1:1-11 The Book of Acts begins with the Ascension of Jesus
Luke makes clear that his Gospel had dealt with "all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven" (Acts 1:1-2). Now in his Book of Acts he focuses on the continuation of Jesus' ministry after the Ascension. But the apostles would need to wait (as in Luke 24:49) till the Holy Spirit constituted and empowered his church (1:4-5, 8) on the Day of Pentecost ten days later. The church would then move out from the area of Judea within walking distance of Jerusalem, then into Samaria (8:4-17). In Antioch Greek converts would need to be welcomed as part of the missionary movement (13:1-5). Only then would the church be ready to obey the Great Commission to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47).
In the Epistles Paul explains that Jesus vastly extended his ministry through the church as his body (Romans 12:4, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Ephesians 4:4, 16). In our day we are familiar with the fact that a person can be extended through the Internet to interact with thousands of people all over the world. The church is not an inanimate extension through computers, but through living members who will express the Messiah's life and love (as hands, feet, mouth, eyes, ears), in every city of the world.
1:1 For the name Theophilus (lover or friend of God) see the Introduction.
1:2-3 Luke says that Jesus kept appearing for 40 days from Easter till the Ascension (1:9). In "Eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost" I suggest that Jesus did not appear every day, but on successive Sundays (e.g. John 20:1, 19, 26, 21:1, 14, Matthew 28:16, 1 Corinthians 15:6). During those appearances "he opened their minds to understand the scriptures" (Luke 24:45). Luke now adds that during that time, in addition to "many convincing proofs" that he was alive, he gave "instructions through the Holy Spirit" (1:2) and spoke about the kingdom of God" (1:3, as in Matthew 28:19-20).
1:4 During the forty days from Easter to the Ascension the disciples had gone up into Galilee, and seen Jesus there on two occasions. One was for breakfast by the sea of Galilee (John 21:1) and the other for a day of teaching up on "the mountain to which Jesus had directed them" (Matthew 28:16), where he gave them the great commission. They came back (a long five day walk) to Jerusalem, where "he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:6). This must have been the first Christian convention, that gathered probably on a Sunday (see note on 1:3).
The translation "when they had come together" (NRSV) misses the meaning of the Greek sunalizomenos (eating salt together with), which suggests that this teaching was given at a meal. In the Gospel Luke had recorded that Jesus ate with the disciples at least twice after the resurrection (Luke 24:30, 41-43). John added a breakfast by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:12-15). And in his sermon for the household of Cornelius Peter explained "God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:40-41).
Luke had referred to "the promise of the Father" (2:33, see John 14:16, 26, 15:26) at the end of his Gospel. "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). The promise of the Father is also mentioned by Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (2:33), which indicates that the Father had promised to his Son the Holy Spirit to form his church, and Jesus had taught Peter about this. These are all Trinitarian references to God as three Persons.
1:5 Luke refers back to the words of John the Baptist which he had recorded in his Gospel. "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16, fulfilled in Acts 2:2-3). Preachers often suggest that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an individual experience, but in every case in the Book of Acts and the Epistles it refers to a community of the Spirit being formed (1:5, 2:15-17, 33, 8:15, 11:15-16, 19:2-6, 1 Corinthians 12:13).
This means that speaking in tongues is not the evidence of an individual being baptized in the Spirit, but speaking in tongues is one of the gifts given by the Spirit for church life (see comments on 2:4, 19:6, as in 1 Corinthians 12:10-13, 12:28-30). Among those baptized into a live church of the Spirit we would expect some to be given the gifts of tongues, interpretation, prophecy, etc. (see comments on 2:2, 17-18). But as Paul points out, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?" Evidently these gifts were found in the early church, as they are in Pentecostal and Charismatic fellowships in our day, but no one member has all the gifts.
1:6 At one of Jesus' meetings with the apostles during the forty days (perhaps the one referred to in 1:4), the apostles wanted to know if this was the time when Israel would be restored to its glory. They thought in terms of a dramatic act when an exclusively Jewish state would be established. The disciples had asked about the destruction of the temple Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:4, but the fulfilment that Jesus spoke of then would not appear for another 40 years. And, instead of the Jewish state being restored in glory, Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed (AD 70) and the Jewish people then went into a 1900 year exile from their land. God does have a purpose for the Jewish nation (see Romans 11:25-27), as he does for all tribes, peoples, and nations (17:26-27, Revelation 7:9, 21:24-26, see the Arab nation in Genesis 17:20, as explained in Ishmael the Arab). But the Kingdom is not racial or localized in a particular territory. People are distinct from one another, but all are part of God's one purpose.
