Heaven) In The New Testament.

One problem we have in understanding the idea of ‘the Kingdom of God’ is that we tend to think of a kingdom as being a piece of land with boundaries. To us a ‘kingdom’ is a country. But in ancient days a King’s ‘kingdom’ extended to wherever he could exercise his power. There were no fixed boundaries. It was not an area of land. It represented a number of people or peoples over whom he held sway. The Bedouin chieftain was ‘king’ over his people as they travelled around, wherever they were. They were available to do his bidding and owed their loyalty to him. Wherever he exercised his power, regardless of location, he was king. Thus if you were surrounded by a group of the chieftain’s men in the desert you were in his ‘kingdom’, you were under his kingly rule. The word ‘basileia’, therefore, means rather ‘Kingly Rule’ than ‘Kingdom’ and points to God’s personal and effective rule over those who own Him as their king, and who respond accordingly..

When the term occurs in the New Testament we always have to consider its context. The Jews were on the whole very much expecting the establishing of a physical Kingly Rule where their King would rule and would gain worldwide supremacy so that they would have a position of authority over the world. He would make them ‘top nation’. Often the references to the Kingly Rule of God has this in mind (e.g. Matthew 18.1; Luke 17.20; 19.11; Acts 1.6).

These particular verses refer to men’s wrongly held views of the Kingly Rule of God. But Jesus made very clear that the Kingly Rule was not to be expected in this way (Luke 17.21; John 18.36). His Kingly Rule was not of this world (John 18.36). Rather it was now present in Him, and men must respond to it from their hearts and come in submission and obedience to God and to the Lord Jesus (Matthew 7.21-22). In order to see and enter into it men must be born from above (John 3.5-6). Then one day it would be revealed in its full glory when the King returned, having first gone away, and those who were His would then enter the everlasting Kingdom (Luke 19.12; 21.31; 22.16, 18; Mark 14.25).

It may well be that we are to see a growth of conception between the Kingly Rule of God which was declared once Jesus had been pronounced by the Father as His Son (Mark 1.11) and that which resulted when He was raised from the dead and received His crown and His throne (Matthew 28.18; Acts 2.36; Luke 19.12). In both cases the Kingly Rule of God demands man’s response to Christ as King, but the first was after His proclamation as God’s appointed king, while the second was after His official coronation, when He had redeemed His people for Himself. We must not, however, overstress the differentiation. Jesus was on earth as king from the beginning (Matthew 2.2; Luke 2.11).

This may be illustrated by (roughly) what did happen when new kings were established.

  • First they gathered supporters, and set up a base, hoping also that a statement of support would have been given by the old king.
  • Then their name was put forward by their supporters, and they selected those who were to help them to the throne by using their influence and winning over support.
  • After this they saw off any rivals often by violence.
  • Then, if they were successful, once their position was established they were publicly crowned.
  • Then the announcement of their coronation would be made to all their subjects.
  • After that they may well have to consolidate their position against rivals, because kingship over the whole was not yet established.
  • Then they would finally have to deal with all those who had previously followed their rivals who would be forced or cajoled to submit.

We can to some extent compare here the situation with Adonijah and Solomon in 1 Kings 1. Each was seeking to establish his kingship. Each gathered his supporters. But it was Solomon who was successful, and who moreover obtained the approbation of the old king. We can also compare to some extent the conflict between David and Ishbaal/Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2-4).

So we may see in the case of Jesus:

  • The He was born King (Matthew 2.2; Luke 2.11).
  • That at His baptism Jesus was named as the rightful heir, and God’s choice for the throne. He was declared King (Mark 1.11).
  • Then He went about establishing the basis of His Kingly Rule (as portrayed in the Gospels) and gathering His supporters who would help to establish His rule (Mark 1.15; Matthew 5-7).
  • Then He acted to redeem His people, defeating unseen foes who were against them, and at His glorification His Kingship was confirmed by official enthronement (Matthew 28.18; Mark 16.19; compare Luke 24.51).
  • Then once, He had received His throne, His kingship was to be proclaimed to the world and the people be won over to accept it (Acts 1.8; 2.36).
  • Then finally He will appear in His glory and enforce His rule on those who have resisted it.
  • Then He will deliver up His kingship to His Father (1 Corinthians 15.24).

The Kingly Rule of God was promised at Jesus’ birth when the angel announced that He would be ‘called the Son of the Highest’, and that He would ‘receive the throne of His father David’, and ‘of His Kingly Rule there would be no end’ (Luke 1.32-33). There is a real sense in which these three phrases not only explain three aspects of what He had come to do, but also the three stages of that Kingly Rule.

  • 1). It began openly when He was ‘called the Son of the Highest’ and was announced as the Son of God (Mark 1.11) and went out to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Heaven).
  • 2). It was further established when He was enthroned as King after His resurrection, and ‘received the throne of His father David’ (Acts 2.36).
  • 3). It will come to its final culmination when He has finally established His everlasting kingdom, overcome all opposition, and hands it over to God so that ‘of His Kingly Rule there will be no end’ (1 Corinthians 15.24).

1). The Kingly Rule of God Began To Be Established When the King was Acknowledged By His Father And Began To Gather His Followers.

The Kingly Rule of God began when Jesus had received the Holy Spirit and was told, ‘You are My Son’ (Mark 1.11; compare Psalm 2.7).

From then on He went out in order to proclaim that the Kingly Rule of God was ‘at hand’ or ‘had drawn near’ (Mark 1.14-15), so that those who submitted to Him and believed on Him entered under the Kingly Rule of God. Indeed the fact that Jesus cast out evil spirits by the Spirit or finger of God was the proof that the Kingly Rule of God had come to them (Matthew 12.28; Luke 11.20). It was present there among them, evidenced by the power that the King exercised. It had come with power (Mark 9.1), a power to be revealed in the Transfiguration, and in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement and what followed (Mark.9.1; ; Luke 9.27; Matthew 28.18). The sick who were healed, and those who refused to listen to His Apostles, had both ‘come near to the Kingly Rule of God’. It had been revealed to them and offered to them. They had had to choose whether they would submit to the King and obey Him (Luke 10.9, 11).

Those who came under that Kingly Rule were greater than John the Baptiser in his prophetic role (Matthew 11.11; Luke 7.28; 16.16), for in it he was only pointing forward as a prophet. He was pre-kingdom, the last in the line of the Torah (Law) and the Prophets (Luke 16.16). He was the preparer of the way (3.2-3). Yet even so through his ministry the tax collectors and prostitutes (representing the most despised kinds of men and women) who repented for the forgiveness of sins under his ministry (Mark 1.4; Luke 3.3), and entered ‘the way of righteousness’, came under ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ (Matthew 21.31-32). So John was very much involved with the introduction of the Kingly Rule of God, and it could be described in terms of entering the way of righteousness (the way of forgiveness and obedience to God). But his office as prophet and preparer of the way was ‘lower’ than the office of servant under the Kingly Rule of God which had now come, because it was simply preparatory, while the latter was the great reality. The actual Kingly Rule was now being exercised by Jesus under God. What the prophets had promised was here. Thus what Jesus brought was something greater than John could offer. (And John entered it when he deferred to Jesus).

Since John’s day the Kingly Rule of God allowed violence and the violent took it by force (11.12). That is, it could be entered by those who made a determined effort, and refused to be put off (compare Mark 9.47; Acts 14.22). For the Kingly Rule of God was being proclaimed and men were pressing into it (Luke 16.16). It could not be entered easily. It required intensity of purpose and a true change of heart, ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins’, but it was very much a present experience for many. The purpose of this saying in Matthew 11.11 is in order to represent Jesus and His followers as ‘greater’ than John the Baptiser because He and they are bringing about the new age, the new Kingly Rule, that John pointed to.

When the Pharisees asked when the Kingly Rule of God would come, Jesus replied that when it came it would not be seen by looking around, but by looking within, for ‘the Kingly Rule of God is within you’ (Luke 17.20-21). It was not a grand outward display, but a changing of heart and mind and a submission in loyalty to God.

Some would translate this as ‘the Kingly Rule of God is among you’, signifying that it was present in Him and His disciples, but that they (the Pharisees) could not see it. Either way the thought was that it was present in Jesus and was to be responded to from the heart, and that the Pharisees were missing it because they were looking for the wrong kind of Kingdom. Only through response to Jesus and the work of the Spirit could the Kingly Rule of God be known. Except a man be born of the Spirit he could not see or enter into the Kingly Rule of God (John 3.5-6).

When the disciples prayed they had to remember that this Kingly Rule of God had, even at the time when Jesus was speaking, to be sought above all else (Matthew 6.33). Once they sought this they would not need to pray for food and clothing, for everything else would be added to them. That is why when they went out to preach they were to take no extra food or clothing (Matthew 10.9-11). They had entered under the Kingly Rule of God, and would be fully provided for with regard to all their physical needs. Thus as they went out to proclaim it they were to pray for its extension daily, praying, ‘your Kingly Rule come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven’ (Matthew 6.10). The Kingly Rule thus consisted in men responding to Him and doing His will on earth. In other words God’s Kingly Rule was coming in that men responded to the preaching of Jesus and began to do what He taught them, and they were to pray that this might become true of more and more. Responding to the King and the teaching that He had brought would equate to entering under the Kingly Rule of God.

