Lectionary Calendar
Monday, March 4th, 2024
the Third Week of Lent
There are 27 days til Easter!
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Acts 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

Luke referred to his Gospel as "the first account." The Greek word proton means "first," but it does not imply that Luke intended to write more than two books. This has been the unnecessary conclusion of some scholars. [Note: E.g., E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 49.] It simply means that Luke was the first of these two books that he wrote.

"Theophilus" means lover of God. Some interpreters have suggested that Theophilus was not an actual person and that Luke was writing to all lovers of God whom he personified by using this name (cf. Luke 1:3). All things considered it seems more likely that Theophilus was a real person. There is no reason he could not have been. Such is the implication of the address, and Theophilus was a fairly common Greek proper name.

Luke wanted his readers to be careful to note that the remarkable supernatural events he was to unfold were ultimately the work of Jesus Christ. They were not just those of His enthusiastic followers.

"The order of the words ’doing’ and ’teaching’ is noteworthy. Deeds first; then words. The same order is found in Luke 24:19 (contrast Acts 7:22). The ’doing’ comes first, for Christianity is primarily life. The teaching follows afterwards, for ’the life is the light of men.’" [Note: Thomas, pp. 18-19. Cf. Ezra 7:10.]

Verses 1-5

1. The resumptive preface to the book 1:1-5

Luke wrote these introductory statements to connect the Book of Acts with his Gospel. [Note: See Longenecker, p. 252, for an explanation of the parallel structures of Luke 1-2 and Acts 1-2.] In the former book Luke had recorded what Jesus had begun to do and to teach during His earthly ministry. In this second book he wrote what Jesus continued doing to build His church through Spirit-indwelt Christians (cf. John 14:12).

Verses 1-7


This first major section of Acts contains the record of the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost, and its expansion in the city of Jerusalem.

Verses 1-47

A. The founding of the church 1:1-2:47

In his account of the founding of the Christian church Luke gave background information that ties Jesus’ giving of the Great Commission to the day of Pentecost. He showed how Jesus enabled His disciples to obey His command to evangelize the nations.

Verse 2

Jesus was "taken up" at His ascension (Luke 24:51). The orders that He had given His apostles were that they should remain temporarily in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4; Luke 24:49). Then they should go out into the whole world to herald the good news of salvation (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:47; Matthew 28:19-20).

Apostles are by definition sent ones. However this term here has specific reference to the few disciples to whom Jesus gave this command personally. Their calling was unique; these men laid the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). All Christians are apostles in the sense that Christ has sent all of us on this mission. Yet the 12 apostles (and Paul) were a unique group with special powers the Lord did not give to the rest. [Note: See Robert D. Culver, "Apostles and the Apostolate in the New Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra 134:534 (April-June 1977):131-43.]

"Each of these four factors-the witness mandate, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, the ascended Lord-is a major emphasis that runs throughout Acts; each receives special attention in chapters 1 and 2." [Note: Longenecker, p. 253.]

Verse 3

The Greek word tekmeriois, translated "proofs," occurs only here in the New Testament. It refers to proof by incontrovertible evidence as contrasted with the proof claimed by a witness. Luke asserted that Jesus Christ’s resurrection was beyond dispute.

"The fact of the resurrection was to be the solid foundation of the apostles’ faith and the chief ingredient of their early message." [Note: Blaiklock, p 49.]

As 40 days of temptation in the wilderness preceded Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 4:2), so He introduced His present ministry with a 40-day period of preparation. Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit occurred before his 40-day test, whereas the reverse order of events appears here in Acts. God had instructed Moses for 40 days on Mt. Sinai in preparation for Israel’s mission in the world. Now Jesus instructed the Apostles for 40 days in preparation for the church’s mission in the world.

"What Luke is describing is a new beginning, yet a beginning which recalls the beginning already made in the Gospel and with which the story of Acts is continuous. The forty days, therefore, is a vital vehicle for conveying Luke’s theology of continuity . . ." [Note: John F. Maile, "The Ascension in Luke-Acts," Tyndale Bulletin 37 (1986):54.]

The term "kingdom" occurs only eight times in Acts but 39 times in Luke , 18 times in the New Testament epistles. The "kingdom of God" of which Jesus taught His disciples between His resurrection and ascension undoubtedly refers to God’s earthly kingdom program for the future. Dispensationalists believe that Jesus Christ will rule on the earth as Messiah in the future. Progressive dispensationalists, along with covenant premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists, believe that the messianic kingdom began during Jesus’ first advent ministry and that the church is the present form of the messianic kingdom on earth. Normative dispensationalists (i.e., those other than "progressives") believe that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus resulted in a temporary withdrawal or postponement of the kingdom and that the church is a distinct entity, not another name for the messianic kingdom. They believe that the messianic kingdom is an earthly kingdom and that it will begin when Jesus Christ returns to reign personally on the earth. I believe there is better scriptural support for the normative view.

