Acts 1:12-26

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, 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.
14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
15 And at this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said,
16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.
17 “For he was counted among us and received his portion in this ministry.”
18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
21 “It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us –
22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us – one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
23 And they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen
25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.  [NASB ’77]

The disciples are in an interim period.  Right before His ascension Jesus told them to return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.  The rest of Chapter 1 tells us what they do as they wait.  Jesus told them, “…you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (1:5), but they do not know exactly how long it will be nor do they have any instruction as to what they should do in the meantime.  So they spend their time praying together and worshiping in the temple.  In the midst of their praying they decide to deal with the ramifications of Judas’s betrayal and seek a replacement for him to serve along with the eleven.

The eleven disciples return from the ascension and go to Jerusalem where Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit.  Luke writes that Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives (the mount called Olivet) – the same place where He began His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Lk 19:37) and the place to which Zechariah prophesied the Messiah would come (Zech 14:4).  The mount is a Sabbath day’s journey away from Jerusalem – just over a half mile (2000 cubits, roughly 3000 feet).

They do not know how long they are to wait but Jesus said it would be not many days.  So they gather together in an upper room (no way to know if this is the same upper room used for the last supper) along with other followers of Jesus.  Luke says that the women are there along with Mary the mother of Jesus.  The women may include those who supported Jesus’ ministry – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (Lk 8:1-3).

Jesus’ brothers are also with the group (James, Joseph, Simon, Judas – Matt 13:55).  This is interesting because John writes in his gospel that they did not believe in their brother during most of His ministry (Jn 7:7).  It could be that they are now on board because Jesus specifically appeared to His brother James after the resurrection (I Cor 15:7).  James will go on to lead the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9) and write the epistle that bears his name in the Bible.  Since Jesus’ mother is also with the group (and Joseph – his stepfather – is likely dead) it means that all of Jesus’ family are with the apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit.

Jesus did not give them instructions as to what do while waiting so they spend their time on two activities – prayer and worship.   In verse 14 it says they are with one mind continually devoting themselves to prayer and in Luke 24:53 it says they are continually in the temple, praising God.  They do not sit on their hands and simply wait – they worship and pray.  And they pray with one mind – they are unified in their praying.  This likely means that they not only pray together but they also pray for the same thing – they are completely together in seeking God.  They do not do this grudgingly or out of obligation.  Luke says in Lk 24:52 that they come back to Jerusalem with great joy and in that joy enter the temple and praise God.  These are people who have no set task in front of them other than to wait – and so they fill their time doing what they love to do.

Their actions give us an example of what to do while waiting on God.  They do not know when God will act but they are confident that He will.  So since there is much that is outside of their control they concentrate on what is not – how they spend their time.  And they spend their time praying and worshiping.  When we are forced to wait on God and His timing, we can follow the example of the apostles and spend our time praying and worshiping – the best uses of our time in any circumstance.

We do not know specifically what they pray but it is interesting that Jesus’ promise does not dissuade them.  They do not take the approach that there is nothing to pray for since Jesus already promised the Holy Spirit’s coming.  To the contrary, they take the promise of Jesus as encouragement to pray.  Since Jesus promised it they can pray confidently for it.  This is what it means to pray within the sovereignty of God.  There is a human tendency to think prayer is needless because God is over everything and has already decided everything.  But true prayer rejoices in God’s rule and control.  What is the point of praying to one who cannot control all things?  We pray with confidence BECAUSE God is sovereign – not sheepishly in spite of it.

Peter stands up during this time (in the midst of roughly 120 people gathered together – 120 people tasked with changing the world) and says they must replace Judas.  He tells the group that the Scripture had to be fulfilled that David foretold about Judas, that he would become a traitor.  He was counted among us, and received his portion in this ministry.  That portion now needs to be given to someone else.

Notice how matter-of-factly Peter refers to OT Scripture here and how confidently he says that Judas’ actions were predicted.  Peter is a different man from the person who rebuked Jesus for talking about His death (Matt 16:21-23) and misunderstood Jesus when He talked of His mission on earth.  Peter is now an example of what Luke referred to at the end of His gospel (Lk 24:44-47).  Jesus has opened the minds of the eleven disciples such that they understand the OT prophets and what they said about the Messiah.