The Kingly Rule of God (Heaven) belonged to those who were poor in spirit, to those who were persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5.3, 10; Luke 6.20). They were humble and contrite, and willing to undergo persecution precisely because they had come under God’s Kingly Rule. On the other hand it was hard for those who had riches to enter the Kingly Rule of God, because then their riches would have to be placed at His disposal (Mark 10.23-25; Luke 18.24-25), and they found it hard to give them up. To put the hand to the plough and then to turn back was to be not worthy of the Kingly Rule of God (the submission to the King had then ceased - Luke 9.62). And in order to be esteemed under the Kingly Rule of God it was necessary not to break God’s commandments, or teach men to do so (Matthew 5.19). That would be rebellion. That is why only those whose righteousness exceeded that of the Scribes and Pharisees, (who did by their teachings cause men to break the commandments - Mark 7.8-13; Matthew 23.1-36), could enter it (Matthew 5.20). This clearly indicated that entry into His Kingly Rule did not come about by following the teachings of men but by responding in submission and obedience to the King. Those who listened to the teaching of Jesus and responded to it entered that Kingly Rule, which involved not only calling Him ‘Lord, Lord’, but doing what He said, doing the Father’s will (Matthew 7.21). Thus the Scribe who on learning of the two great commandments said, ‘Teacher, you have said the truth’, was told that he was not far from the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 12.34). All that was now required was his full response to Jesus in accordance with what he had learned.

The mystery (a hidden secret now revealed) of the Kingly Rule of God was made known to them precisely because the significance of His parables was made clear to them (Matthew 13.11; Mark 4.11; Luke 8.10). And this consisted of the fact that the word of the Kingly Rule of God was being sown, and those in whom it produced fruit were within the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 13.19-23). In another parable the good seed which grew and flourished were the children under the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 13.38). One day all who did not so flourish would be removed in judgment, and then the righteous would shine forth as the sun under the Kingly Rule of their Father (Matthew 13.43).

There would thus initially be a time when the Kingly Rule of God coexisted in the world with those who were unresponsive to the King, but in the end these latter would be dealt with and then God’s Kingly Rule would be fully manifested (Matthew 13.41-43). This brings home the dual aspect of the Kingly Rule of God, the present and the future. On the one hand there are those in this present world who are within the Kingly Rule of God, and on the other there are those who are rejecting that Kingly Rule. (There are also those who are professing to be under the Kingly Rule of God, but are not in reality under it - Matthew 13.47; 18.34). But in the future, within God’s everlasting Kingly Rule, the righteous will shine forth within the Kingly Rule of their Father. It was this future Kingly Rule from which Israel would regret being cast out of when they saw that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets were welcomed there, while they were excluded (Luke 13.28). And to that Kingly Rule would come people from all parts of the world (Luke 13.29).

For the Kingly Rule of God is at present like a net gathering up all within it, and once they are gathered up, all that is not fit for it because of lack of response to Him will be removed (Matthew 13.47). Those who are truly instructed concerning the Kingly Rule of God bring out what is old (God’s instruction in the Old Testament) and what is new (the teaching of Jesus which expands and explains that teaching). They study God’s word and eagerly hear the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 13.52). Thus the Kingly Rule of God is powerfully at work, reaching out to seize men, and then sifting them, and removing the bad from among them.

To Peter and the other Apostles were given the keys of the Kingly Rule of God so that they could ‘bind and loose’, that is open it up to all who will respond to it (which Peter does in Acts 1 to 15) and determine how it should be regulated and what manner of lives Christians must live (Matthew 16.19; 18.18). They would make clear the requirements of God which bound all who followed Him. To enter the Kingly Rule of God one must become humble, open and responsive like a little child (Matthew 18.1-4; 19.14; Mark 10.14-15; Luke 18.16-17). Those who have entered under the Kingly Rule of God are like servants to a king, and they will in the end have to give account and will be dealt with according to their behaviour (Matthew 18.23-35; 25.14-30, 31-45). They are like labourers who have hired themselves out to a master, and at the end of the day all receive the same reward, for it is within the master’s gift (Matthew 20.1-16). In Jesus’ day the many tax-collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingly Rule of God, revealed in the fact that they became obedient sons and daughters of the Father, while the more religious were delaying and in danger of missing their opportunity (Matthew 21.28-32). Thus the Kingly Rule of God would be taken away from those who professed to serve God but did not recognise their sinfulness and repent, that is from the old Israel (the vineyard), and would be given to a new nation of Israel who would produce the fruits required by God (Matthew 21.43) becoming branches of the true vine (John 15.1-6), and entering the new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16.18).

The Kingly Rule of Heaven was like a King calling people to the wedding of His Son, Who when many refused to come, destroyed them, and also cast out the one who refused to wear the clothing provided by the King (Matthew 22.1-14), while those whom He called in from the highways and byways, who responded to Him and who wore the clothing He provided, celebrated and rejoiced, for they were within His Kingly Rule. Indeed the condemnation of the Pharisees lay in the fact that they themselves did not enter under the Kingly Rule of God, while at the same time they prevented others from entering, ‘shutting up the Kingly Rule of Heaven from men’ (Matthew 23.13).

Thus while there may not be agreement on the interpretation of all the passages mentioned, they are sufficient to establish that the Kingly Rule of God could be entered and experienced under the ministry of Jesus. It was not just something for the future. They could already experience ‘eternal life’, the life of the age to come, while they lived out their lives on earth (John 5.24). They could accept Jesus as their King and follow Him, as sheep follow a shepherd (John 10.27-28).

2). The Kingly Rule of God Continued And Was Confirmed When Jesus Was Glorified And Received All Authority in Heaven and Earth.

This aspect of His Kingly Rule clearly follows on from the previous one and much of what is written there applies here also. But the situation is now crystallised and the proclamation of Jesus as King and Lord is made more strident. A clear reference to Jesus as receiving authority and power through His resurrection is made in Matthew 28.18; Acts 2.36; Luke 19.12, and we are probably to see this as tying in with the crowning of the Son of Man in Daniel 7.13-14, which spoke of the Son of Man coming to receive His Kingly Rule. It was this passage which partly lay behind Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of Man.

This is the aspect of the Kingly Rule that Acts is mainly seeking to present. Acts is calling men to respond to the risen and glorified Lord and Christ and enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1.3; 8.12; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31). It is a Kingly Rule into which all Christians are transferred (Colossians 1.13). And as Paul could further say, ‘The Kingly Rule of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17). ‘The Kingly Rule of God is not in word but in power’ (1 Corinthians 4.20), bringing men to salvation through the preaching of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18).

The Good News of this Kingly Rule of God had to be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, before the end could come (Matthew 24.14; Acts 1.8). Compare Mark 13.10 where it is called simply ‘the Gospel, the Good News’, and Luke 24.47 where it is called ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins -- preached in His name’. These differing references stress what the content is of the preaching of the Kingly Rule of God. It is to hear of Jesus Christ, to respond to Him, and to repent and receive forgiveness of sins.

Then at the end those who were His would enter the everlasting Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 25.34), inheriting eternal life (Matthew 25.46). And then will Jesus ‘drink wine’ (celebrate) with His own under the Kingly Rule of His Father, within the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 26.29; Mark 14.25).

3). The Everlasting Kingly Rule Of God When His Own Have Been Made Perfect Is Yet Future For Those Who Are His.

The third aspect of the Kingly Rule of God is when men finally enter the everlasting Kingdom, when they finally come into God’s presence in total and complete submission and worship. It is spoken of throughout the New Testament. When the Son of Man comes in His glory (Matthew 25.31) the whole world will be judged and His people will ‘inherit the Kingly Rule which was given them from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 25.34), and ‘will go away into eternal life’ (Matthew 25.46) rather than going into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25.31-46). Then will the King drink wine with them (a picture of celebration) in the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 26.29; Mark 14.25; Luke 22.16, 18). The coming of this Kingly Rule will be prepared for by the signs of the end (Luke 21.31). It is then that men will weep and gnash their teeth because they will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the prophets entering it, together with people from all parts of the world, while they themselves are cast out (Luke 13.28-29; Matthew 8.11). And then will the righteous shine forth as the sun within the Kingly Rule of their Father (Matthew 13.43).

This expectation of the future Kingly Rule of God (‘His heavenly Kingdom’) is prominent in the letters of Paul. Flesh and blood will not inherit it (1 Corinthians 15.50) nor will those who live openly sinful lives (see 1 Corinthians 6.9-10; 15.24, 50; Galatians 5.21; Ephesians 5.5; 2 Thessalonians 1.5; 4.1, 18; see also James 2.5; 2 Peter 1.11). Putting all this in the words of Jesus in John, men can receive and enjoy eternal life (life more abundant) now (John 3.15; 5.24; 10.28; 1 John 5.13) and then enjoy it later to its fullest degree in Heaven (Matthew 25.46; Titus 1.2).

End of Excursus.

‘The former (proton) treatise.’ In classical Greek ‘proton’ meant the first of a series, but by 1st century AD it had come to be used more slackly and could therefore here simply mean the first of two. This rather than the alternative (proteros) is regularly found in the papyri which confirms this.