Sometimes the phrase "kingdom of God" refers to God’s heavenly rule over humans throughout history. Both are biblical uses of the term "kingdom of God." [Note: For a synopsis of the New Testament revelation concerning the kingdom of God, see Robert L. Saucy, "The Presence of the Kingdom and the Life of the Church," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (January-March 1987):30-46.] An earthly kingdom seems clearly in view here since the disciples had expected Jesus to inaugurate the messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament on earth then (Acts 1:6). However God postponed that kingdom because Israel rejected her King (Acts 1:7). [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 214, 225-28. See also Cleon L. Rogers Jr., "The Davidic Covenant in the Gospels," Bibliotheca Sacra 150:600 (October-December 1993):458-78.] Evidently during those 40 days before His ascension Jesus gave His disciples further instruction concerning the future and the postponed kingdom. There may be some significance in the fact that God renewed the broken Mosaic Covenant with Moses on Mt. Sinai in 40 days (Exodus 34:5-29). [Note: J. Manek, "The New Exodus in the Books of Luke," Novum Testamentum 2 (1957):8-23.]

Verse 4

What Jesus told His disciples to wait for in Jerusalem was the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; cf. Luke 1:5; John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7). It must have been difficult for these disciples to wait for God to do what He had promised, as all Christians find it is. Jesus viewed the Spirit as a significant gift of God’s grace to His people (cf. Luke 11:13). He is not just a means to an end but a major part of the blessings of salvation.

"No New Testament writer more clearly emphasises [sic] the Divine Personality and continuous power of the Spirit of God. Thus in the two-fold emphasis on the Exalted Lord and the Divine Spirit we have the most marked feature of the book, namely, the predominance of the Divine element over the human in Church life and work." [Note: Thomas, p. 15.]

Verse 5

"Baptized" (Gr. ebaptisen) means dipped or immersed with the result of union with something (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-2). John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; cf. John 7:39). Jesus now announced that this baptism would take place in just a few days (Acts 1:5). It took place 10 days after His ascension (ch. 2). As the Holy Spirit had baptized Jesus and had thereby empowered Him for service, so His successors also needed such a power-producing baptism.

"Luke’s purpose in writing his history is not primarily apologetic. He writes in order to provide his readers with an orderly account of the rise and progress of Christianity. [Note: See L. C. Alexander, "Luke’s Preface in the Context of Greek Preface-Writing," Novum Testamentum, 28 (1986):48-74.] But since this movement was ’everywhere spoken against’ (Acts 28:22), it seemed desirable to refute some of the current objections to it. The first Christian historian found himself accordingly obliged to be the first Christian apologist. Of three main types of Christian apologetic in the second century Luke provided first-century prototypes: apologetic in relation to pagan religion (Christianity is true; paganism is false); apologetic in relation to Judaism (Christianity represents the fulfillment of true Judaism); apologetic in relation to the political authorities (Christianity is innocent of any offense against Roman law)." [Note: F. F. Bruce, "Paul’s Apologetic and the Purpose of Acts," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library 89:2 (Spring 1987):389-90. See also pp. 390-93; and David Peterson, "The Motif of Fulfilment and Purpose of Luke-Acts," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol. 1: The Book of Acts in Its Ancient Literary Setting, p. 104, who agreed that primarily Luke’s purpose was edification and secondarily apologetic.]

Verse 6

The Old Testament associated Spirit baptism with the beginning of the messianic (millennial) kingdom (Isaiah 32:15-20; Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 39:28-29; Joel 2:28 to Joel 3:1; Zechariah 12:8-10). It was natural therefore that the disciples would ask if that kingdom was about to begin in view of Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would baptize them in a few days. "This time" refers to "not many days from now" (Acts 1:5). In the Septuagint, the term "restoration" (Gr. apokatastaseos) technically refers to God’s political restoration of Israel (Psalms 16:5; Jeremiah 15:19; Jeremiah 16:15; Jeremiah 23:7; Ezekiel 16:55; Ezekiel 17:23; Hosea 11:11). [Note: J. Carroll, Response to the End of History, p. 146, footnote 124.] The Gentiles had taken the Jews’ kingdom from them dating from Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest in 586 B.C. Clearly the messianic kingdom is in view here. [Note: See Darrell L. Bock, "Evidence from Acts," in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, pp. 187-88; and Ladd, p. 1125.]

"In the book of Acts, both Israel and the church exist simultaneously. The term Israel is used twenty times and ekklesia (church) nineteen times, yet the two groups are always kept distinct." [Note: Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, "Israel and the Church," in Issues in Dispensationalism, p. 118.]