1:7 Not only does Jesus have a totally different kind of outcome in mind for people of all nations, but he warns the disciples not to fuss about the exact "times or periods" of the Kingdom (see Mark 13:32). But the coming power of the Holy Spirit to begin the world-wide church would be "not many days from now" (1:5).
1:8 The power from on high (see note on 1:4) is the power of the Holy Spirit that was poured on the Day of Pentecost for churches to be planted in every place (as in Romans 15:19). It would empower the church first among Jews, then among Samaritan, and Roman and Greek people (2:4, 17-18, 8:17, 10:44-45). It is distinguished from the power of the Spirit that Jesus had already given the apostles for their missions during his lifetime (Matthew 10:20, Mark 6:7, 13, Luke 9:1, see John 20:22). That means we need to distinguish the power to form and nourish a church as a body (8:17, 13:52, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13) from the filling (again and again) of individuals to worship ("keep being filled," Ephesians 5:18-19) and perform special tasks in that body (Acts 7:55, 8:29, 13:9, 16:6-7, 20:28).
1:9 Ascension was a way for someone to move visibly from this life to the life of heaven. When Enoch was taken up (Genesis 5:24) his ascension must have been seen by those who recorded it. It is recorded of Moses that he died and was buried, but no one ever found his body or his grave (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). When Elijah ascended (2 Kings 2:1, 11) his cloak was left behind. It seems that Moses and Elijah never went down into sheol (Hades, the abode of the dead) for they both appeared at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3, Luke 9:30). But in Jesus' ascension he already had his resurrection body, in which he appeared for forty days (1:3).
For those who like to think in terms of dimensions we might compare an Artist who came into his own two dimensional painting, and then went back out of it (ascends) into his normal three - dimensional life. The eternal Son of God came into our world to free us from many false ideas of what God was like, and what he wanted us to be and do. His own people rejected him as Messiah, and had him crucified, but he defeated death, met with his disciples in various situation for forty days. When his mission was completed he made it clear he was now moving back to his reign from heaven.
The Father used a cloud to indicate his presence for this occasion . God also used a cloud to guide (Exodus 13:21), to indicate his presence (Exodus 16:10, 34:5, Numbers 11:25, Psalm 104:3, Isaiah 19:1) a cloud came down at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5), and was a sign of he Lord's coming to destroy Jerusalem (Matthew 24:30, Luke 21:27). It is also a sign of our ascension when we die (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
1:10-11 Two angels were sent to make sure the apostles understood that Jesus' regular appearances would now end (the ascended Messiah did appear to Paul, Acts 23:11, 26:16, as he still does from time to time to encourage individuals in trouble). The eleven apostles were addressed as "men of Galilee." The only one of the twelve who was not a Galilean was Judas Iscariot (ish kerioth meaning man from Kerioth in Judea, Luke 22:3, John 6:71, 13:26), and he soon had to be replaced (1:16-19).
Many imagine that the words "in the same way" (1:11) refers to the second coming when the Messiah would descend on the Mount of the Ascension (now occupied by a Russian Orthodox monastery). But in fact the New Testament writers expected the Messiah to come forty years later in the destruction of the temple. Luke has already referred to clouds as signs of the Father's presence (see comment on 1:9) As Jesus had said, "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:4, 30, 37, 39, 42, 44, 46, 50, Luke 21:27), and that would take place in the generation of the apostles (Matthew 24:34, Luke 21:32) as happened in AD 70. That suggests that "in the same way" may refer to the Lord's interventions again and again in many situations throughout the world, not a descent on the Mount of Olives at the end of time..
Luke will chronicle the church growth that he had seen through Paul's work (as predicted in Matthew 24:14, see Romans 15:19, Colossians 1:6). But after the fall of Jerusalem churches were planted to the frontiers of the Roman Empire and to the east as far as China in the first century. In every country there would be comings and personal interventions of the Lord to support his work and judge persecutors. There would also be advents (comings) of the Lord to deal with churches (Revelation 2:5, 16, 25, 3:3, 11, 20). For a full explanation of this interpretation of many comings, as opposed to one second coming still in the future, see Advent Comings of the Lord among the Nations).
Using this interpretation, what the angels said was that Jesus would come in that generation (Matthew 23:36, 24:34, Luke 21:32), and he would keep coming again and again "on the clouds of heaven" (see 1:9) as he keeps reigning "until he has put all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). Obviously the clouds are metaphorical, as in "You make the clouds your chariots" (Psalm 104:3) and "See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt" (Isaiah 19:1, see Revelation 1:7). Nobody could take literally "Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand (Revelation 14:14).
