Acts 1:1-26

Preparation for the Ministry

2000, J.W. Carter
Scripture quotes from KJV

Acts 1:1-3.

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:

The life, ministry, teachings, and the commissioning of the church by Jesus are contained in the Gospels. The establishment, organization, and nurturing of the early church are described in the epistles. Between these two major divisions of the New Testament canon is the book of Acts. This book provides a conjugation, or a form of a bridge between the gospels, where the work of Jesus in the church is described; and the epistles, where that work is done by Christians who are empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts we see that bridge as a sequence of events that move the church from being led by the incarnate Christ to one that is led by the Holy Spirit under the authority of the risen Christ. Also, "the position of Acts between the gospels and the Pauline correspondence is well-designed to explain how Paul came to prominence in the early church, though he was not one of the twelve." (Burch, Earnest W. (1929). Acts of the Apostles. The Abingdon Bible Commentary. New York, NY: The Abingdon Press, Inc. p.1094.)

In the first book of Acts we find the ascension and commission of Christ, followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2, followed by the founding and development of the early church in the remainder of its chapters. The book of Acts starts in the context that the gospels end. The book of Acts ends in the context that the epistles begin.

The book of Acts and the gospel of Luke is a two-book sequence referred to by scholars as "Luke-Acts", written by a single writer, most presumably Luke, the friend and colleague of Paul. A common style and vocabulary is used in the two texts, and the documents are addressed to the same person, Theophilus. The name may be an individual, or could refer to the church by the name, "loved by God." Three references to "we" (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21; 27:1-28:16), combined with indications in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 24, point to Luke as the author of these texts.

Why was the text divided into two books? Some argue that the normal length of a first-century papyrus scroll was about 10 meters, and each book would have taken a complete scroll. Certainly, the texts divide at an appropriate point. Some have referred to the text as the "Acts of the Holy Spirit" rather than the "Acts of the Apostles" because of the common thread God’s acting through the power of the Holy Spirit that is woven through the text as God establishes the church. Others refer to the text in three parts: Jesus ascension, the Holy Spirit’s descention, and the Apostle’s dispersion as they, through the power of the Holy Spirit spread the gospel through the region.

Acts 1:4-5.

And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

There are 10 recorded appearances of Jesus after he was crucified. It is unclear where or when this meeting was. The Greek word that is translated as "assembled" in the King James version can also be translated "eating together." What was Jesus’ command to the disciples at this time? He told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to stay together and wait. What were they to wait for? The disciples had experienced the teaching of Jesus first hand, but had not yet been baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that does all of the work of God, and for the disciples to be prepared for their calling, it was necessary that they be filled. Jesus had promised that a comforter would come. Here Jesus is pointing to that promise.

Acts 1:6-7.

Acts 1:6-7. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

What was the question that the disciples posed to Jesus? They had always been taught that the Messiah would be a king like King David, who would retake the throne of Israel and defeat their political enemies. When Jesus was Crucified, their hopes were destroyed. How much greater would have been their zeal for the messianic hope when Jesus was resurrected? They had seen the miracle of the resurrection, and had seen His power. In their minds, the only thing left to do to fulfill the prophesy was for Jesus to stroll into Jerusalem and take control. Through this period they had also assumed that they would be key players in this coup-de-etat.

As they were thinking about the coming kingdom of Israel, Jesus’ answer to them was certainly not what they expected. What was that answer? Jesus did not deny that the Kingdom of Israel would be restored. The disciples simply did not understand the context of what that kingdom would be. Without the Holy Spirit, they depended upon what they had learned from their Hebrew upbringing and Jesus’ teaching, and could not even conceive of a Kingdom as God had planned. What is the Kingdom of Israel, as Jesus was teaching? It is the body of believers in God who place their faith in Jesus as the King of Kings. The book of Acts describes that movement from the political kingdom of Israel to God’s Kingdom of Israel under the authority of Jesus.

Acts 1:6-7

8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

Jesus then delivered to them a repeat of the promise of the coming comforter, and in doing so, clarified the part that the disciples would play in the new kingdom. What is that part? Would they be political leaders under the authority of a worldly king? No, they would be prepared to be witnesses who would teach others throughout the world of the love of God and His plan for their salvation. Though they still did not understand what that Kingdom would be, it is clear that their part will not be as political leaders, but as witnesses of the gospel.

Acts 1:9-12.

And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. 12Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.

Why, do you suppose the disciples gazed so intently toward heaven? They had just witnessed another miracle, one that again removed Jesus from their presence. If they were confused by Jesus’ death on the cross, they would certainly be confused by his leaving them now. How would they be the witnesses that Jesus had prophesied that they would be? What was this "power" that Jesus spoke of? Most likely they were amazed by what they had just seen, bewildered by Jesus’ message and wondering what their next step would be. It was clear that they were to remain together in Jerusalem.

Then, two men in white appeared to them. Because of their description, both in the word "appeared" and the reference to white apparel, most argue that these are angels, God’s messengers, sent to direct them at this point. These men are similar in appearance to the men who appeared at Jesus’ tomb. What is their message? They comforted the disciples with the news that Jesus would be back, returning in the same way that He left. This message is a prophesy that carries with it God’s authority to deliver it, pointing directly to the angelic nature of the messengers. So they returned to the city from Olivet, a distance of about 1200 meters, or three quarters of a mile.

Acts 1:13-14.

13And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. 14These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

The eleven returned to an upper room in a building within the city. Some argue that this would have been the same upper room where Jesus shared the Passover meal with them. Such a position is without a lot of basis. The upper/lower room architecture was a common form where those who kept animals would keep them in a lower area, on the ground, and the area where the people resided was raised up off of the ground. Western architecture would cause us to think of an upper room as a second or third floor of a multistoried building. Though it is possible that they could be on a second floor, there is no information from which to make such a distinction.

All eleven of the disciples are named here, and included with them are the women who have been with the disciples, as well as Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Jesus’ brothers. Though many argue against Mary having children by Joseph after Jesus was born, such a position is traditional and without scriptural defense. Mark 6:3 names Jesus’ four brothers as James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. Some argue that there is little basis to interpret "brothers" as family, but as close friends.

What were the disciples and the others doing in the upper room after the experience of Jesus’ ascension? They gathered in prayer and "supplication." After three years with Jesus, after three years of His teaching, and the commissioning they had received from Him, they knew that they needed God. They knew that they needed preparation for the task that was at hand, so they came together in true prayer asking God to guide them and meet their needs.

What, do you suppose, were some of the things that they prayed? Certainly they wanted to be prepared for the task before them. They wanted to better know what that task was, and they wanted to fulfill that task in obedience to God’s will. This makes the next portion of scripture the more interesting.

Acts 1:15-20.

15And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) 16Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. 17For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. 18Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. 20For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take.

The disciples show that they truly want to be obedient to God’s call and purpose, but remember that they had not yet been filled with the Holy Spirit. What happens when we step out on our own in ministry, and do so without the leading of the Holy Spirit? Probably a lot of energy and resource has been expended in the name of God, and done so with sincere desire to serve God, yet because the effort was based on a person or person’s idea, it may not be in God’s purpose at all. In a church body, a member can easily come forward with an idea that sounds good and sounds Godly, so as a congregation they will embrace the idea and go with it, never stopping to consider if this is truly God’s will for them at that time. Rather than finding out what God is doing, and joining Him, they start doing and expect the Holy God of creation to join them. It is a sincere and honest effort, but still there is some learning to take place here. Man’s ministry does not define God’s plan. God’s plan defines man’s ministry.

In this event, Peter and the disciples are aware that they now number eleven. Peter observes that Judas’ death was prophesied, and that there was also a prophesy that Judas would be replaced in their number. So Peter comes up with the "big idea." Since it is prophesied that Judas would be replaced, it is good and Godly that they take action to replace Judas.

How could the disciples determine if this was God’s will at this time? How could they determine if this was the process by which God would replace Judas? It appears that they never gave God’s purpose any consideration at all. They observed that they were missing one in their group, they observed the prophesy that he would be replaced, so they came to the logical conclusion that they should replace Judas. So, together, they came up with a method to replace him.

Acts 1:21-23

21Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 23And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

Some probably think that the twelve disciples were the only ones that accompanied Jesus consistently through His ministry. Actually, events described in scripture point to a much larger group. Jesus identified the twelve as his inner circle, and within that group of twelve, he had another inner circle made up of Peter, James, and John. The organizational structure of Jesus’ followers matched very closely the physical structure of the tabernacle. The outer court included all people, the inner court was for the ordained, and the most central was the Holy of Holies, where direct access to God was attained.

Joseph Justus and Matthias were members of that "outer court." They were part of that group that was with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry. Tradition argues that an apostle is one who lived with and was taught personally by Jesus, so the twelve would be the only apostles. However, we find that Joseph Justus and Matthias also fit this traditional criterion.

So, the logic is all in place. There is a need for another apostle, prophesy declares that a replacement would be made, and they picked two individuals who seemed to be qualified for the task.

Acts 1:24-25.

24And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.

Is there some presumptive logic to their prayer? They chose the two, and from them, their desire is to ask of God which of these is His choice for the replacement for Judas. If God were to speak to them at this time, what would He probably say? Most likely God would say, "neither of these, my foolish children. My plan is secure and I will carry it out in my time." But again, do not be too harsh on these apostles. They did not understand that they needed to wait for the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised, because they had no way of knowing the power and understanding that would fill their hearts at the coming of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost all of their questions would be contextualized, and they would receive power to make such decisions within God’s will.

Still, in sincerity and ignorance, the apostles went on with their plan.

Acts 1:26.

26And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

The apostles cast lots, giving to God the opportunity to supernaturally change the falling of the lots. This method of ascertaining the will of a god was standard practice in the local heathen culture and had been so for generations. Their less scientific minds saw God, or gods, influencing all that took place around them all the time, so the casting of lots was seen as so random an act, that the gods would work through them to express their desire. The apostles drew on this heathen practice to ascertain God’s will.

Do we ascertain God’s will through the casting of lots? The practice has not totally died out, but it is not part of a Christian’s methodology in the determination of God’s will. We find that God reveals Himself through His word, through prayer, through circumstances, through the testimony of other Christians, through nature, etc. To cast lots on a decision is to use God to arbitrate a choice that we have already made. This is exactly what the Apostles are doing. So, with the casting of lots, the Apostles added Matthias among them.

How many times do we hear of Matthias after this incedent? Actually, the only references to Matthias are in this chapter of the book of Acts. Who selected the Apostles?  (Jesus) Who, then should select the apostle to replace Judas?   (Jesus, only.)  Later in the book of Acts, we find Jesus appearing again on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus.  He appears to a persecutor of the Christians, named Saul.  Like with the other apostles, Jesus calls upon Saul to follow Him.  What was the results of that call?  Saul, renamed Paul, was the apostle to the Gentiles, the one who was most influential in the spread of the Gospel in the early church.

What can we learn from this event, and how does it relate to the rest of this chapter?

God has a purpose and a calling for all of us. He has commissioned us to spread the good news of the Gospel within our local area, our region, and all around the world. We are to make disciples, baptising (immersing them) in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our commission and call is clear. However, in order to be a part of God’s work, we need to be prepared. What preparation do we need?

  1. Be saved. To be part of God’s work, we need to be part of God’s workforce. The Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation, and the seal of its power. The apostles jumped ahead of God’s plan based upon human logic rather than God’s leading because they had not yet received the Spirit. If you have not yet in your life accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, do so now. Be saved and you will be part of God’s family. Jesus promised that you would be a temple, or tabernacle, or dwelling place, for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will then lead, guide, direct, and comfort. Making decisions for God can then be done in context with God’s purpose.
  2. Listen to God. By studying God’s word, listening to God’s breath of peace in your prayers, and other areas where you can be sensitive to God’s purpose. Avoid making decisions for God. God can make His own decisions.
  3. Be part of what God is doing. Don’t ask God to be a part of what you are doing.
  4. Bathe all ministry in prayer and love.