Fruchtenbaum listed 73 occurrences of "Israel" in the New Testament. [Note: Ibid., pp. 118-20.]

Verses 6-8

2. The command to witness 1:6-8

The key to the apostles’ successful fulfillment of Jesus’ commission was their baptism with and consequent indwelling by the Holy Spirit. Without this divine enablement they would only have been able to follow Jesus’ example, but with it Jesus could literally continue to do His work and teach His words through them. Consequently their preparation for the baptism of the Spirit was very important. Luke recorded it to highlight its foundational significance.

Acts 1:6-8 announce the theme of Acts and set the stage for all that follows.

"The concept of ’witness’ is so prominent in Acts (the word in its various forms appears some thirty-nine times) that everything else in the book should probably be seen as subsumed under it-even the primitive kerygma [preaching] . . ." [Note: Longenecker, p. 256.]

Verse 7

Jesus did not correct the disciples for believing that the messianic kingdom would come. [Note: See John A. McLean, "Did Jesus Correct the Disciples’ View of the Kingdom?" Bibliotheca Sacra 151:602 (April-June 1994):215-27.] He only corrected their assumption that they could know when the kingdom would begin and that the kingdom would begin in a few days.

Amillennialists do not believe that God will restore an earthly kingdom to Israel as Israel but that He will restore a spiritual kingdom to the church, which they believe has replaced physical Israel as "spiritual Israel" or "the new Israel." Premillennialists believe that since the promises about Messiah’s earthly reign have not yet been fulfilled, and since every reference to Israel in the New Testament can refer to physical Israel, we should anticipate an earthly reign of Messiah on the earth following His second coming.

"Jesus’ answer to the question about restoring the reign to Israel denies that Jesus’ followers can know the time and probably corrects their supposition that the restoration may come immediately, but it does not deny the legitimacy of their concern with the restoration of the national life of the Jewish people." [Note: Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts , 2:15.]

"This passage makes it clear that while the covenanted form of the theocracy has not been cancelled and has only been postponed, this present age is definitely not a development of the Davidic form of the kingdom. Rather, it is a period in which a new form of theocratic administration is inaugurated. In this way Jesus not only answered the disciples’ question concerning the timing of the future Davidic kingdom, but He also made a clear distinction between it and the intervening present form of the theocratic administration." [Note: Pentecost, p. 269.]

Jesus’ disciples were not to know yet when the messianic kingdom would begin. God would reveal the "times" (Gr. chronous, length of time) and "epochs" (Gr. kairous, dates, or major features of the times) after Jesus’ ascension, and He would make them known through His chosen prophets (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1; Revelation 6-19).

"In Acts 3:20 [sic 19], the phrase chosen is kairoi anapsuxeos (seasons of refreshing). . . . In other words, the last days of fulfillment have two parts. There is the current period of refreshing, which is correlated to Jesus’ reign in heaven and in which a person shares, if he or she repents. Then at the end of this period Jesus will come to bring the restoration of those things promised by the Old Testament." [Note: Darrell L. Bock, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, p. 57.]

"There is a close connection between the hope expressed in Acts 1:6 and the conditional promise of Peter in Acts 3:19-21, indicated not only by the unusual words ’restore’ and ’restoration . . .’ but also by the references to ’times . . .’ and ’seasons . . .’ in both contexts. The ’times of restoration of all that God spoke’ through the prophets include the restoration of the reign to Israel through its messianic King." [Note: Tannehill, 2:15-16.]

Verse 8

Rather than trying to figure out when the kingdom would come, the disciples were to give their attention to something different, namely, worldwide witness. Moreover the disciples would receive divine enablement for their worldwide mission (cf. Luke 24:47-49). As God’s Spirit had empowered the Israelites and Jesus as they executed their purposes, so God’s Spirit would empower the disciples as they executed their purpose.

"What is promised to the apostles is the power to fulfil their mission, that is, to speak, to bear oral testimony, and to perform miracles and in general act with authority. This power is given through the Spirit, and conversely the Spirit in Acts may be defined as the divine agency that gives this power." [Note: C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 1:79.]

"You shall be" translates a future indicative verb (as in "you shall receive"). Is the clause "You shall be" a prediction or a command? Grammatically it could be either. The apostles clearly felt compelled to preach (cf. Acts 10:42). However if it was a command it could have been stated more forcefully. Therefore both verbs ("you shall be" and "you shall receive") are probably predictions, statements of fact, rather than commands.