It is likely that the group is still shaken by Judas’ betrayal.  It has only been around six weeks since the temple police arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  From their behavior at the last supper when Jesus said one of them would betray Him (Matt 26:20-25) it is obvious that none of the disciples saw Judas’ treachery coming.  They spent three years with him and experienced all the same things together – that he was capable of such an act must still be hard to believe.  And discussing it may bring back some guilt of their own at how they deserted Jesus after He was arrested.  The confusion and hurt from Judas’ actions is likely felt by everyone listening to Peter.

In verses 18-19 Luke gives the story of what happened to Judas after Jesus’ arrest.  He explains that Judas bought a field with the 30 pieces of silver that he received from the priests – the price of his wickedness – and in this field fell headlong and burst open such that his bowels gushed out.  His fate became known throughout Jerusalem so the field became known as Field of Blood (notice how Luke mentions that the name was called Hakeldama in their own language – he writes this because he is a gentile writing to gentiles who may not be familiar with Aramaic).

Matthew and Luke differ in some details of Judas’ death (Matt 27:3-10).  Matthew says Judas gave the money back to the priests and then hanged himself.  He says the Priests took the money and bought the field – calling it the Field of Blood because it was purchased with blood money.  Luke says Judas himself bought the field and then died there and his bowels gushed out.  He says the field is called the Field of Blood because Judas died there.

Harmonizing the accounts is not all that difficult.  Since the priests did not claim the money Judas returned as their own it could be said that Judas actually purchased the field (even though the priests technically initiated the transaction).  And it very well could be that after Judas hanged himself his body burst open and his bowels gushed out (either the body became bloated and burst or something happened as he hanged himself and he fell and burst).  The name of the field could have spawned different traditions – one said it was named after the money that purchased it and the other said it was because of what happened to Judas there.  Thus the two accounts do not contradict each other as much as shed additional light on each other.

Rehearsing the story of Judas highlights the choice Judas made and what it says about the nature of sin.  Consider the thought process Judas went through to get to where he could betray Jesus.  He was one of 12 disciples given a front seat to the most amazing life ever lived.  He was entrusted as a personal envoy of the Son of God.  He spent three years in intimate communion with God in human form.  He could have been an apostle tasked with spreading the gospel to the world.  Instead, he became disgruntled that he was not getting what he wanted out of the relationship and gave it all up for a small amount of money. Satan convinced Judas (Lk 22:3) that it was a good idea to betray the Son of God and become responsible for His death – in his mind that became a wise and reasonable choice.

The ability of sin to blind and deceive is never better illustrated than in this story (along with perhaps Eve).  If sin can convince someone in Judas’ circumstances to do what he did, how foolish are we when we decide to dabble in it?  The Enemy convinced a hand-picked confidante of Jesus to betray Him.  How arrogant is it for us to assume we can play with sin and maintain our sight and reason?

Peter ends his speech by quoting two Psalms to show that David predicted Judas’ betrayal and that he should be replaced.  He quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm109:8.  At first these quotes seem to be arbitrary and out of context.  The Psalms themselves do not seem to refer to the Messiah but are simply Psalms about enemies of David.  By quoting them, however, Peter seems to use a principle of “how much more?”  If the psalmist could speak thus of prominent accusers of the righteous in general, how much more does this principle apply to the epitome of wickedness, the betrayer of the Messiah? – Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary.  Since these particular Psalms prophesy about the enemies of God they certainly apply to Judas.

There also is precedent in quoting Psalm 69 as prophecy and applying it to New Testament people and situations.  Jesus quoted Psalm 69:4 and applied it to Himself when He told the disciples what life would be like for them after He was gone (Jn 15:25).  The disciples applied Psalm 69:9 to Jesus when He cleared the moneychangers out of the temple (Jn 2:17).  Paul quotes Psalm 69:22-23 and applies it to Israel rejecting the gospel (Rom 11:9-10).  Later He quotes 69:9 and applies it to Jesus (Rom 15:3).  All this to say that Psalm 69 seems to prophesy about the enemies of God, and its application is commonly understood to apply to Christ and His enemies specifically.  The enemies of God’s chosen servant – as related in Psalm 69 – are to suffer the retribution the Psalm calls for in verses 22-28.  Thus it is not out of context for Peter to quote it in relation to Judas and use it to guide their actions in replacing him.