‘O Theophilus.’ (Compare in Luke 1.3 ‘most excellent Theophilus’). The addressing of a treatise to an important figure was common practise, even when the intention was that the treatise should be read widely (Josephus makes a similar ascription in Contra Apion). For the address ‘most excellent’ compare 23.26 where it is the address to a Roman governor. It may therefore indicate a high level public official. On the other hand it could equally be used as a courtesy title as addressed to an important man, and the fact that here in Acts, in the only ascription in the book, Theophilus is addressed without the title (in contrast with Luke 1.3) may point to the latter, and to the fact that Luke was on friendly terms with him. The name Theophilus was a common one (it means ‘friend of God’) and there are no real grounds for suggesting that it was a pseudonym, especially in view of the fact that addressing a treatise to an important person was common practise.

‘Appearing to them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God.’ It may well be that Luke intends us to see in the reference to forty days a reminder that when Moses went to meet God in Mount Sinai in order to receive the covenant he did it twice for ‘forty days’. Here then was the present equivalent, with the disciples meeting with Jesus over a period of forty days, resulting in their officially receiving the new covenant in His blood, through which would result the establishment of God’s Kingly Rule on earth over all who responded to Him. In view of Jesus’ dismissal of their question concerning the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (verse 6-7), he clearly cannot here mean a future literal Kingdom of Israel. Rather is Luke stressing that the true Kingly Rule of God is that which is being established through the witness of the disciples. It is a Kingly Rule in which they will obey His voice on earth (‘your kingly rule come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ - Matthew 6.10), but which will one day for them and for all believers result in the enjoyment of that Kingly Rule of God in Heaven.

It is clear from Luke that this ‘forty day’ instruction included Jesus teaching them about His Messiahship (Luke 24.26, 46 compare Matthew 28.18-19), evidencing to them from the Old Testament the significance of His coming (Luke 24.27, 32, 44-45), and stressing to them the need for universal witness and obedience to His teaching (Luke 24.47-48 compare Matthew 28.20; Mark 16.15). This was what the Kingly Rule of God was all about, the arrival of God’s chosen King as promised by the prophets, and a demanded response to Him of trust, obedience and witness.

Jesus’ Commission to His Apostles (1.4-11).

Here the risen Jesus calls on His believing people to wait for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit Who would be poured out on them like rain on fruitful ground. Once this happens they are to forget their own ideas about what the future holds, and go out into the world to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. After saying this Jesus Himself is taken up to heaven, and two ‘men’ clothed in white inform the watchers that He will one day come in the same way as they have seen Him go.

1.4 ‘And, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, “which,” said he, “you heard from me”.’

The importance of the Holy Spirit in what follows comes out here. The book commences with reference to ‘the promise of the Father’, which Luke then defines in terms of the Holy Spirit. Compare for the phrase ‘promise of the Father’ Luke 24.49 where ‘the promise of My Father unto you’ connects with ‘power from on high’ which will come to them. The phrase is thus a mark of continuity with Luke’s Gospel and a promise of supernatural power, power from Above. This confirmation of what Luke 24.49 refers to, draws specific attention to Luke’s deliberate failure to mention the Holy Spirit in the latter part of his Gospel, probably in order not to take away from the impact of Acts 1-2, and in order to bring out the first and second phases of the Spirit’s activity.

‘The promise of the Father.’ This promise can be looked at from three aspects, all mentioned in context:

  • 1). As Peter makes clear in 2.17-18 the promise of the Father was given in the Old Testament. It was for example given by Joel, ‘But this is that which has been spoken through the prophet Joel, “And it shall be in the last days, says God, I will pour forth of my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams, yes, and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” As this is referred to directly in context it is clear that this is an aspect of the promise of the Father. And this promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is confirmed by other prophets where it is made clear that it will transform the lives of men and women and result in the bringing about of God’s purposes (see Isaiah 44.1-5; Ezekiel 36.25-27. See also Isaiah 32.15).
  • 2). The promise of the Father comes out in the ministries of John the Baptiser and Jesus. John promised that the Coming One would ‘drench you with the Holy Spirit and fire’, something to which his own baptism in water pointed (Luke 3.16). And again this is referred to in context here in Acts, for in verse 5 immediately following Jesus will remind them of what John had said. Furthermore Jesus promised, ‘he who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’ and we are immediately told that this refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit once Jesus has been glorified (John 7.38-39). And He promised in John 14-16 that He would send the Holy Spirit, the One called alongside to help and strengthen (the Paraclete), who would come as His other self (14.18) to lead into truth, to make plain the Scriptures, and to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father, and by Jesus Christ Himself (16.7), for the purpose of strengthening, guiding and empowering His people (John 14.16, 18, 16, 26; 15.26-27; 16.8-10, 13) so that their message might make an impact on the world (John 16.8-10).
  • 3). The promise of the Father has been emphasised by Jesus in His resurrection appearances. In Matthew He said, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28.20). In Mark He said, “These signs will follow those who believe” (Mark 16.17) which is then described as, ‘the Lord working with them’ (Mark 16.20). In John a foretaste has already been given which was uniquely for the Apostles when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20.22). That this was actually effective prior to Pentecost is confirmed in Luke 24.45 where Jesus, “Opened their minds that they might understand the Scriptures”. This was then followed by words in which He spoke of the promise of the Father, which was coming, which would give them power from Above (Luke 24.49).

So the promise of the Father was promised in the Old Testament as to occur when God’s Kingly Rule began, was promised by John and Jesus in terms of what Jesus would give to His people, and was promised by Jesus after His resurrection as what was about to come.

Perhaps at this stage we should clarify a little more about New Testament teaching about the Holy Spirit, for it is important in dealing with this subject that we are careful to discern what Scripture is actually saying. Far too much interpretation is based on what we would like it to mean rather than on what Scripture reveals. Three terms are used with reference to the filling with the Holy Spirit which must be clearly distinguished.

  • 1). ‘Filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit.’ This is used a number of times to explain some temporary outward manifestation such as prophecy, or speaking in tongues, or speaking the word of God with boldness, or speaking a word of power, and occurs for that temporary purpose (Luke 1.41, 67; Acts 2.4; 4.8, 31; 13.9). It is similar to ‘the Spirit of Yahweh came upon --’ in the Old Testament which was also temporary for a particular task and was revealed in the satisfactory completion of that task in the power of God. The exceptions are John the Baptiser and Paul who were permanently ‘filled’ (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit because of their unique ministries (Luke 1.15; Acts 9.17), but even then this permanent filling is revealed in their powerful ministries. Their experience can be compared with ‘the Spirit of Yahweh came upon -- from that day forward’ on Saul (1 Samuel 10.6 with 16.14) and David (1 Samuel 16.13). It always without exception results in ‘inspired’ words.
  • 2). ‘Filled (pleroo) with the Holy Spirit.’ This ‘being filled’ (pleroo) is always evidence of continuing spirituality and reveals itself in joy and praise, and is for all believers (Acts 13.52; Ephesians 5.18). It is clearly distinguished from the use of pimplemi.
  • 3). ‘Full (pleres) of the Holy Spirit.’ This is used of Jesus’ permanent and unique experience of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4.1) which undergirded all His ministry and resulted in His rejoicing in Spirit (Luke 10.21). In His case we can hardly doubt that ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ is to be read in all through Luke’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit was not given by measure to Him (John 3.34). The same phrase is used in Acts in order to describe those who were recognised as being in a good spiritual state, as manifested by being full of wisdom, faith or spiritual insight (Acts 6.3, 5; 7.55; 11.24).

So the Holy Spirit had begun His work in John the Baptiser (‘filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb’ - Luke 1.15), and in Jesus (‘full (pleres) of the Holy Spirit’ - Luke 4.1), but there was yet to be a greater manifestation of Him and His work in Acts 2 after which there would be a host of people continually being again and again filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit as His work moved forward (Acts 2.4; 4.8, 31; 9.17; 13.9), the latter in each case connected with an outward manifestation of powerful words. In other words, to sum this up, the experience referred to as ‘being filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit’ resulted in some particular manifestation for service (which was how it was known that it had happened), while being continually full (pleroo) of the Holy Spirit in life was the lot of all believers who fully responded to Him.

‘Pimplemi’ always refers to a special anointing for service and is usually temporary, although repeatable. The specially chosen John and Paul, for whom it was permanent, were the exceptions. We can compare ‘the Spirit of Yahweh came upon --’ in the Old Testament which was also usually temporary and repeatable, but in the cases of Saul and David was permanent, although finally forfeited by Saul. In all cases it was for the fulfilment of a specific task.

‘Pleroo’ on the other hand signifies a permanent, continual filling (Acts 13.52; Ephesians 5.18) which brought joy and fellowship with God. ‘Pleres’ was used in Jesus’ case and was connected with the manifestation of His supreme gifts and with rejoicing in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10.21), but of course Jesus was the great exception. The Spirit was not given by measure to Him (John 3.34). Compare the use of pleres in Acts 6.3, 5; 7.55; 11.24 where it refers to the permanent experience of those who were pleasing to God and full of Him, but not to particular activities.