"They were now to be witnesses, and their definite work was to bear testimony to their Master; they were not to be theologians, or philosophers, or leaders, but witnesses. Whatever else they might become, everything was to be subordinate to the idea of personal testimony. It was to call attention to what they knew of Him and to deliver His message to mankind. This special class of people, namely, disciples who are also witnesses, is therefore very prominent in this book. Page after page is occupied by their testimony, and the key to this feature is found in the words of Peter: ’We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20)." [Note: Thomas, p. 21.]

This verse contains an inspired outline of the Book of Acts. Note that it refers to a person (Jesus Christ), a power (the Holy Spirit), and a program (ever expanding worldwide witness). Luke proceeded to record the fulfillment of this prediction until the gospel and the church had reached Rome. From that heart of the empire God would pump the gospel out to every other remote part of the world. Starting from Jerusalem the gospel message radiated farther and farther as ripples do when a stone lands in a placid pool of water. Rome was over 1,400 miles from Jerusalem.

"The Christian church, according to Acts, is a missionary church that responds obediently to Jesus’ commission, acts on Jesus’ behalf in the extension of his ministry, focuses its proclamation of the kingdom of God in its witness to Jesus, is guided and empowered by the self-same Spirit that directed and supported Jesus’ ministry, and follows a program whose guidelines for outreach have been set by Jesus himself." [Note: Longenecker, p. 256.]

Jerusalem was the most wicked city on earth in that it was there that Jesus Christ’s enemies crucified Him. Nevertheless there, too, God manifested His grace first. The linking of Judea and Samaria preserves an ethnic distinction while at the same time describing one geographic area. The phrase "to the remotest part of the earth" is literally "to the end of the earth." This phrase is rare in ancient Greek, but it occurs five times in the Septuagint (Isaiah 8:9; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 62:11; Pss. Song of Solomon 1:4). Jesus was evidently alluding to Isaiah’s predictions that God would extend salvation to all people, Gentiles as well as Jews. [Note: Tannehill, 2:16. Cf. Thomas S. Moore, "’To the End of the Earth’: The Geographical and Ethnic Univarsalism of Acts 1:8 in Light of Isaianic Influence on Luke," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:3 (September 1997):389-99.]

"Witnessing to the Jews meant witnessing to those who held a true religion, but held it for the most part falsely and unreally [sic].

"Witnessing in Samaria meant witnessing to those who had a mixed religion, partly true, and partly false, Jewish and Heathen.

"Witnessing to the uttermost part of the earth meant witnessing to those who had no real and vital religion at all." [Note: Thomas, p. 22.]

Gospel Outreach in Acts
ReferenceCenterChief PersonGospel toEvangelism
Acts 1-12JerusalemPeterJudea and SamariaJewish
Acts 13-28AntiochPaulThe uttermost part of the earthGentile

This pericope (Acts 1:6-8) is Luke’s account of Jesus’ farewell address to His successors (cf. Genesis 49; Numbers 20:26; Numbers 27:16-19; Deuteronomy 31:14-23; Deuteronomy 34:9; 2 Kings 2; et al.). Luke used several typical features of a Jewish farewell scene in Acts 1:1-14. [Note: See D. W. Palmer, "The Literary Background of Acts 1:1-14," New Testament Studies 33:3 (July 1987):430-31, for more information concerning the literary forms Luke used to introduce Acts-namely, prologue, appearance, farewell scene, and assumption. See William J. Larkin Jr., "The Recovery of Luke-Acts as ’Grand Narrative’ for the Church’s Evangelistic and Edification Tasks in a Postmodern Age," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:3 (September 2000):405-15, for suggestions for using Luke-Acts in a postmodern age.]

Verse 9

Jesus Christ’s ascension necessarily preceded the descent of the Holy Spirit to baptize and indwell believers, in God’s plan (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7; Acts 2:33-36). "While they were looking on" stresses the fact that the apostles really saw Jesus ascending, which they bore witness to later. This reference supports the credibility of their witness. In previous post-resurrection appearances Jesus had vanished from the disciples’ sight instantly (Luke 24:31), but now He gradually departed from them. The cloud seems clearly to be a reference to the shekinah, the visible symbol of the glorious presence of God (cf. Exodus 40:34; Matthew 17:5; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7). [Note: See Richard D. Patterson, "The Imagery of Clouds in the Scriptures," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:657 (January-March 2008):18.] Thus what the disciples saw was the symbol of God’s presence receiving and enveloping Jesus into heaven. This connoted God’s approval of Jesus and Jesus’ entrance into the glorious presence of God.

"It was necessary that as Jesus in a moment of time had arrived in the world in a moment of time He should leave it." [Note: Barclay, p. 6.]