Peter says the curse of Psalm 109 justifies replacing Judas.  The reasons go beyond Old Testament prophecy, however.  Jesus originally selected twelve disciples and linked their number to the twelve tribes of Israel (Lk 22:24-30, Matt 19:28).  They were to be witnesses to the message and ministry of the Messiah and had been specifically tasked to proclaim the kingdom of God to Israel (Lk 9:2).  This is likely what Peter refers to in verse 17 – “For he was counted among us, and received his portion in this ministry.”  Their number also connects Israel to the church as the apostles seem to represent Israel in the kingdom (Rev 21:14).  It is their continuing role as witnesses to Israel and as founders of the church, therefore, that require them to restore their number to twelve.  Thus they fill Judas’ spot not because he is dead but because he rejected the faith and cannot be counted among them in the kingdom.  This is why they will not fill other spots in the future as members of the twelve are martyred.  It is Judas’ apostasy that requires them to act – not his absence.

They select Judas’ replacement and in so doing define what an apostle is.  Peter says they must select a man who has been with them throughout Jesus’ ministry.  He must be someone who witnessed all that Jesus did from the time John was baptizing in the Jordan until Jesus ascended (he does not say he had to witness the ascension – hard to know if this is implied and if it means that more than the eleven were on the Mount of Olives when Jesus disappeared).  The man chosen will be a witness along with the eleven of the resurrection of Jesus.

Peter effectively defines an apostle with his requirements for Judas’ replacement.  The man must be someone who saw Jesus with His own eyes and who will carry out the mission Jesus gave them.  He must be an eyewitness and someone who Jesus commissioned (implied by saying that he will be a witness of the resurrection along with the eleven).  Interestingly, by defining him as someone who must have been with the group throughout Jesus’ ministry Peter effectively sets an additional standard that Paul and Barnabas – later classified as apostles (14:14) – will not meet (not meaning they are lesser apostles – simply that they are different than the original twelve).

These standards make it clear that the office of apostle no longer exists.  No man today can claim to be an eyewitness of the ministry and resurrection of Jesus.  Pastors and teachers and elders are active in the church – but the office of apostle was a one-time commissioning and is not possible to bestow today.

The group identifies two men who meet the requirements Peter listed.  They are Joseph (also called Barsabbas in Hebrew and Justus in Latin – [“but you doesn’t hasta call me Johnson!”]) and Matthias.  The believers pray for guidance – “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (the final words of the prayer are chilling – Judas left his office and turned aside to go to his own place – there is absolutely no implication in the Bible that Judas was not guilty because God foreordained Jesus’ death).  After prayer they cast lots (Prov 16:33) and the lot falls on Matthias.  He accordingly takes his place among the eleven and fills out the number of apostles.

Nothing more is written of Matthias in the New Testament and later Paul will become an apostle after his conversion on the road to Damascus.  Because of this some have surmised that this selection was outside of God’s will and that Paul is the rightful twelfth apostle.  However, there are several apostles among the twelve that little or nothing is written about in the remainder of the Bible.  And there is no reason that Matthias cannot be a member of the twelve while Paul is also counted as an apostle.  No author writes more extensively of Paul’s ministry than Luke, and even he does not imply that anything is wrong with the disciples’ actions in this chapter.  Matthias is God’s choice to succeed Judas and restore the number of the original apostles to twelve.

The stage is now set for the Day of Pentecost.  The apostles have received Christ’s commission and seen His ascension.  The apostolic team is complete again, ready to be His chosen witnesses.  Only one thing is missing: the Spirit has not yet come.  Though the place left vacant by Judas has been filled by Matthias, the place left vacant by Jesus has not yet been filled by the Spirit.  So we leave Luke’s first chapter of the Acts with the 120 waiting in Jerusalem, persevering in prayer with one heart and mind, poised ready to fulfill Christ’s command just as soon as He has fulfilled His promise.  – John Stott, The Message of Acts

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