‘He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem.’ Note the emphasis on the need to wait in Jerusalem from this point on (after the appearances in Galilee) until the Holy Spirit comes (compare Luke 24.49). It will be apparent that Luke lays great emphasis on the commencement at Jerusalem, so much so that he deliberately does not mention the Galilean appearances. This kind of silence is typical of Luke and does not mean that he did not know of them. He also deliberately refrained from mentioning the Holy Spirit from Luke 4.2 onwards (even in preparing for the future in Luke 24), except indirectly; put Jesus’ ministry in the form of a ‘journey to Jerusalem’ from Luke 9.51 onwards; and in Acts 1-2 refrains from mentioning the Temple, even though he had drawn attention to it in Luke 24.53. However, his reference to the forty days leaves plenty of room for the Galilean appearances, and a little of their content might appear in Luke 24.46-49. This silence rather confirms that he has a primary desire to emphasise that Jerusalem was the source from which the word of God went out into the world (compare Isaiah 2.2-4), and wants all concentration to be on Jerusalem, and on his building up to these first two chapters of Acts which centre on Jerusalem.

This is in distinct contrast with Matthew, and to some extent with Mark, who both take the stress away from Jerusalem and put it on Galilee. They were justified in doing so, for that had been Jesus’ original intention (Matthew 28.7, 10; Mark 14.28; 16.7) until hindered by the disobedience and unbelief of the Apostles who in their unbelief stubbornly remained in Jerusalem. To Matthew the Galilean appearances were the ones that Jesus had originally intended, and were therefore to be emphasised. He probably remembered with deep sorrow how foolish they had been in not obeying Him immediately as a result of their unbelief, and he stresses their final obedience with its subsequent reward. Mark 16.9-20 and John, however, agree with Luke in confirming appearances in Jerusalem, and John further agrees with Matthew in confirming one in Galilee (evidence that they did go to Galilee during that period as Matthew says). Paul makes quite clear that there were a number of resurrection appearances, even some not mentioned in the Gospels (1 Corinthians 15.4-8).

It is not surprising that the Apostles would return to their homes in Galilee after the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was over. It was the place where they would feel most secure, where they enjoyed the most support, and where they were among friends while they tried to sort out their confusion over what had happened. Besides there was no longer a Jesus to follow and the angels had specifically told them to go to Galilee. But as the continual appearances of Jesus brought home to them the wonder of what had happened, and what His purposes were for them, and no doubt under His further instructions, they returned to Jerusalem and spent their time continually in the temple praising God (Luke 24.53).

This stress of Luke on Jerusalem to the exclusion of Galilee brings out that one of his main purposes is to emphasise that the good news of the Kingly Rule of God became established in both Jerusalem, the centre of the Jewish world, and Rome, the centre of the Gentile world (27.17, 19, 28), drawing together both believing Jews and believing Gentiles as one. The dictum ‘Jew first, and then Gentile’ is one of his themes (13.5. 43; 14.1; 17.1-2, 10-12, 17; 18.4, 5-6, 19; 20.21; 28.17, 19, 28), one which Paul himself confirms (Romans 1.16). It is seen as fulfilled here.

‘Jerusalem.’ Here it is Hierosoluma (the Hellenistic form) as in 8.1, 14, 25 (which may reflect the movement to the Samaritan ministry) and Luke 24.49, but not 8.26, 27 (referring to a God-fearer). In the latter, and in Acts 1-7 and 9-10 it is always Yerousalem (which is the Aramaic form and first used in verse 8). The change appears to be deliberate, often reflecting Aramaic speaking preachers, even though we may not always appreciate why it occurs. It may sometimes reflect the source from which Luke obtained his information. In 25.3 when Festus goes up to Jerusalem and is approached by the leaders of the Jews it is Yerousalem, but when in that chapter he returns to Caesarea or uses it in speech it is Hierosoluma.

‘Being assembled together’ (singular active participle of sunalizo). While this indicates Jesus being together with them in some way the exact meaning is not clear. Some translate as ‘an eating together’, but the connection with eating is not strictly found in the use of the term elsewhere. Others see it as meaning ‘being assembled together’ but the singular present participle makes that difficult. If it could be seen as a variant of sunaulizo it could indicate ‘ staying with’. The general significance is, however, clear. He was there with them.

1.5 ‘For John indeed baptised (drenched) with water; but you will be baptised (drenched) in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

The risen Jesus now confirms the final fulfilment of all that John’s baptism pointed to in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in terms of rain as forecast by the prophets (Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5; 55.9-13; Ezekiel 36.25-27). The prophets had declared that in the final days the Spirit would be poured out like rain from above, and while Luke has already given us examples of the Holy Spirit at work, this is clearly a preparation for Acts 2. The steady downpour is to become a cloudburst. And here Jesus declared that it would come ‘not many days from now’. The Spirit had been constantly at work through the ministry of Jesus (Luke 4.1 following; John 3.5; 4.10-14 along with 4.1; 6.63; 7.37 which would finally result in 7.38), now He would come in even greater measure. The implication from Jesus’ reference to the words of John the Baptiser was that it was He, Jesus, Who would drench them in the Holy Spirit, as John had said.

The phrase ‘baptism (baptizo - ‘drench, immerse, inundate’) in the Holy Spirit’ is only ever used when a contrast is made with John’s baptism, for it was what John’s baptism had symbolised, and it was partly John’s baptism that gave the actual phrase its significance. John had baptised in water those who had sought through repentance to prepare for the expected coming work of the Spirit, which latter was depicted in terms of the pouring out of rain as revealed by the prophets. It was thus well illustrated by John’s baptism, and was what John had in mind. For note how much of his teaching was related to natural phenomena and to fruitfulness or otherwise. The vipers were to flee from the coming wrath (as snakes fled from cornfields when the stubble was burned), men were to bring forth fruits suitable to indicate repentance, the tree which did not produce good fruit would be cut down and cast into the fire, with the axe laid to its roots, the Lord would come to His threshingfloor with his threshing fan and purge the floor, gathering the wheat into His barns and burning up the chaff with unquenchable (and thus connected with God and unavoidable) fire (Matthew 3.7-12; Luke 3.7-9, 16-17). Thus all this was to be seen in the light of the Holy Spirit coming down like rain as promised by the prophets (Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5).

This reminds us of what the prime purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit in this exceptional way was. It was in order to produce fruitbearing lives, it was in order that He might make men’s lives pure and righteous (Luke 3.10-14), in order that through it they may bring glory to God (Matthew 5.16). The spiritual rain would come down on men’s lives, and through the seed of the word, would produce fruit in those who responded. From that would then flow their going out to take the message of Jesus, their Lord and Messiah, to others.

It should be noted that this assumes that the work of the Spirit is already taking place through John’s ministry. He was after all filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1.15). The idea of Pentecost is not that it was the first coming of the Holy Spirit, but that it was His coming in the effectiveness and power spoken of by the prophets in order to bring about a new work, the transformation of human lives, and the formation of the true church of Jesus Christ as united with Him by becoming members of His own risen and glorified body. This was why it could not occur until Christ had finally ascended (compare John 7.38-39 which had to await this, but not 7.37 which was an open offer to Jesus’ hearers at the time when He spoke). They could not become members of His earthly body while he lived on earth, but once He was glorified they could be united with Him in His spiritual body.

In 1 Corinthians 12.12-13 this further aspect is expanded on, for Christ Himself is the one body, and Paul declares, ‘We (believers) have all been baptised in one Spirit into one body -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit’, with the consequence that, having been united with Christ as one body, they would serve Christ as members of His ‘body’ (1 Corinthians 12.12, 27). Being united with Christ by the Spirit and being made one with Him is what the coming ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ would accomplish. It would make them one with the risen Christ, as members of His risen body. They would be united with Him by the Spirit. Note that in this picture ‘the body is Christ’ and the head is included as a part of the body and Christians are seen as part of the head as well as part of the remainder of the body. The stress is on being made one with Christ. The body ‘is Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12.12).

Luke places great stress on the fact that the Spirit’s work in Acts is the fulfilment of John’s promised ‘drenching in Holy Spirit’. Here he relates it to what will happen in Acts 2. In 11.16 he relates it to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles share in this wonderful promise of God which would come from the Baptiser in Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ.

1.6 ‘They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying, “Lord, do you at this time restore the kingly rule to Israel?” ’

‘Lord.’ What a different view they had of Jesus now. He was no more ‘teacher’ or Rabbi’ or even ‘Master’. He was ‘Lord’. In the words of Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20.28). Yet even so they did not understand what the Lordship meant for the world.

For the disciples still had a very physical view of the coming kingdom. We have seen this coming out in the request of John and James to take their seats on the right and left hand of Jesus in the coming kingdom (John 10.35-41). Now that He was risen they still seem to have held on to the view that Jesus was here to establish an earthly kingdom, ruled over by Him, presumably by force of arms, although now from His position of invulnerability as One Who had conquered death. And they were seemingly ready and waiting to join with Him in the enterprise. They had been waiting for His move all the time when He was on earth. They thought that perhaps it was now about to happen once the Spirit of the Lord had come on them as he had on Gideon and others of old in order to inspire them to successful warfare.

But as He did with John and James, Jesus here simply deflected the question and refused to enter into discussion on the matter. He pointed out that His people must not allow themselves to be taken up with speculation about any coming earthly kingdom but must rather concentrate on the matter in hand, which was to act as His witnesses and make the world aware of Him and what He had accomplished through His cross and resurrection, making them aware that He was now both Lord and Christ. They must go out and proclaim that the Kingly Rule of God was already here, and that all must submit to it. Wherever a man submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ he entered under the Kingly Rule of God. This did not forbid all thought on the matter, but it was certainly a warning that neither they nor we should allow such speculation to hinder the main purpose of the worldwide church, which is to establish God’s Kingly Rule on earth over all His true people with a view to their finally enjoying it in its fullness in Heaven. Some believe that there will yet be an earthly kingdom which they call the Millennium (a word never mentioned in Scripture). But the New Testament never mentions such an idea and it arises from a failure to recognise that ‘a thousand years’ is simply an indication of a period which is in God’s hands and the length of which is not known.