Verses 9-11

3. The ascension of Jesus 1:9-11

Verses 10-11

"Intently" (Gr. atenizein) further stresses that these men really did see Jesus ascend (Acts 1:2; Luke 24:51). Luke used this dramatic Greek word 12 times. It only appears two other times in the New Testament. "Into the sky" (lit. into heaven, eis ton ouranon) occurs four times in these two verses. Luke emphasized that Jesus was now in heaven. From there He would continue His ministry on earth through His apostles and other witnesses. The two "men" were angelic messengers who looked like men (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12; Luke 24:4). Some commentators have suggested that they may have been Enoch and Elijah, or Moses and Elijah, but this seems unlikely. Probably Luke would have named them if they had been such famous individuals. Moreover the similarity between Luke’s description of these two angels and the ones that appeared at Jesus’ tomb (Luke 24:1-7) suggests that they were simply angels.

The 11 disciples were literally "men of Galilee" (Acts 1:11). Judas Iscariot was the only one of the Twelve who originated from Judea. This conclusion assumes the traditional interpretation that "Iscariot" translates the Hebrew ’ish qeriyot, "a man of Kerioth," Kerioth being Kerioth-Hezron, which was 12 miles south of Hebron. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Judas Iscariot," by R. P. Martin.] The "men" announced two things: the Jesus they had known had entered into His heavenly abode, and the Jesus they had known would return to the earth. Jesus ascended in a cloud personally, bodily, visibly, and gloriously, and He will return the same way (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 24:50-51; Revelation 1:7). [Note: See John F. Walvoord, "The Ascension of Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 121:481 (January-March 1964):3-12.] He will also return to the same place, the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). Jesus’ own descriptions of His return to the earth appear in Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; and Luke 21:27. This was no repetition of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:27-36).

"Throughout the period of the post-resurrection forty days, Jesus had frequently appeared to the disciples, and during the intervals he had disappeared. Each time, apparently, they had no reason to suppose that he would not reappear shortly, and until this time he had not disappointed them." [Note: Homer A. Kent Jr., Jerusalem to Rome: Studies in the Book of Acts, p. 23.]

What filled these disciples with great joy (Luke 24:52) was probably the hope that they would see Jesus again soon. Without this hope His departure would have made them very sad. The joyful prospect of the Lord’s return should have the same effect on us.

John Maile summarized the significance of the ascension narratives in Luke-Acts as follows. First, he stated, "The ascension is the confirmation of the exaltation of Christ and his present Lordship." Second, it is "the explanation of the continuity between the ministry of Jews and that of the church." Third, it is "the culmination of the resurrection appearances." Fourth, it is "the prelude to the sending of the Spirit." Fifth, it is "the foundation of Christian mission." Sixth, it is "the pledge of the return of Christ." [Note: Maile, pp. 55-59.]

"Rightly understood, the ascension narratives of Luke . . . provide a crucial key to the unlocking of Luke’s theology and purpose." [Note: Ibid., p. 59.]

"Luke’s point is that the missionary activity of the early church rested not only on Jesus’ mandate but also on his living presence in heaven and the sure promise of his return." [Note: Longenecker, p. 258.]

"In Luke’s mind the Ascension of Christ has two aspects: in the Gospel it is the end of the story of Jesus, in Acts it is the beginning of the story of the Church, which will go on until Christ comes again. Thus for Luke, as Barrett says, ’the end of the story of Jesus is the Church, and the story of Jesus is the beginning of the Church’." [Note: Neil, p. 26.]

Verses 12-13

The disciples returned to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. The short trip from where Jesus ascended on Mt. Olivet to the upper room was only a Sabbath day’s journey away (about 2,000 cubits, two-thirds of a mile, one kilometer; cf. Exodus 16:29; Numbers 35:5). [Note: Mishnah Sotah 5:3.] This upper room may not have been the same one in which the disciples had observed the first Lord’s Supper with Jesus (Luke 22:12). Different Greek words describe the places. It may have been the place where He had appeared to them following His resurrection (Luke 24:32; Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:26), but this too is unclear. The definite article "the" with "upper room" in the Greek text (to hyperoon) and the emphatic position of this phrase may suggest that Luke meant to identify a special upper room that the reader would know about from a previous reference to it. One writer suggested that this upper room, as well as the ones mentioned in Acts 9:37; Acts 9:39, and Acts 20:8, may have been part of a synagogue. [Note: Rainer Riesner, "Synagogues in Jerusalem," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol. 4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, p. 206.] The repetition of the apostles’ names recalls Jesus’ previous appointment of them as apostles (cf. Luke 6:13-16). [Note: See Margaret H. Williams, "Palestinian Jewish Personal Names in Acts," in ibid., pp. 79-113.] This list, however, omits Judas Iscariot and sets the stage for the selection of his replacement.

