Acts 1:1-26 (NIV)
Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 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 baptized witha water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
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.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
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.”
Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walka 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.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believersb (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”
18 (With the reward he got 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.)
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,’c
“ ‘May another take his place of leadership.’d
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out 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.”
23 So they proposed 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.
Luke was a master of many styles of writing. He wrote Luke 1:1-4 in formal, classical Greek, but in the rest of his Gospel and all of Acts, Luke used a style reminiscent of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament.
Septuagint Greek was a unique style. It was almost as different from the Greek spoken in Luke's day as the English of the King James Bible is different from what is spoken today. Why did Luke use the style of the Jewish Bible? Perhaps he knew he was writing "sacred history," a continuation of God's dealings with man that began in Genesis and reached its culmination in the ministry of Jesus. By using the Septuagint's style and quoting it often, Luke stressed that Acts recounted the continuation and fulfillment of the Scripture's story.
Before you begin the questions in this lesson read 1:1-26 all the way through. You might find it helpful to compare two versions of the Bible. Ask God to show you the important truths of this opening chapter of Acts.
Sketching a rough outline of a chapter is often good preparation for studying it closely. It is also often helpful to relate the chapter to the themes of the whole book. Then, after studying the chapter in detail, you can reconsider your outline and how the chapter relates to the whole.
1. For each of the following sections, write a title that expresses what the section is about.
2. If Acts tells how the Church began to fulfill its mission through the Holy Spirit, how does 1:1-26 relate to this theme?
Apostles (1:2). An apostle is literally "one who is sent"—a messenger, proxy, ambassador. In Jewish law, an apostolos (Greek) or shaliach (Aramaic) was "a person acting with full authority for another" in a business or legal transaction. John 13:16, 20 and 20:21 reflect the Jewish idea of the shaliach.
During His earthly life, Jesus appointed twelve of His disciples to be His apostles (Luke 6:12-16). To these twelve He gave the most intensive training and intimate friendship.
The early Church eventually recognized other believers as apostles in some sense: Paul (Acts 14:14), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and perhaps Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7). However, it is not clear that all these people held the Church's highest authority regarding doctrine and policy, as the Twelve did. Paul does seem to have eventually attained this status (Galatians 1:1-2:10). Nevertheless, in these early chapters of Acts, Luke uses the term "the Twelve" as equivalent to "the apostles."
Kingdom of God (1:3). Jesus called His message "the good news of the kingdom of God" (Luke 4:43) and He spoke about the Kingdom constantly. The Old Testament had promised that God would restore His own kingship over the earth, and Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom was present in the person of the King, Jesus Himself. The early Church spoke of the Kingdom to refer to "the saving, sovereign action of God through" Jesus (Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23, 31).
The Jews believed that when the Messiah (God's "Anointed One") came, He would inaugurate God's Kingdom on earth by delivering Israel from its oppressors. One of the prophesied signs of the Kingdom was that God would pour out His Spirit (Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28-32). Jesus' disciples knew He was the Messiah (Greek: Christ), so they supposed that by promising the Spirit, Jesus was saying He would soon restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Despite Jesus' teaching, they still thought He was going to establish a political kingdom at once.
3. From Acts 1:2-5, what was apparently the purpose of the forty days Jesus spent with His disciples after the Resurrection?
Baptized (1:5). Literally, "to immerse a person in water or to deluge him with it, usually as a means of cleansing." The Old Testament often describes the Holy Spirit figuratively as a liquid that can be "poured out" (Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28). However, Scripture also speaks of the Spirit filling and coming upon people. We should remember that these terms are figurative; the Spirit is a Person, not a fluid or a force like electricity.
4. Consider what Jesus said to the apostles when they asked whether His reign in power was about to begin (1:6-8). Why wasn't it important for the apostles to know precisely when Jesus would finish bringing God's reign to earth?
5. Why was it necessary for Jesus to stop giving direct instructions to His disciples and ascend to be with His Father (Acts 1:9)? See John 16:5-15.
6. a. What conviction was going to sustain the apostles as they fulfilled their mission while Jesus was physically absent (1:11)?
b. Why would this have been encouraging?
A twelfth witness chosen (1:12-26)
A Sabbath day's walk (1:12). Jewish tradition said that traveling more than 3000 feet was work, so that distance came to be called a Sabbath day's journey.
Women (1:14). Among these were probably the wives of the apostles, as well as Jesus' mother. But unlike most Jewish teachers, Jesus had permitted women to travel with Him as disciples and even support Him financially, those women were among the witnesses to His crucifixion and resurrection (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3; Luke 23:49, 55-56; Luke 24:1-11).