1.7 ‘And he said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has set within His own authority.” ’

Jesus’ reply is basically that they must leave the more distant future, and questioning how the Father will go about things, in the hands of God and not take a morbid interest in the matter. At this point in time that future was hidden. It had nothing to do with them. God alone had the right to decide such matters, and they were outside human speculation. We can compare here how Jesus used the same method in dealing with Peter’s questions about John’s death (John 21.22). It was simply a way of saying, ‘mind your own business’. But He, Jesus, was now issuing His orders and telling them what their present business was. What God would do in the future, and when He would do it, were matters to be left in His hands and not to be speculated on, but what they had to do now was quite clear.

We must not in fact assume that all the disciples had the same view as each other on such matters. Many theories were rife in Judaea and Galilee at the time, and many differing views were held about what Messiah would do and be when he came. Nathaniel may well have had very different views from James and John. But it was not Jesus’ purpose to sort out those views at this time. They would simply have been a diversion. Rather they were to put them to one side. They had to forget their hopes of earthly glory and concentrate on the task in hand. There was a job to be done, and it was that that they must concentrate on.

‘Times or seasons.’ The phrase includes both when those things will be and what will occur during them. They are not to be taken up with either. This was not a time for waiting and speculating it was a time for acting and doing. The same command comes to us today. ‘Leave your speculating about the more future to one side, and get out and witness both with lip and life (compare ‘to do and to teach’ in verse 1), until every person in every land has had fully presented to them the Gospel and has been given the opportunity to respond.’ We repeat again, this does not mean that we must not seek to interpret all parts of the word of God, but it does mean that that should not become a hindrance to our full and complete service for Jesus Christ, or cause our different interpretations to hinder our working together.

If Jesus were to say the same today He might well declare, ‘Beware lest you let doctrine about the Second Coming, and especially speculation about its details, take up too much of your time, or divide you and prevent you from fulfilling your responsibility to be a combined witness to Jesus Christ, for in the end what God will do can safely be left in His hands. What matters most for you is that you concentrate on the task in hand and present to people the truth about Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection and present Lordship.’ (He could also have safely added, ‘because in the end you will all have got it partly right and partly wrong’).

For ‘the times’ see especially 3.19, 21 which refer to ‘the times of refreshing’ and the ‘times of restitution of all things’. Those are the times that they are permitted to know about, the former preparatory for it and signifying the blessing that was coming on the church though the life-giving activity of the Spirit as they went forward to prepare for His return in the new age that had come, and the latter referring to the final introduction of the everlasting Kingdom when all would be restored. But Acts also refers to ‘times past’ (14.13) when nations were allowed to walk in their own ways, the ‘times’ of man’s ignorance (17.30), referring to the past and present time of man’s darkness, and ‘the times before appointed’ (17.26) when nations settled in their various places. All these times, says Jesus, are in God’s hands. ‘Seasons’ usually refers to the various ‘seasons’ which occur within those ‘times’ (see 14.17; 20.18). Basically Jesus is saying that it is futile for men to try to work out God’s timetable, for only He knows it and He does not reveal it (not even to His Son - while he was on earth - Mark 13.32). What we are to recognise of those times and seasons is that they will come suddenly and unexpectedly (1 Thessalonians 5.1-3).

1.8 “But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come on you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.”

What they are to spend their thoughts and concentration on is now outlined. The very purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit, is so that they might receive power to become His witnesses by both personal witness and godly living. That witness was first to be in Jerusalem, and then ‘in Judaea and Samaria’ (in the Greek closely conjoined), and then in the uttermost parts of the earth. By witnessing to Him they would be establishing His Kingly Rule (8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31; Romans 14.17; 1 Corinthians 4.20).

These words were an indication to them that they had no time for speculation, and that His coming could certainly not take place for a good long time (He had gone into a far country), during which time they must reach the whole world for Christ (even though they would think in terms of the Roman world, compare Romans 1.8; 16.19; Colossians 1.6). As He had previously informed them, His coming would not happen until Jerusalem had been destroyed (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Meanwhile they must be active.

‘You shall be my witnesses.’ The idea behind the word ‘witness’ is that of being able to declare something experienced personally, to declare something experienced at first hand. In the first initial surge the witness in mind especially included those who had been eyewitnesses, both of Jesus’ earthly life and of His resurrection. The importance lying behind this is brought out in the following verses by the electing to the twelve of another eyewitness of both. But secondarily it includes the witness of all who have personally experienced His saving power.

The word ‘witness’ occurs continually throughout Acts, and can be considered as one of its main themes. This was to be the purpose of the church, to be a witness to Jesus as the risen and enthroned Christ and Lord, and to His Kingly Rule.

It should be noted here that as far as they were concerned at that point in time this meant that they had to go out among the Jews of the Dispersion (including proselytes, (converted Gentiles who has been circumcised) and possibly God-fearers (Gentiles who attended the synagogue because attracted by the moral teaching of the Jewish Scriptures and the idea of one God but who were not willing to be circumcised) so that all of them might hear about Jesus their Messiah and Lord. Jesus did not go into explanations, at this point in time, as to the exact meaning of His words. As with His comment about the time of the coming kingdom, details could be left until later truth dawned on them. It would not be until much later that it came home to them that it also included untouched Gentiles.

‘To the uttermost part of the earth (heows eschatou tes ges).’ This phrase is rare in ancient Greek literature, but it occurs four times in Isaiah in the Septuagint (8.9; 48.20; 49.6; 62.11). In Isaiah 8.9 it refers to far off nations, in Isaiah 48.20 it refers to the declaring to ‘the end of the earth’ that Yahweh has ‘redeemed His servant Jacob’, in 49.6 the Servant of Yahweh is to be given for a light to the Gentiles that He may ‘be for Yahweh’s salvation to the end of the earth’, in 62.11 Yahweh ‘proclaims to the end of the earth’, “Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold your salvation comes. Behold your reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him, and they will call you the holy people, the redeemed of Yahweh, and you shall be called ‘Sought out’, a city nor forsaken”.

It seems therefore probable that Jesus would expect His disciples to connect the phrase with Isaiah, and recognise that He was saying that in witnessing to Him ‘to the end of the earth’ they would be declaring God’s salvation as expressed in Isaiah and proclaiming that He had now come to redeem His people. They probably initially thought more in terms of 48.20; 62.11 with their emphasis on the message of salvation going to the Jews worldwide, but once the full truth of their mission came home they would also relate it to the work of the Servant on behalf of the Gentiles in 49.6. This particularly comes out in that in Acts 13.47 they not only see the Servant as Jesus, but also as the witnessing church, in a verse where 49.6 is quoted. This latter verse confirms that this was their final view.

We should note here that similar instructions had already been given to them a number of times, along with further definition of how they should go about it. ‘Go -- and make disciples of all nations ---’ (Matthew 28.19-20). ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to the whole creation ---’ (Mark 16.15). ‘Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’ (Luke 24.47-48). Now they were to learn how to interpret it.

1.9 ‘And when he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.’

Once Jesus had given His commission and prepared them for the downpouring of the Holy Spirit He was taken up skyward until He was hidden in a cloud. From that time onward they would see Him no longer, except in special revelations. It was a climactic moment. It was the last time that they would see Him until they met Him in His glory. The event emphasised that He would no longer be physically with them in this world, but had gone to God. It was a reminder to them that any views of His raising an army and leading an earthly insurrection were completely and utterly without meaning. He was no longer ‘of the earth’.

‘As they were looking, He was taken up.’ Here, in line with Elisha’s experience, was the final evidence that they would receive the coming Spirit. As with Elisha the seeing of their Master being taken was evidence that they would partake of His Spirit (2 Kings 2.9).

‘A cloud received Him out of their sight.’ They would recognise in this that He had gone to God Who, when He revealed Himself, regularly did so in a cloud (Exodus 13.21; 19.9, 16; 24.16; 34.5; 40.34 etc. Mark 9.7; Luke 9.34-35). And they would further remember that when the Son of Man received His Kingly Rule, He would do so in the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7.13-14). Thus they may well have seen His entering the cloud as indicating His departing to His heavenly throne.

Such a cloud would be a rare phenomenon in the Middle East at that time of the year, when the sun usually shone from a cloudless sky. And they had good reason to realise exactly what this symbolic act meant. Jesus had not left them in the dark about His future, for He had already informed them that all authority had now been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28.18). They had therefore to recognise that He had now gone to take up His position of authority in Heaven from where He would send to them the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Mark 16.19 in fact declares, ‘after He had spoken to them He was received up into Heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God’. They were not in any doubt as to the significance of what had happened. He had been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36), and they would see Him no more until they went to Him (Philippians 1.23), or He returned again in His glory as He had promised (Mark 8.38; 13.26-27 and often).

1.10-11 ‘And while they were looking steadfastly into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as you beheld him going into heaven.” ’

The significance of this event is further emphasised by the appearance of two men in white clothing. Through them a deliberate message is conveyed to the disciples as they quite understandably continued to gaze up into the now empty sky, unable to fully take in what was happening. Some of them had probably already been ready waiting for the call to arms so that their risen Messiah could lead them against the Romans. (That was what their earlier question had been all about). Now they knew that it was not to be, and that they were standing on the verge of something totally new, and they were stunned, and probably felt completely bereft. They would know that they were going to have to totally rethink their position in the light of what Jesus had said during the forty days in which He had appeared to them.