Verses 12-14

The disciples’ spiritual preparation 1:12-14

Verses 12-26

4. Jesus’ appointment of a twelfth apostle 1:12-26

Peter perceived the importance of asking God to identify Judas’ successor in view of the ministry that Jesus had said the Twelve would have in the future. He led the disciples in obtaining the Lord Jesus’ guidance in this important matter (cf. Acts 1:21; Acts 1:24). From his viewpoint, the Lord could have returned very soon to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), so the Twelve had to be ready for their ministry of judging the twelve tribes of Israel when He did.

Verse 14

The apostles gave themselves to prayer (Gr. proseuche) probably for the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised would take place shortly (cf. Daniel 9:2-3; Luke 11:13). "The" prayer (in Greek) suggests that they may have been praying at the Jewish designated times of prayer (cf. Acts 2:42; Acts 6:4). Proseuche sometimes has the wider meaning of worship, and it may mean that here. Luke stressed their unity, a mark of the early Christians that Luke noted frequently in Acts. The disciples were one in their purpose to carry out the will of their Lord. Divine promises should stimulate prayer, not lead to abandonment of it.

"In almost every chapter in Acts you find a reference to prayer, and the book makes it very clear that something happens when God’s people pray." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:405.]

". . . when God is going to do some great thing he moves the hearts of people to pray; He stirs them up to pray in view of that which He is about to do so that they might be prepared for it. The disciples needed the self-examination that comes through prayer and supplication, that they might be ready for the tremendous event which was about to take place . . ." [Note: Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Book of Acts, pp. 28-29. For evidence of the cause and effect relationship of prayer and revival, see J. Edwin Orr, The Fervent Prayer: The Worldwide Impact of the Great Awakening of 1858, ch. 1: "The Sources of the Revival."]

The women referred to were apparently the same ones who accompanied the disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 8:1-3; cf. Luke 23:49; Luke 23:55 to Luke 24:10). Luke’s interest in women, which is so evident in his Gospel, continues in Acts.

"Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there, but you will notice they were not praying to Mary, nor were they burning candles to her; they were not addressing themselves to her, nor asking her for any blessing; but Mary, the mother of Jesus, was kneeling with the eleven and the women, and all together they prayed to the Father." [Note: Ironside, pp. 26-271.]

This is, by the way, the last reference to Mary the mother of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus’ half-brothers (John 7:5; Mark 6:3) apparently became believers following His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7).

Verse 15

In view of Peter’s leadership gifts, so obvious in the Gospels, it is no surprise that he is the one who took the initiative on this occasion.

"Undoubtedly, the key disciple in Luke’s writings is Peter. He was the representative disciple, as well as the leading apostle. [Note: Darrell L. Bock, "A Theology of Luke-Acts," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 148.]

"Brethren" is literally "disciples" (Gr. matheton). The group of 120 that Peter addressed on this occasion (cf. Acts 1:13-14) was only a segment of the believers living in Jerusalem at this time (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:6, which refers to more than 500 brethren). Nonetheless this was a tiny group from which the church grew. God can take a small number of people, multiply them, and eventually fill the earth with their witness.

Verses 15-26

The choice of Matthias 1:15-26

Verses 16-17

Peter addressed the assembled disciples in a way that was evidently customary when speaking to Jews. Here "brethren" is literally "men, brothers" (andres, adelphoi). This same salutation occurs elsewhere in Acts always in formal addresses to Jews (cf. Acts 2:29; Acts 2:37; Acts 7:2; Acts 13:15; Acts 13:26; Acts 13:38; Acts 15:7; Acts 15:13; Acts 22:1; Acts 23:1; Acts 23:6; Acts 28:17).

Notice the high regard with which Peter viewed the Old Testament. He believed David’s words came from the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and he viewed them as Scripture (holy writings). Peter interpreted David’s words about false companions and wicked men who opposed God’s servants as applying to Judas. What God had said through David about David’s enemy was also true of Jesus’ enemy since Jesus was the LORD’s Anointed whom David anticipated.

"Since David himself was God’s appointed king, many times Scripture treats him as typical of Christ, the unique Anointed One, and David’s enemy becomes a type of Jesus’ enemy." [Note: Kent, p. 27.]

"Of course the betrayal of the Messiah by one of his followers, leading to his death, required such an explanation, since this was no part of early Jewish messianic expectation." [Note: Witherington, p. 122.]

Peter said this Scripture "had" (Gr. dei, by divine necessity) to be fulfilled.

