In our last essay we began our study of the Book of Acts. We introduced the book and studied 1:1-5. In this essay today we are studying Luke 1:6-26. We see immediately in verse six that the disciples had not yet grasped the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God. They still were thinking that the kingdom would be a political, material kingdom of a restored nation of Israel. And they were hoping that it would be established immediately.
In verses 7-8 Jesus declares that it was not for them to know the “times and periods,” or “seasons,” when God would work his will. That is God’s business. But he promises them a greater power, a heavenly power, which will be theirs when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. It would be power to witness “in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And with this statement Jesus laid out his plan for winning the world for Christ. That is, it lays out the program for fulfillment of the great commission. It also sets forth the spiritual nature of the kingdom. As Stott puts it, quote, “The kingdom of God is [God’s] rule set up in the lives of his people by the Holy Spirit. It is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force of arms” (p. 42).
Luke very creatively saw Jesus’ statement as a convenient means of outlining his book. As we shall see as we continue our study, chapters 1-7 describe the disciple’s witness in Jerusalem; chapters 8-12 describe their witness in Judea and Samaria; and chapters 11-28 describe their witness to the ends of the earth, meaning of course the ends of the Roman world.
`Now then, as Jesus finished his commission to the disciples and his plan for saving the world, we see in verses 9-11 that a cloud lifted him out of their sight. The cloud symbolizes the presence of God. You will remember that the cloud led the people of God in the wilderness; it descended on Mount Sinai; it filled the tabernacle, and later the temple. It symbolized God’s presence on the mount of Transfiguration; and during his earthy ministry Jesus described his return in the end-time as a coming in clouds of glory.
Suddenly the disciples became aware of “two men in white.” As we have seen before, men described this way are angels. The angels inform the disciples that they can stop gazing up, because Jesus will return, “in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In other words, he will come from God when the time is right. Nothing is said about when that would be. There is an implication that a period of time would pass before it happened. But no one would have guessed how long a time it would be.
Verses 12-14 tell us that the disciples returned to Jerusalem until they would receive the promised power from on high. They went to “the room upstairs,” which probably was the same “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples had eaten the Last Supper and where Jesus had made resurrection appearances. Luke then lists the names of the eleven. Judas son of James is Thaddaeus on other lists, though John in his Gospel calls him Judas “not Iscariot” (Jn. 14:22). And then Luke says that the eleven, certain women (including Jesus’ mother), and Jesus’ brothers were constantly in prayer.
The mention of Jesus’ brothers is very interesting, because in the Gospels, prior to Jesus’ resurrection, his brothers did not believe in him (Jn. 7:5). But evidently, due to resurrection appearances, they had come to faith.
The phrase “in those days” in verse 15, “refers to the 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost. And Luke tells us that there were 120 believers present in the upper room. I believe the actual number was that or close to it. But the number 120 has symbolic value. According to Carter and Earle (p. 18), Jewish tradition required that a community be ten times larger than the number of its officers. Therefore with 12 apostles as the officers, the community would number approximately 120.
At some point in the ten-day prayer meeting, Peter stands and addresses the group saying that certain scriptures written by David had to be fulfilled. We find out which scriptures in verse 20. They are Ps. 69:25 and Ps. 109:8. Peter declares that these scriptures refer to the traitor, Judas.
There are two minor problems in verses 18-19, because of what Matthew tells us in his Gospel. First, Mathew tells us that the priests, rather than Judas, bought the field with the money Judas, in his remorse, had thrown into the temple (Mt. 27:7). The common way of harmonizing Acts and Matthew is that the priests considered the money to belong to Judas and bought the field in his name.
Second, Matthew tells us that Judas hanged himself (Mt. 27:5), which seems to be different from what Luke is saying. The usual harmonization is that after Judas hanged himself, either the rope or the limb on which he hanged himself broke, and the spilling of his swollen belly was the result of the fall.
Peter interpreted the two quotations from the Psalms to be a biblical warrant for replacing Judas in the leadership group of the Twelve. Notice in verses 21-22 that Peter gave two qualifications for the replacement person. First, he must have been a companion of the Lord and his apostles from the time of John the Baptist until the Ascension. And second, he had to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. These are amazing qualifications, and they reveal something we had not previously known. The Gospels do not revealed that there were other followers of Jesus who had been disciples from the days of John the Baptist. And we never heard anything about either of the two who are named.
Another interesting factor here is the fact that the eleven did not make the decision about whom to chose. The entire group participated in the process. This has significance regarding church polity, that is, regarding how the church should function.
They proposed two nominees, Joseph and Matthias. It isn’t clear who “they” were. “They” could have been the apostles, or “they” could have been the larger group. At any rate, Joseph and Matthias were nominated. Then everyone prayed.
Notice that the process was three-fold. First they made nominations. Second, they prayed. And third they cast lots for the final decision. The two nominees obviously were equally qualified. Then they prayed and cast lots so that God could make the final decision between the two. Casting lots to determine God’s will was a common practice in Jewish tradition. For example, Proverbs 16:33 reads, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone.”
It is significant that Judas was replaced, but when James was martyred in AD 62, James was not replaced. Judas was replaced, because as verse 25 tells us, he had turned from apostleship “to go to his own place,” hell. And Matthias restored the Twelve who would participate in the future glorious resurrection. James, who already would be part of the glorious resurrection, didn’t need to be replaced.
Some have declared that electing Matthias was a mistake, because he is never heard from in Scripture again, and that Paul was the one God wanted to complete the Twelve. But that is completely wrong, primarily because Paul did not meet the qualifications set forth in verse 21.