1:12-26 The Choice of a Replacement for Judas
The ascension was at the end of forty days of Jesus' appearing to his disciples after the first Easter Sunday. Now in preparation for the founding of the church on the Day of Pentecost ten days later there had to be a twelfth apostle who would be a credible witness to the ministry of Jesus and the certainty of his resurrection (1:21-22). Anyone in the known world should be able to talk to any of these twelve male witnesses (by Jewish law the witness of a woman was still not considered decisive), question them, and be assured of the facts on which the good news was based.
1:12 Olivet is another name for the Mount of Olives, which stretched up from the Kidron Valley up past the Garden of Gethsemane to the Mount of the Ascension. A sabbath day's journey (a rabbinic interpretation of Exodus 16:29, 31:15-16, Numbers 35:5) was defined as a distance of 2000 cubits (888 meters, 1.19 kilometers).
1:13 The definite article (the upper room) suggests this could be the place where the last supper was held (Mark 14:15, Luke 22:12). It was now occupied by the remaining eleven apostles.
1:14 In the Introduction we noted the importance of prayer throughout the Book of Acts. Here Luke wants us to know that women were involved in the prayer ministry (as in 12:12). And by now Jesus brothers, who previously could not believe he was the Messiah (John 7:5) had come to faith in him (see 1 Corinthians 15:7) and they also joined in this prayer.
1:15 Those who gathered together as disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem now numbered 120 persons. It seems unlikely they could all fit into the upper room, so they were probably now already meeting in the temple courts (as in 2:46, 3:11).
1:16-17 Peter may be thinking of David's experience of betrayal in one of the psalms , "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted lifted the heel against me" (Psalm 41:9). And there may be a note of disappointment in the fact that Judas had been one of their number, was sent out on missions with them, and was even trusted to keep the common purse (John 12:6, 13:29).
1:18-19 Critics too easily suggest that this account of Judas' suicide contradicts "he went and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5). The Greek verb apagcho means to strangle, and the middle tense used by Matthew can mean to choke, strangle oneself, or hang oneself. A simple explanation would be that Judas attempted suicide by hanging, and (as often occurs) the rope broke or came loose, and Judas "falling headlong" (1:18) crashed on to a sharp rock below, which burst open his abdomen. Those who assume contradictions between reliable New Testament witnesses forget that in our day the police and judges know that what actually happened is usually far more complicated than the reports given. .
Critics also claim that in Matthew's Gospel Judas took the betrayal money back to the temple, the priests used it to buy "the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners," and it was called the field of blood money. (Matthew 27:6-7, Acts 1:19). We could translate "Now this man procured for himself (Greek middle tense ktaomai) a field with the reward of his wickedness." That would mean Judas tried to commit suicide by hanging, but he actually died when he fell on a sharp rock and "his bowels gushed out." It is possible Judas was buried right there in the very field which was bought with the blood money he had received and then returned to the priests.
1:20 Again (as in 1:16) Peter was reminded of two verses from the psalms (Psalm 69:25, 109:8). People who are steeped in the Scriptures often make such connections without claiming that they are prophecies.
1:21-22 Peter reminds his hearers that a replacement for Judas must qualify as an eyewitness of Jesus' three year ministry from his baptism by John to his resurrection (see 1:4). Though Paul saw the Lord after the resurrection he never claimed to be an apostolic witness (see 13:31).
1:23-25 Two equally qualified candidates were proposed (Joseph the just, son of Saba, and Matthias). But there was nothing to choose between them, so the one hundred and twenty brothers and sisters (1:14-15) prayed for God to reveal which of these the Messiah wanted appointed.
1:26 When the Lord did not indicate his preference, the only solution was to put the two names in a pouch and see which was drawn (for other examples of this see Leviticus 16:8, Numbers 33:54, Joshua 7:16-18, 14:2, 1 Samuel 10:20-21, Esther 3:7, Proverbs 16:33, Jonah 1:7, Luke 1:9. In several of these cases God approved the practice). We know nothing about this unknown disciple except that his name (Hebrew mattitya) meant "gift of Yahweh" (yiheyeh is the third person, HE IS, of the Hebrew verb I AM which the Lord gave to Moses, Exodus 3:13-14. It is used as I AM in John 8:24, 28, 58, 18:5-6).