"The understanding [of Peter] here is . . . (1) that God is doing something necessarily involved in his divine plan; (2) that the disciples’ lack of comprehension of God’s plan is profound, especially with respect to Judas who ’was one of our number and shared in this ministry’ yet also ’served as guide for those who arrested Jesus’; and (3) that an explicit way of understanding what has been going on under divine direction is through a Christian understanding of two psalms that speak of false companions and wicked men generally, and which by means of the then widely common exegetical rule qal wahomer (’light to heavy,’ or a minore ad majorem) can also be applied to the false disciple and wicked man par excellence, Judas Iscariot." [Note: Longenecker, p. 263.]

Verses 18-19

Luke inserted these verses assuming his readers were unfamiliar with Judas’ death and did not know Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine in the first century. This helps us understand for whom he wrote this book. Judas purchased the "Field of Blood" indirectly by returning the money he received for betraying Jesus to the priests who used it to buy the field (Matthew 27:3-10). Perhaps the name "field of blood" was the nickname the residents of Jerusalem gave it since "blood money" had purchased it.

This account of Judas’ death differs from Matthew’s who wrote that Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Undoubtedly both accounts were true. Perhaps Judas hanged himself and in the process also fell (lit. flat on his face) and tore open his abdomen. Perhaps the rope or branch with which he hanged himself broke. Perhaps when others cut his corpse down it fell and broke open as Luke described. The traditional location of Hakeldama is southeast of Jerusalem near where the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys meet. This description of Judas’ death stressed the awfulness of that apostle’s situation. It was Judas’ defection, which led to his horrible death, and not just his death, that led to the need for a successor. Matthias succeeded Judas because Judas had been unfaithful, not just because he had died. Thus this text provides no support for the view that Christ intended one apostle to succeed another when the preceding one died. We have no record that when the apostle James died (Acts 12:1-2) anyone succeeded him.

Verse 20

Peter’s quotations are from Psalms 69:25; Psalms 109:8. Luke’s quotations from the Old Testament are all from Greek translations of it. [Note: Witherington, pp. 123-24.] Psalms 69 is an Old Testament passage in which Jesus Himself, as well as the early Christians, saw similarities to and foreviews of Jesus’ experiences (cf. John 2:17; John 15:25; Romans 11:9-10; Romans 15:3). [Note: See C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures, pp. 61-108.] Jesus fulfilled the passage Peter cited in the sense that His situation proved to be the same as David’s, only on a more significant messianic scale. Peter did not appeal to Psalms 69:25 to justify replacing Judas with another apostle, however. He used the quotation from Psalms 109:8 to do that. It is another verse that Peter applied to Jesus’ case since it described something analogous to Jesus’ experience. He used what David had written about someone who opposed the LORD’s king to support the idea that someone should replace Judas in his office as one of the Twelve.

Verses 21-22

Why did Peter believe it was "necessary" to choose someone to take Judas’ place? Evidently he remembered Jesus’ promise that the 12 disciples would sit on 12 thrones in the messianic kingdom judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; cf. Revelation 21:14). To be as qualified for this ministry as the other 11 disciples the twelfth had to have met the conditions Peter specified.

"In Acts 1:21 Peter speaks not of being with Jesus but of going with him on his journeys. . . . This emphasis on journeying with Jesus, particularly on his final journey to the cross, suggests that the apostolic witnesses are qualified not simply because they happened to be present when something happened and so could report it, like witnesses to an accident. Rather they have been taught and trained by Jesus for their work. They shared Jesus’ life and work during his mission. In the process they were tested and discovered their own defects. That discovery may also be part of their preparation. The witness of the Galileans does not arise from casual observation. They speak out of a life and mission shared with Jesus, after being taught and tested. From this group the replacement for Judas is chosen." [Note: Tannehill, 2:23.]

"The expression ’went in and out among us’ [NIV] is a Semitic idiom for familiar and unhindered association (cf. Deuteronomy 31:2; 2 Samuel 3:25; Psalms 121:8; Acts 9:28)." [Note: Longenecker, p. 265.]

Having been a witness to Jesus Christ’s resurrection was especially important. The apostles prepared so that if Jesus Christ returned very soon and set up His kingdom on the earth they would be ready. Often in biblical history God replaced someone who proved unworthy with a more faithful steward (e.g., Zadok for Ahithophel, Shebna for Eliakim, Samuel for Samson, David for Saul, et al.).

These two verses provide the basis for distinguishing a technical use of "apostle" from the general meaning of the word. By definition an apostle (from apo stello, to send away) is anyone sent out as a messenger. Translators have frequently rendered this word "messenger" in the English Bible. Barnabas, Paul’s fellow workers, James, and Epaphroditus were apostles in this sense (Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Galatians 1:19; Philippians 2:25). Every Christian should function as an apostle since Christ has given us the Great Commission. Nevertheless, the Twelve were apostles in a special sense. They not only went out with a message, but they went out having been personally discipled by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. They were the official apostles, the apostles who occupied the apostolic office (Acts 1:20) that Jesus established when He first chose and sent out the Twelve (Luke 6:13). As we shall see, Paul was also an official apostle though he had not been personally discipled by Jesus as the Twelve had.