Brothers (1:14). When the Church came to believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, it was assumed that Jesus' "brothers" were either His cousins or Joseph's sons by a previous marriage. However, some people think they were the sons of Joseph and Mary, Jesus' half brothers. They did not believe He was the Son of God during His life, so they continually tried to dissuade Him from the path that appeared insane (Mark 3:21; John 7:5). But Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection, and they believed. The eldest brother, James, became a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Galatians 2:9).
At His death, Jesus committed His mother into the care of the Apostle John, since His brothers did not yet believe (John 19:26-27). From this fact, and because Joseph is not mentioned in Acts 1:14, we conclude that he had died.
In their language (1:19). Verses 18-19 are a parenthesis that Luke has inserted into Peter's speech to explain to the reader how Judas died. Peter's words actually flow from 1:17 to 1:20.
It is necessary (1:21). According to Jewish law, a hundred and twenty or more adult men could establish a community with its own ruling council. The hundred and twenty (1:15) believers were going to set up their own community with the twelve apostles as its council.
Twelve men were necessary because they symbolized the twelve patriarchs who headed the twelve tribes (the whole nation) of Israel. (See Matthew 19:28, where "judging" is the Hebrew term for ruling or governing. ) Just as the patriarchs were the heads (under God) of Israel, so the apostles are the heads (under Jesus) of the Church.
7. How did Peter describe the chief function of an apostle (1:22)? What were the qualifications of such a person (1:21-22)?
Justus (1:23). Many Jews had both a Hebrew and a Greek or Latin name. "Joseph" is Hebrew, "Justus" is Latin. "Barsabbas" means "son of the Sabbath"; many Jews had nicknames that began "son of . . . " (4:36; 13:6).
Ministry (1:25). "The Greek word diakonia means 'service' (originally service at a meal table), and it is used of Christian work of all kinds, which takes its pattern from the One who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45)." "To serve tables" in 6:2 (nasb) is diakonoi, this is the root of the English word deacon.
Lots (1:26). This method of discerning God's will for a decision was common in Old Testament times and among the Jews. Proverbs 16:33 states the belief that God, not chance, determined the outcome when lots were cast. Acts 1:26 is the only biblical instance of Christians casting lots.
8. a. What role did prayer have among the believers between the Ascension and Pentecost (1:14, 24-25)?
b. How is this a model for us?
9. Acts covers many topics that are relevant to our lives. Some of the book's themes are given with space for you to write what you learn about each theme as you go through the book. For now, look back over this lesson and 1:1-26, and write what you can about each theme. Give verse references for your observations.
Because Acts is a narrative (a true story), it teaches us mainly by example, not directly as the Gospels and Epistles do. However, the first thirty years of Church history were a unique period in the history of God's dealings with man. Therefore, not everything in Acts sets an example that we should imitate. Acts records what did happen, not necessarily what should have happened or what always should happen. (For instance, the apostles cast lots and prayed to select the twelfth apostle, 1:23-26. Is this meant to be a model for choosing an apostle or leaders in general? How do we know?)
To apply Acts to our lives sensibly, we need to distinguish when Luke is describing an example we should follow; when he is describing one we may follow; and when he is giving details to portray the overall message, not to be exact models for us.
One clue to this distinction is that primary patterns recur whereas specific details vary. For instance, people repeatedly pray for God's guidance to make decisions in Acts but casting lots occurs only once, before the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost. Likewise, when people become believers in Acts, water baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit normally occur, but "these can be in reverse order, with or without the laying on of hands, with or without the mention of tongues; and scarcely ever with a specific mention of repentance, even after what Peter says in 2:38-39."
You'll find more guidelines for applications later in this study guide. For now, keep this question in mind: When is a practice in Acts a norm we should follow; when is it an option we should consider, and when is it unique to the time? Also, watch for recurring patterns and varying details.
10. Review your answers to questions 4, 5, 8, and 9. Ask God to guide you, and write down a) the one specific truth from 1:1-26 you want to take to heart; and b) any commitment to some action or prayer you would like to make during the coming week.
Some people remember a book better if they outline it as they go through it. Questions 1 and 2 of this lesson have given you a head start on outlining chapter 1 of Acts. If you like, start with a broad framework, such as one of those in the overview. Then add specifics:
Give each section a title that tells what it is about. Try to show how the sections contribute to the themes of Acts.
11. If you have any questions about 1:1-26, write them here.
I. A New Book (1:1–2)
The “former treatise” referred to is the Gospel of Luke (see Luke. 1:1–4) in which Luke told the story of what Jesus began to do and teach while He was on earth. Acts picks up the account by telling what He continued to do and teach through the church on earth. The Gospel of Luke tells of Christ’s ministry on earth in a physical body, while Acts tells of His ministry from heaven through His spiritual body, the church. For example, in 1:24 the believers ask the ascended Christ to show them which man to elect as apostle. In 2:47 it is the Lord who adds believers to the assembly. In 13:1–3, it is Christ through His Spirit who sends out the first missionaries; and in 14:27, Paul and Barnabas relate what God did through them.
Every Christian needs to move out of Luke’s Gospel into Acts. Knowing about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ is enough for salvation but not for Spirit-empowered service. We must identify ourselves with Him as our ascended Lord and allow Him to work through us in the world. The church is not simply an organization engaged in religious work; it is a divine organism, the body of Christ on earth, through which His life and power must operate. He died for the lost world; we must live to bring that world to Christ.
II. A New Experience (1:3–8)
Christ ministered to the apostles during the forty days He was on earth after His resurrection. Luke 24:36ff should be read in connection with these verses. In both places, Christ instructed the apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit. They were to begin their ministry in Jerusalem.
This baptism of the Spirit had been announced by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). Note that Christ said nothing about a baptism with fire, for the fire baptism refers to judgment. The coming of the Spirit would unite all the believers into one body, to be known as the church (see 1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit would also give the believers power to witness to the lost. Finally, the Spirit would enable the believers to speak in tongues and perform other miraculous deeds to awaken the Jews. (See 1 Cor. 1:22—the Jews require a sign.) There are actually two occurrences of this Spirit baptism in Acts; in chapter 2, when He baptized the Jews; and in chapter 10 (see 11:16) when He came upon the Gentile believers. According to Eph. 2:11ff, the body of Christ is composed of Jews and Gentiles, all baptized into this spiritual body. It is wrong to pray for a baptism of the Spirit; we may ask God to fill us (Eph. 5:18) or empower us for special service (Acts 10:38), but we should not pray for His baptism.
Were the apostles correct in asking Christ about the kingdom (vv. 6–8)? Yes. In Matt. 22:1–10, Christ had promised to give the nation of Israel another opportunity to receive Him and the kingdom. In Matt. 19:28 Christ promised that the apostles would sit on twelve thrones (see Luke 22:28–30). In Matt. 12:31–45, Christ stated that Israel would have another opportunity to be saved even after sinning against the Son, and He promised to give them a sign to encourage them. It was the sign of Jonah: death, burial, and resurrection. The apostles knew that their ministry would begin with Israel (see the introductory notes); now they wanted to know what Israel would do. Would the nation accept or reject their message? Christ had not told them whether it would or would not. If He had told the apostles that Israel would spurn this good news, they could not have given their people an honest offer; their ministry would have been false. What He did tell them was that they would be witnesses, starting in Jerusalem, and eventually reaching across the world.
III. A New Assurance (1:9–11)
Do not confuse the promise of v. 11 with that of the rapture of the church as given through Paul in 1 Thes. 4. The angels here are promising that Christ will return to Mt. Olivet, visibly, and in glory. Luke 21:27 and Zech. 14:4 give the same promise. Had Israel accepted the apostles’ message, Christ would have returned to Mt. Olivet (see Acts 3:19–21) and established His kingdom. The Jewish missionaries would have spread His Gospel to the ends of the earth, and Israel would have been the center of blessing for all mankind as promised in Isa. 35:1–6 and 65:19–23.
IV. A New Apostle (1:12–25)
Were the apostles correct in selecting this new man? Of course! There had to be twelve men to sit on the twelve promised thrones (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28–30) should Israel repent and receive the kingdom. Their decision was based on the Word of God (Ps. 109:8 and 69:25) and on continued prayer (vv. 14 and 24). The new choice, Matthias, was ratified by God since he, with the others, was filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Note that Peter took charge of the meeting. This is perhaps another use of his “binding and loosing” powers given by Christ in Matt. 16:19. Heaven directed them in their decision and ratified their decision after it was made.
Paul could not have been the twelfth apostle. For one thing, he did not meet the qualifications laid down in vv. 21–22; and furthermore, his special ministry had to do with the church, not the kingdom.
Everything was now in readiness for the coming of the Spirit. It was now a matter of time, and as the believers waited for the Day of Pentecost to arrive, they spent their hours in prayer and fellowship in the Upper Room.