The two men, who by their description as being ‘in white clothing’ are depicted as messengers (angels) from God (it was the recognised way of describing such - Matthew 28.3; Mark 16.5; John 20.12), gently rebuked them for standing there gazing up into heaven. This was no time to stand and stare. It was time for them to recognise that one day He would return in the same way as they had seen Him go (personally), and that He would then expect them to have completed the task that He had given them. He would come personally to call them to account and He would not want to come and find them either sleeping or staring upwards. God’s prime concern was now that they take out to all the world their witness about Him.

Jesus had now, as it were, gone into a ‘far country’, but one day He would return, and in that day they would have to give full account of all that they had done (Luke 19.12-27).

It should here be noted that with one blow Jesus had transformed all their thinking. He had told them that from now on their thoughts were to be concentrated simply on one question, how can we best take our witness to the world and proclaim Christ, and in what form shall we take it? There would (hopefully) be no more thoughts about earthly kingdoms and fighting and force of arms. As ever Jesus with a few quiet words had removed a host of misconceptions. Whatever their thoughts and expectations had been they had now all to be set aside, without any need for argument, and replaced by a simple mission (simple in concept not in application) which would take up the remainder of their lives (and ours too). How seriously they took it comes out in 6.4.

Speculation as to whether the two men in white were Moses and Elijah is totally unhelpful. It produces fictitious ‘blessed thoughts’ not based on fact. We must beware of trying to add to Scripture.

Preparation For Pentecost (1.12-26).

In obedience to His command they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives where all this had happened, and entered the upper chamber where they were staying. And from this time on they spent their time in ‘the prayer’, probably mainly in the Temple with a number of other disciples (Luke 24.53), waiting patiently for what Jesus had promised.

‘The prayer’ may signify the prayer that He had taught them Luke 11.2-4, ‘May Your name be sanctified (by the bringing about of Your purposes - Ezekiel 36.23; 38.23), may your Kingly Rule come, give us day by day Tomorrow’s bread (the promised heavenly Bread - John 6.35), forgive us our sins, bring us not into temptation’. Or it may signify ‘the meetings for prayer’.

And it was while they prayed that Peter made a bold step of faith. In view of the new initiative that would soon be theirs it was necessary to make up the twelve.

Much discussion has taken place as to whether his action was justified or not. But there are a number of grounds for seeing it as completely valid.

  • 1). Jesus had already given to His Apostles the Holy Spirit so as to aid their discernment and give them special authority, in contrast with the Holy Spirit’s coming on the whole church (John 20.22-23; Luke 24.45). They were thus not acting without the Spirit.
  • 2). The decision was one agreed on prayerfully by the whole gathering of ‘about one hundred and twenty’ disciples (verse 15).
  • 3). The decision was supported by citing the Scriptures which had helped them to come to this decision (verses 16-20). For Luke to have given the details of this must be seen as unlikely unless he considered that the argument was valid.
  • 4). Luke devotes eleven verses of valuable space to describing the details of the incident, and providing the information that supported it. He would surely not have done so if he had not seen it as an important and valid decision, especially as he gives no hint of the kind of disapproval which might have indicated that there was another lesson to be learned from it.
  • 5). Nowhere is this decision ever later criticised.
  • 6). If they were to continue going around preaching in twos as they had been taught to do by Jesus (Mark 6.7; Luke 10.1; and compare 3.1) it would be necessary for an even number to be made up.
  • 7). Psychologically it was wise to fill the gap caused by Judas. It made them feel full and complete once again.

Their purpose in making up the twelve would be as a testimony to the fact that their message was for ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’, (we note that Paul himself recognised that he was an Apostle ‘to the Gentiles’ (Galatians 2.7-8; Romans 11.13), and therefore not one of ‘the twelve’ - 1 Corinthians 15.5). It was an assertion of their confidence that the work which had begun when Jesus appointed them was now to continue. It expressed their certainty that Jesus would fulfil His promise of sending to His people the Holy Spirit. It was a clear declaration of faith.

Furthermore the twelvefold eyewitness to the life, teaching and resurrection of Jesus was clearly seen as important (in those days numbers were seen as highly significant), while the making up of the full number would help them to forget the failure of their former comrade. Paul, of course, while an eyewitness to the resurrection ‘out of due time’ had not received Jesus’ teaching first hand, nor had he witnessed His life from the beginning.

Those who take ultra-literally Jesus’ words in Matthew 19.28, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, you also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” necessarily query whether there will be a throne for Paul. But there are good grounds for seeing His words as a pictorial representation of the then future authority that the Apostles would have over the church, and not as indicating literal thrones (which spiritual bodies might anyway have difficulty in sitting on). Paul unquestionably also had that kind of throne (his future declared authority) from which many sought to topple him, but it did not need to be one of twelve. He ‘judged’ the Gentiles.

We can compare Jesus’ similar words in Luke, having instituted the Lord’s Table, “I appoint to you a Kingly Rule, as My Father has appointed to Me, that you may eat and drink at My Table under My Kingly Rule and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22.29-30), and this having stressed that they must not seek to sit in seats but to take the lowest place as those who serve (verses 25-27). Their thrones were thus not to be thrones of exercising lordship, but of humble service.

Here He is probably signifying what Acts reveals that each Apostle would have a Kingly Rule in humility and lowliness over his new flock under the Kingly Rule of Christ, being able, with them, to eat and drink at His Table, both spiritually as in John 6.35 and literally as in 1 Corinthians 11.26. Paul would have the same.

The symbolism of the twelve Apostles as the foundation of the new Jerusalem is irrelevant for this purpose. It was never intended to be personalised but to demonstrate that the future would be founded on the work of Christ’s Apostles.

It is also no argument against this to say that Matthias is never again mentioned. Such an argument would exclude a number of other Apostles as well (see below).

1.12 ‘Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is nigh to Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey off.’

The citing of the place where all this had occurred is a testimony to its genuineness. In Luke 24.50 it is at Bethany, which was on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. Luke regularly goes into great pains to ensure that he gives the full detail. Thus the mention of the Mount of Olives here clearly has a purpose. It would not be long before the minds of any knowledgeable readers were turned to Zechariah 14.4, ‘and His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives’, and they would recognise even more the greatness of the One Whom they served. They would see that His feet had already stood on the Mount Olives from which would come great things.

‘A Sabbath day’s journey off.’ Roughly a kilometre or two thirds of a mile. It was the distance that was allowed to be travelled on the Sabbath without it being considered a journey.

Note On The Sabbath Day’s Journey.

The regulations had become rather complicated. Walking within the city walls did not count as part of the Sabbath Day’s journey as it was seen as ‘home’. Thus it only commenced once the city walls had been reached. But during festival time the tents around the city were seen as forming a wall around the city thus extending the city limits during those times. During those times Bethany would be within a sabbath day’s journey of Jerusalem Furthermore the device had grown up whereby if food was lodged a sabbath’s day journey from the city walls, a person could claim that as his home and go a further two-thirds of a mile, making one and a half miles in all. Thus it was not as restrictive as it might itself at first sound.

End of Note.

1.13 ‘And when they were come in, they went up into the upper chamber, where they were abiding; both Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.’

Arriving at their lodgings they went up to the guest chamber where they were staying (compare Mark 14.14, the same word as used here is rendered ‘inn’ in Luke 2.7). Note the detail given here by Luke. He makes clear who the eleven were, and that one of the twelve was missing. Thus does he draw out that there is a gap to be filled before their ministry can commence. The list parallels that in Luke 6.13-16, with slight alterations in order. John now comes before James, and the two both come before Andrew, while Thomas rises in the order. This may all, however, have been partly due to the order in which Luke remembered them at the time, although certainly Peter and John will be closely linked in their activities (3.1; 8.14). Perhaps he intended to bring out that at present Judas the son of James was without a partner.

‘The upper chamber.’ On the ground floor of the house, which would include living accommodation, might also be kept domestic animals, and regularly there would be a manger here (thus Jesus may well have been born in such accommodation in the family house in Bethlehem because the guest room was full, and not in a stable). But the upper chamber was away from the hustle and bustle and it would often be used for gathering together, for fellowship and for prayer.

Simon is called ‘the Zealot’ in order to distinguish him from Simon called Peter. It may be that he had a name for being zealous (see 21.20; 22.3). Or he may have been previously connected with the followers of Judas the Galilean, who came at some time to be called ‘Zealots’.

1.14 ‘These all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer (or ‘the prayer’ or ‘the meetings for prayer’), with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.’

The total unity of the infant church is emphasised. Both men and women disciples share an equality not usually known outside Christian circles. They pray together as one. Most of the actual praying probably mainly took place in the Temple where they gathered daily with other disciples of Jesus (Luke 24.53). ‘The prayer’ may well signify the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11.2-4), or an agreed purpose to pray.

This is the first indication that we have that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her other sons had become full followers of Jesus (contrast Mark 3.21, 31-35; John 7.3-5). The order illustrates how recently it was. First the Apostles, then the faithful women disciples (who are to Him as His ‘mother and sisters’ - Mark 3.34), then comes Mary, His earthly mother, who has now joined them. ‘The women’ and ‘Mary’ are closely connected in the Greek. And finally come His brothers. We do know that the risen Jesus had early on appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15.7), which presumably means His brother. So His brothers are the latest additions to discipleship.