This address of Peter (Acts 1:16-21) is the first of some 23 or 24 speeches that Luke reported in Acts. About one third of the content of Acts is speeches. [Note: See Appendix 2, "Sermons and Speeches in Acts," at the end of these notes for a chart of them. See Neil, pp. 38-45, for a helpful discussion of the speeches in Acts; and M. Soards, The Speeches in Acts: Their Content, Context, and Concerns.] This one is an example of deliberative rhetoric, in which the speaker seeks to persuade his hearers to follow a certain course of action in the near future. [Note: George A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism, p. 116.] How accurate did Luke attempt to be when he recorded the speeches in Acts?

"To an extent, of course, all the speeches in Acts are necessarily paraphrastic, for certainly the original delivery contained more detail of argument and more illustrative material than Luke included-as poor Eutychus undoubtedly could testify (Acts 20:7-12)! Stenographic reports they are not, and probably few ever so considered them. They have been reworked, as is required in any précis, and reworked, moreover, in accord with the style of the narrative. But recognition of the kind of writing that produces speeches compatible with the narrative in which they are found should not be interpreted as inaccurate reporting or a lack of traditional source material. After all, a single author is responsible for the literary form of the whole." [Note: Longenecker, p. 230. See Witherington’s excursus on the speeches in Acts, pp. 116-20.]

Verses 23-26

Those present, probably the other apostles, nominated two apparently equally qualified men. Joseph is a Hebrew name, Barsabbas is Aramaic meaning "Son of the Sabbath," and Justus is Roman. Matthias is Hebrew and is a short form of Mattithia. The apostles then prayed for the Lord to indicate which one He chose (cf. Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23; 1 Samuel 22:10; 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:10-12). They acknowledged that only God knows people’s hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) and did not make the mistake that the Israelites did when they chose King Saul. They wanted God to identify the man after His heart as He had done with David. Next they cast lots probably by drawing one of two designated stones out of a container or by throwing down specially marked objects (cf. Leviticus 16:8; Joshua 14:2; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 11:1; Proverbs 16:33). The ancient Greeks often used pebbles in voting, black for condemning and white for acquitting. [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 3:19, 446.] The Lord identified Matthias as His sovereign choice to fulfill the ministry (service) and apostleship (office) of Judas. Judas’ "own place" was a place different from that of the Eleven, namely, perdition. Matthias received no further mention in the New Testament. Legend has it that he died as a martyr in Ethiopia. [Note: Blaiklock, p. 53.]

". . . it was not enough to possess the qualifications other apostles had. Judas’s successor must also be appointed by the same Lord who appointed the Eleven." [Note: Longenecker, p. 266.]

This instance of casting lots to determine God’s will is the last one the New Testament writers recorded. This was not a vote. Casting lots was necessary before the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but when He came He provided the guidance inwardly that God had formerly provided externally. Christians do not need to cast lots to determine God’s will since now the indwelling Holy Spirit provides that guidance. He does so objectively through Scripture and subjectively through impressing His will on yielded believers in response to prayer.

Was Peter correct in leading the believers to recognize a twelfth apostle, or did God intend Paul to be the replacement? Several commentators believed that Paul was God’s intended replacement. [Note: E.g., Blaiklock, p. 53; Morgan, p. 24; and J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 4:514.] Paul was, of course, an apostle with authority equal to that of the Twelve. However, Paul had not been with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Luke, Paul’s friend, spoke of the Twelve without equivocation as an official group (Acts 2:14; Acts 6:2). Furthermore the distinctly Jewish nature of the future ministry of the Twelve (Matthew 19:28) supports Paul’s exclusion from this group. His ministry was primarily to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9). Paul never claimed to be one of the Twelve, though he did contend that his official apostleship had come to him as a direct commission from the Lord. However, it came from the risen Lord, and he considered himself abnormally born as an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:7-8). Finally, there is no hint in Scripture that the decision made on this occasion was a mistake.

". . . the pericope suggests that a Christian decision regarding vocation entails (1) evaluating personal qualifications, (2) earnest prayer, and (3) appointment by Christ himself-an appointment that may come in some culturally related fashion, but in a way clear to those who seek guidance." [Note: Longenecker, p. 266.]

"Matthew concludes with the Resurrection, Mark with the Ascension, Luke with the promise of the Holy Spirit, and John with the promise of the Second Coming. Acts 1 brings all four records together and mentions each of them. The four Gospels funnel into Acts, and Acts is the bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles." [Note: McGee, 4:515.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-1.html. 2012.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile