Before we start looking at Acts, I have to admit that I had always treated it as a separate book rather than as a direct continuation from the Gospels. Having recently completed the studies in John, my attitude has changed! Even though this book was most probably written by Luke, its placement in the Bible was well made as the events in Acts follow within days after the end of John.
Read through the first chapter of Acts – share the reading with those who would like to join in.
We may need to refresh our minds as to the events which led up to the start of this book; so following the events of Easter week, and the resurrection on Sunday morning, can anyone remember what happened next?
Sunday, 1 week later: Jesus appeared to the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-31)
Following week (?): the disciples travelled back to Galilee and Jesus appeared to them there (Matthew 28:16-20, John 21:1-25)
Sometime in the following month: the disciples returned to Jerusalem.
During the 6th week, 40 days after the resurrection: Jesus ascended into heaven. (Luke 24:44-51, Acts 1:3)
A week later: on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given.
Pentecost was 50 days after Passover Sabbath. If that was a Friday (see study on Easter) then it was 7 days after the Ascension.
So into our study:
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach
This former book was the Gospel of Luke, also dedicated to Theophilus (Luke 1:3)
Luke had already written about all that Jesus had done and taught so he simply reminded his reader(s) before continuing with his narrative:
2 until the day he was taken up to heaven,
Jesus’ ministry continued without break until his ascension.
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
During the last weeks after his Resurrection, it seems that Jesus particularly taught his Apostles, meeting with them privately rather than in public as before, although at one point he also ‘appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time’ (1 Corinthians 15:6)
3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.
See Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.
By meeting so often and with so many people, there was no possibility that his resurrection could be denied.
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
What do you understand by the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ (v3)?
What do we mean when we pray ‘your kingdom come’?
Pagan rulers had assumed power over large portions of the world. The time had come for God to step in in the form of his son Jesus, who is now seated as king at the right hand of the Father. But his rule is not over man-made empires; rather it is in the hearts of individuals who acknowledge him as their king. There will however come a time when ‘every knee shall bow’ (Philippians 2:9-11)
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
The disciples had already returned to Galilee once, but now he warns them that they must remain together in Jerusalem as what will happen will be something unique in world history – and they wouldn’t want to miss it!
In the same way that the Lord God symbolically took up residence in the Tabernacle in the desert (Exodus 40:34-38), now by his holy spirit he would take up residence in the hearts of his believers. Previously the Israelites followed the pillar of cloud and fire, but now the Spirit would be in them to guide them, and tongues of flame would be visibly upon them.
Jesus had told them that the Holy Spirit would be given (John 14:15-17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7) but it seems that at the time they didn’t understand – and they probably still didn’t.
6 Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
What they had picked up, was that something momentous was going to happen, and perhaps now was the time for the prophecies to be fulfilled.
What prophecies? Genesis 9:16; 2 Samuel 7:16, 22:51; 1 Kings 2:4, 45; 1 Chronicles 22:10, 28:6; 2 Chronicles 6:16, 7:18, 13:5, 21:7; Psalms 89:3-4, 29, 35-37;Proverbs 25:5; Isaiah 9:7,16:5; Jeremiah 17:25, 33:17, 21
Daniel 7:27 ‘Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’
They had witnessed the fact that Jesus had beaten the power of death itself and so was invincible. Perhaps now was the time for not only all Israel to acknowledge Jesus as king, but for the rule of Rome to be overthrown – maybe they would be leaders in the move to world domination!
7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
Yes you will be leaders, you will be given power, you will have influence throughout the whole world – but they were yet to discover that their limited view of a physical world would shortly be expanded to take in the eternal dimensions of God’s kingdom – a kingdom not limited by man’s boundaries; and their role as leaders would be in the spiritual realm, not the physical.
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
To say that it was a shock is putting it mildly. One minute they were listening to his instructions, the next he was off the ground and heading for the clouds. They were transfixed.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
More shocks and surprises: two angelic beings bring them back down to earth by asking why they are staring at the sky. Jesus had gone; yes he would ultimately return (Matthew 16:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:16), but for now they had work to do.
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
The Apostles were all from Galilee so would have needed somewhere to stay in Jerusalem. It is conjectured that the ‘upper room’, made available to them for the Last Supper, was where they naturally returned after the crucifixion; and it continued as their base for the weeks that followed – but there is no evidence for this. But whatever and wherever it was, it was large enough for other believers to join them too.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’
What scriptures?Probably Psalm 41:9, 69:25 and 109:8
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Matthew 27:3-10 has
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’
‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’
Judas’s money was used to buy the field. It is thought that no-one would have gone near the hanging Judas and eventually the body would have decomposed and dropped to the ground, bursting open.
20 ‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms:
‘“May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,”
‘“May another take his place of leadership.”
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’
Twelve is often considered a perfect number in the Bible, and obviously Judas had spoilt this. The remaining Apostles wanted to replace him with a worthy successor:
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
There had been many disciples of Jesus (See Luke 6:12-17); so from those that they knew had been consistent followers from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they now selected two – either of whom would have been fully acceptable in the eyes of the people.
Then they prayed for specific guidance. Jesus had chosen the original Apostles, so they knew it was right to ask for God’s help now.
Would we ever cast lots to choose church leaders today? If not, why not?
Are we not supposed to use our own intelligence?
How much do we really trust the Lord?
What if there is only one suitable candidate?
Matthias is never mentioned again by name in the New Testament so we have to ask the question: Was Matthias actually God’s choice or was he simply chosen by chance from the two likely candidates proposed by the Apostles?
Would they ever have considered Saul of Tarsus? The man who became Paul and who was considered by many to be the greatest of all the Apostles.
Finding God’s will is potentially full of pitfalls and it is often the case that we approach things in the wrong order. Note verses 23 and 26 ‘they nominated two men . . . Then they prayed ’.
I can’t say that the choice of Matthias was wrong, or that we will always be able to make right choices, but praying first might seem to be a better way!