Part of the intention here is to bring out that Jesus’ mother and brothers now also worshipped Him. They prayed along with the others in the same way as the others did, and they looked to Jesus for blessing, especially the promise of the Father, in the same way as they did.

Note the reference to the women disciples. Luke in fact constantly draw attention to Jesus’ women disciples (compare Luke 8.2-3 23.49, 55). He fully recognised their importance and their valuable ministry in ministering to Jesus from their substance. They provided the woman’s touch. And along with Paul he saw them as on a level with male believers (Galatians 3.28).

1.15 ‘And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren, and said (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about a hundred and twenty),’

It was some time during the ten days before Pentecost that Peter stood up among the gathering of disciples of about one hundred and twenty. Here Peter is clearly looked up to as the spokesman and natural leader, a man with drive and initiative, although sometimes too impetuous. This gathering probably took place in the colonnades of the Temple (compare Luke 24.53). The number of one hundred and twenty is twelve intensified. This signified that they were the holy remnant of Israel, and under the authority of the eleven, soon again to become ‘the twelve’. We can see from this the emphasis that was being laid on ‘twelve’ as signifying the full number. (Later it would be ‘three thousand’ (2.41), the number of completeness intensified, and then ‘five thousand’ (4.4) indicating the covenant community).

We can compare with this figure the ‘five hundred’ (five intensified indicating another covenant connection) who in Galilee had seen the risen Christ at one time (1 Corinthians 15.6). Not all had been able to come to Jerusalem.

We should note carefully that whereas previously the emphasis has been on the Apostles (verses 2-13), and then on the Apostles and those who were with them (verse 14), that number has now expanded into one hundred and twenty (verse 15), whom it would be pointless mentioning if they were not now part of the ‘they’. The one hundred and twenty indicated an amplification of the twelve ready for the coming of the Holy Spirit and can be compared with the seventy who waited for the coming of the Spirit under Moses (Numbers 11).

1.16-17 “Brethren, it was needful that the Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and received his portion in this ministry (diakonia).”

We see in these words clearly expressed Peter’s high view of Scripture. It represented ‘words which the Holy Spirit spoke’ and ‘must be fulfilled’. And it is clear that Peter had been meditating on the Scriptures and that they had brought home to him that there was a divine necessity with regard to Judas’ betrayal (compare John 6.64). He had come to see that it came within the divine plan. He, who had once rebuked Jesus for contemplating suffering (Mark 8.32), had now been brought to see that experiencing the opposition of others to God was a part of what must be expected in His service, and that among the faithful would always be those who were not reliable.

It was in this sense that he saw the Scriptures that he had in mind as speaking of Judas. For Judas had truly been numbered among them and had received his share of the ministry, and yet it was he who had guided those who arrested Jesus to Him. He had been a man who had been greatly privileged, and he had fallen heavily. He was ever a lesson to us all that even the most favoured can fail (as Peter also had cause to know).

1.18 “Now this man obtained a field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong (or ‘prone’), he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”

Among the Jews, when a man had entered into a contract from which he wanted to withdraw for conscience sake, and the other party refused to accept the money back, a means was provided by which he could take whatever was involved to the Temple and officially hand it back there. By that means he was seen as exonerated from guilt for what he had done. And that is what Judas had done (Matthew 27.3-7). But there were limits as to what contracts could be so revoked, and Judas’ money was not acceptable to the Temple because it was blood money. It could not therefore be taken into the Temple treasury.

So the money remained Judas' until it was decided what to do with it. The authorities then met and decided that it should therefore be used for a non-sacred purpose, by assisting Gentiles (Jews could not be helped with blood money). So Judas' money was used to obtain the potter's field to bury strangers in, and in essence Judas ‘obtained the field’.

We learn here also more detail as to the inglorious death of Judas. The full story of what had happened had now clearly become known. When a man hangs himself his greatest problem is to ensure a quick death, and it was regularly recognised that this could be achieved by a sharp drop once the rope was around the neck. Judas had probably chosen some high spot (a cliff or tree) within the land bought with his money (indicating his clinically depressed state) from which to carry out his suicide (Matthew 27.5), and putting the rope round his neck had leaped to his death. It would appear from Peter’s description here that this had resulted in his being ‘burst asunder so that all his bowels gushed out’. We need not take this too literally. This could easily have happened, for example, if the rope broke and he fell onto rocks below (so Augustine), or if in the fall he swung against something jagged or pointed. All we finally know is that he hung himself and finished with his stomach burst open. (Papias is cited by Apollinarius as indicating that there was something particularly gruesome about his death, and he regularly talked about such things with the ageing Apostles). This gruesome death would be seen as accentuating his guilt. It probably reminded Peter of another who had rebelled against the Davidic house whose bowels had also gushed out (in LXX also eksechuthe), a fitting end to a traitor (2 Samuel 20.10), which would further serve to explain why he details it here.

1.19 “And it became known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch that in their language that field was called Akeldama, that is, The field of blood).”

The result of this vivid and seemingly ominous death was that the name of the place where it happened became known to the locals as Akeldama, ‘the field of blood’. It would not take long for such a story to get around at festival time and for such a name to be given. The incident had clearly caused great horror, and as it would be seen as defiling the land at Passover time, it would be necessary for warning to be given of it that the field might be avoided.

1.20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation be made desolate, And let no man dwell in it’, and, ‘His office (episkope) let another take’.

Peter then cites two Scriptures which had especially struck him in connection with the incident, one found in Psalm 69.25 and the other in Psalm 109.8. From them he recognised the justice of what had happened to Judas, and that therefore, because of the important ministry to which he had been called, it was necessary that he be replaced.

We should note that Peter only uses Psalm 69.25 generally in the sense that it indicated that those who opposed the house of David (it was a Davidic psalm) would suffer a dreadful end and lose their wealth. He does not apply the words ‘his habitation be made desolate and let no man dwell in it’ to the specific purchasing of a field that became a cemetery, for he does not mention this fact in his explanation. That is described in Matthew 27.6-8.

The reference to Psalm 109.8 introduces the idea of a servant of the Davidic house being replaced by another. This indicates to him that it is necessary for Judas to be replaced because he has lost his position as the servant of the son of David through treachery and sin. After all Jesus had had good reason for appointing twelve Apostles. They represented the twelve patriarchs, and therefore the true Israel. It was therefore right that before their outgoing ministry began the twelve be made up as the campaign commenced. No such necessity was suggested when James was later slain (12.1-2) so that the thought was not of continually maintaining the twelve. The thought was rather that they must start with a full complement because the lack had arisen due to iniquity. With regard to James later things were totally different. It was probably kept in mind that James had not ‘died’. Unlike Judas he merely ‘slept’. Thus the twelve was not to be seen as deficient just because one of its members was with God.

So his point here is that they must follow God’s revealed way of working. God had commenced the process. He had made Judah’s habitation desolate. Now it was necessary for another to take his place in his important office. Note that Jesus Himself had drawn attention to this Psalm as relating to His own situation (John 15.25 compare John 2.17; Romans 15.3)

Note on Peter’s Use of the Psalms.

The question might arise as to whether Peter saw the death of Judas’ as the actual fulfilment of the Psalms. The answer is probably both yes and no. It is probable that he saw it as a fulfilling of the principles enunciated in the Psalm, and as a fulfilment that was ominously necessary, but not necessarily as the sole fulfilment. What it was, was its greatest fulfilment.

Firstly we must remember that prophecy in Scripture is usually not intended to be a forecasting of specific events in the future, although that sometimes necessarily comes into it, but as something taught in order to enable those living at the time to be aware of trends that God would bring about in the future, and in order to enable future generations to be aware of God’s ways. They could therefore be seen as having a number of applications, and each ‘prophecy’ as having several partial fulfilments. This was especially true of Psalms which could be applied to every generation. Psalm 69, which is quoted here, is a psalm of the Davidic house. It describes the suffering of a member of that house, and would therefore be seen as applicable to each 'David' (see 1 Kings 12.16) who came one after another in succession. Each ‘David’ would sing these Psalms seeing them as applying to himself. That was why the Psalms continued to be sung. They were seen as applying anew to each generation. They had continuing contexts.

There were apparently many who caused suffering to the house of David and suffered this fate. It was necessarily so, for God’s purposes were to be fulfilled through that house, and there would always be resistance to them. And that was what the Psalmist was seen as expressing. Here therefore Peter saw no inconsistency in applying it to the greatest of the house of David, and to His enemy, and saw in the situation of Jesus and Judas one which fulfilled the particular verse to the letter.

Often we take John 3.16 and apply it individually. 'God so loved Jim Bloggs that He gave His only begotten Son so that if Jim Bloggs should believe in Him --- he should have everlasting life.' Is that then wrong? Is this to misrepresent Scripture? Surely not, for Jim Bloggs is a part of the world. And that is what Peter did here. He points out that among the persecutors of the house of David here was one, among many, who caused suffering to a member of the house of David in this way. What was described by the Psalmist has happened again to the house of David, to David’s greater son. Judas was thus a prime example of what was spoken of in the Psalm. The ‘prophecy’ has been fulfilled. But he would almost certainly not have denied that it had also happened in the past. It was not a sole fulfilment.

The same principle applies to Psalm 109. Again it was a Psalm of the Davidic house which applied to each generation. In each generation, where the Davidic representative was faithful to God, his cry was that his opponents be replaced. And so here it now applies to Jesus as the greater David. Peter was thus taking it right in context for no Christian doubted that Jesus summed up the house of David. And here Peter’s point is that God had ordained that when a scion of the house of David was oppressed, and was under God’s protection as a righteous king, his oppressor would be removed from his office and replaced by another. Peter was not changing the sense in any way. He was simply applying Scriptural principles to a specific case.

We must beware of laying down rules for how New Testament writers should have used Scripture. As we all are, they were free to use them as they saw fit as long as the result was Scriptural truth. Some preachers today quote exactly, others paraphrase in order to make the point more clear. That cannot be faulted as long as the sense remains unchanged. It does not mean that they do not see them as Scripture or as prophecy. They are rather making clear the sense. This is what Peter is doing here with regard to Judas, and so he gives the verse in the Psalm a singular sense.

Furthermore we must note that most of the early church only ever used translations (as we do). The original Old Testament text was in Hebrew and Aramaic, but the New Testament writers used Greek. In fact they often used the Septuagint, a Greek Old Testament translation. Just as we have varying translations, so had they, in Greek. The Septuagint (LXX) was not the only one. That is why we often cannot be sure whether they themselves are translating or are using a version. They might even have been using an anthology of favourite verses., for not many had access to full manuscripts. Someone today might use AV, RV, ASV, RSV, NEB, NIV and so on, and see it in each case as 'quoting Scripture' and thus feel free to say 'it is written'. It is only if we have grounds for thinking that it was a mistranslation that we should not do so.

But it goes deeper than that. Many prophecies have a near and a far meaning, and none more so than the Psalms. They looked to the future working of God, and this was seen as especially so of the Psalms 'to/for David'. Sometimes that heading refers to David's authorship, at other times it is probably referring to a dedication of the Psalm to the Davidic house. But all were seen as referring to 'the anointed king'. Each crowned son of David was an ‘anointed’ (Hebrew : messiach) king, was a new ‘David’ (1 Kings 12.16). These Davidic psalms could thus be used through the generations as applying to each anointed king. When the One came who summed up the anointed kingship, the Messiah, it would especially apply to Him. This is clear from a number of Psalms.

This was the nature of much prophecy. Prophecy was intended to bless each generation as well as the final generation in which it was finally fulfilled. It described the principles according to which God worked as well as His final plan. Prophecies spoke of the trend of history. So, yes, the principles were often applied to a like situation without it being seen as an exact prophecy. And yes some were exact prophecies. Which was intended must be gathered from the context. Of the Psalms quoted here in Acts 1 it can be said that they were both. Peter could have used the plural had he wanted to because the Psalm was fulfilled in the plural. Many had combined to bring about Jesus' downfall. But he chose not to. He wanted all specifically to see a partial fulfilment in Judas. Judas did not alone fulfil the prophecy for others were involved as well. But he was a genuine part of its fulfilment.

The same will be seen to be true in Acts 2. The quotation from Joel there is an interpretive translation, an 'amplified version'. Peter was speaking to those who may not have been sure of the context (which was the last days) and so he brings out that 'afterwards' means 'the last days'. For they all saw the coming of Jesus as introducing 'the last days'. The coming of Jesus was the final stage in the fulfilling of God’s purposes. (It still is). And he wanted those listeners who did not know Joel very well to jump straight into the context.

End of Note.

1.21-22 ‘Of the men therefore who have kept company with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection.’

The credentials for the replacement, for a member of ‘the twelve’, is made clear (which were in fact stricter than the ones Jesus had required for some of the original twelve). Such a one was to be someone who had been a disciple right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when John was baptising and had travelled with Him extensively, ‘going in and out’ among the disciples and being with them continually, and being a witness of the resurrection up to this very time of Jesus being received up. He was to have been an eyewitness and direct hearer of all that Jesus had done from the beginning, so that he could be a true witness.

‘Went in and went out among us.’ For the phrase compare 9.28; Deuteronomy 31.2; 2 Samuel 3.25; Psalm 121.8. It involves regular companionship and association.

This requirement confirms that the twelve could not continually to be maintained. Once those who had been with Jesus from the time of His baptism had died out it would have been impossible anyway. And the later acceptance of Paul as an Apostle, on different grounds, stresses the uniqueness of Apostleship. But he too recognised the necessity that he had seen the risen Lord, as one ‘born out of due time’ (1 Corinthians 15.8). Being able to be a witness to the resurrection was thus seen as vitally essential.

1.23 ‘And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.’

The two finally seen as fulfilling all the requirements adequately, and approved of by all, were Barsabbas and Matthias. Barsabbas means ‘son of the Sabbath’, and Justus would be his Roman name. Matthias was probably short for Mattathias. They were not necessarily the only two who fulfilled the qualifications, but they were seen as the most suitable. They would almost certainly have been of the seventy (Luke 10.1) as Eusebius later suggests. They chose a final two so that in the end the choice might be in God’s hands. Such a decision was seen as not finally open to man.

That Matthias became influential, which there is no good reason for doubting was true for all the Apostles, comes out in that later apocryphal literature and traditions were attached to his name, as both Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria make clear. A later apocryphal Gospel of Matthias was also known (although not preserved). Tradition would later see him as ministering in Ethiopia and Damascus and dying as a martyr in Judaea, but how reliable such traditions are we have no means of measuring. They do, however, demonstrate that he was not totally ‘the forgotten man’.

1.24-25 ‘And they prayed, and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom you have chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place.” ’

Having made their final selections they committed the matter in prayer and sought God’s guidance on the matter. Luke’s detailing of the selection process would seem to confirm his approval of the final decision. The prayer was to the One Who knew the hearts of all men. They did not want there to be another ‘failure’. The question was therefore which of these two was chosen by God. Note their confidence that up to now their method of choice had produced the right result, and was not just the result of speculative action. The credentials of both had been thoroughly gone into and discussed.

‘This ministry and apostleship.’ The Greek, presumably literally rendering the Aramaic source, is such that we might well translate ‘this apostolic ministry’. Matthias was being given a serious responsibility and was by his appointment being made a target for persecution. It was not a position to be taken up lightly. It will be noted that Peter has applied to the Apostles the three words which will later distinguish church leaders, ‘deacon, minister’ (diakonia - verse 17), ‘bishop, overseer’ (episkope - verse 20) and ‘apostleship’ (apostole). Eventually these Apostolic duties would be shared out.

1.26 ‘And they gave lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.’

Choice by lot had been common in Israel right from the first giving of the Urim and Thummim which probably worked on the same basis. The Urim and Thummim appear to have allowed answers of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘no answer’. It may be that it was the same here. We should note the forethought and prayer that accompanied this decision. The lots were not used lightly. Candidates for priestly offices in Israel were regularly selected on the same basis. Compare Proverbs 16.33, which does not mean that any use of lots produces the right results, but that it is so when used rightly and prayerfully. The lots could be shaken in a vessel, with the one that fell out giving the choice, or could be by throwing down objects and receiving the answer accordingly. But note that the lot was only called on once the choice had first been limited to two equally desirable candidates with little to choose between them, by the use of careful thought and consideration and prayer. It was not just a quick fix. It simply gave the Lord the last say.

The final selection was approved by the whole church, and Matthias was ‘numbered with the eleven Apostles’. He was seen as replacing Judas under the Lord’s instruction.

We should perhaps therefore note his involvement in the Apostolic ministry that followed:

  • He stood with Peter and the other ten on the day of Pentecost (2.14).
  • He would be one of those who taught the early believers (2.41).
  • He was one of those through whom wonders and signs were done (2.43).
  • He was one of God’s servants through whom it was prayed that God would cause His word to be spoken boldly, accompanied by signs and wonders in the name of God’s holy Servant, Jesus (4.29-30).
  • With the other eleven he stood and preached in Solomon’s porch when none dared join with them, and was held in high honour by the people (5.12).
  • He was arrested along with the other eleven and imprisoned, and with them was released from prison by an angel during the night (5.18-19), and went back with them at daybreak to the Temple, boldly to continue their ministry (5.21).
  • With the other eleven he was set before the council and questioned (5.27), and when they were reminded that they had been charged not to preach in the name of Jesus, was one of those who replied that they had no alternative (5.28-32).
  • Along with the eleven he was beaten, and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus and let go, and subsequently rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for the Name, and continued preaching and teaching (5.40-42).
  • With the other eleven he stressed that no hindrance should be put on his teaching ministry (6.2)
  • He remained with the other Apostles in Jerusalem when persecution caused the believers to be scattered (8.1). It may well be that the persecution was at this time mainly aimed at the Hellenists.
  • He was still in Jerusalem with the other Apostles when they determined to send Peter and John to oversee the ministry among the Samaritans (8.14). (Note there how Peter is subject to the authority of all the Apostles).
  • In chapter 15 he would almost possibly be a part of the general assembly that made the decision to accept Gentiles without circumcision and not put on them the whole burden of the ceremonial Law.
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It is apparent then that Matthias was kept very busy and played his full part in the Apostolic ministry, even though we lose touch with him after chapter 15, as we do with most of the Apostles.

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