They Believed in the Risen Christ (Acts 1:1–11)
After His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days and ministered to His disciples. He had already opened their minds to understand the Old Testament message about Himself (Luke 24:44–48), but there were other lessons they needed to learn before they could launch out in their new ministry. Jesus appeared and disappeared during those forty days, and the believers never knew when He might show up. It was excellent preparation for the church because the days were soon coming when He would no longer be on earth to instruct them personally. We believers today never know when our Lord may return, so our situation is somewhat similar to theirs.
The Lord taught them several important lessons during that time of special ministry.
The reality of His resurrection (v. 3a). Some of the believers may have had their doubts forty days before (Mark 16:9–14), but there could be no question now that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead. To strengthen their faith, He gave them “many infallible proofs” which Luke did not explain. We know that when Jesus met His disciples, He invited them to touch His body, and He even ate before them (Luke 24:38–43). Whatever proofs He gave, they were convincing.
Faith in His resurrection was important to the church because their own spiritual power depended on it. Also, the message of the Gospel involves the truth of the Resurrection (Rom. 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 15:1–8); and, if Jesus were dead, the church would be speechless. Finally, the official Jewish position was that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb (Matt. 28:11–15), and the believers had to be able to refute this as they witnessed to the nation.
These believers were chosen to be special witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and that was the emphasis in their ministry (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:30–32). Most of the people in Jerusalem knew that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, but they did not know that He had been raised from the dead. By their words, their walk, and their mighty works, the believers told the world that Jesus was alive. This was “the sign of Jonah” that Jesus had promised to the nation (Matt. 12:38–41)—His death, burial, and resurrection.
The coming of His kingdom (v. 3b). This refers to the reign of God over the hearts and lives of those who have trusted Him (see Matt. 6:33; Rom. 14:17; 1 John 3:1–9). When you read the four Gospels, you discover that the Apostles had a strongly political view of the kingdom and were especially concerned about their own positions and privileges. Being loyal Jews, they longed for the defeat of their enemies and the final establishment of the glorious kingdom under the rule of King Messiah. They did not realize that there must first be a spiritual change in the hearts of the people (see Luke 1:67–79).
Jesus did not rebuke them when they “kept asking” about the future Jewish kingdom (Acts 1:7). After all, He had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44), so they knew what they were asking. But God has not revealed His timetable to us and it is futile for us to speculate. The important thing is not to be curious about the future but to be busy in the present, sharing the message of God’s spiritual kingdom. This is another emphasis in the Book of Acts (see Acts 8:12; 14:22; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
The power of His Holy Spirit (vv. 4–8). John the Baptist had announced a future baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; and see Acts 11:16), and now that prophecy would be fulfilled. Jesus had also promised the coming of the Spirit (John 14:16–18, 26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15). It would be an enduement of power for the disciples so that they would be able to serve the Lord and accomplish His will (Luke 24:49). John had spoken about “the Holy Spirit and fire,” but Jesus said nothing about fire. Why? Because the “baptism of fire” has to do with future judgment, when the nation of Israel will go through tribulation (Matt. 3:11–12). The appearing of “tongues of fire” at Pentecost (Acts 2:3) could not be termed a “baptism.”
Acts 1:8 is a key verse. To begin with, it explains that the power of the church comes from the Holy Spirit and not from man (see Zech. 4:6). God’s people experienced repeated fillings of the Spirit as they faced new opportunities and obstacles (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9). Ordinary people were able to do extraordinary things because the Spirit of God was at work in their lives. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity.
“Witness” is a key word in the Book of Acts and is used twenty-nine times as either a verb or a noun. A witness is somebody who tells what he has seen and heard (Acts 4:19–20). When you are on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear what you know. Our English word martyr comes from the Greek word translated “witness,” and many of God’s people have sealed their witness by laying down their lives.
We hear a great deal these days about “soul winning,” and the emphasis is a good one. However, while some of God’s people have a calling to evangelism (Eph. 4:11), all of God’s people are expected to be witnesses and tell the lost about the Saviour. Not every Christian can bring a sinner to the place of faith and decision (though most of us could do better), but every Christian can bear faithful witness to the Saviour. “A true witness delivereth souls” (Prov. 14:25).
Acts 1:8 also gives us a general outline of the Book of Acts as it describes the geographical spread of the Gospel: from Jerusalem (Acts 1–7) to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8–9), and then to the Gentiles and to the ends of the earth (Acts 10–28). No matter where we live, as Christians we should begin our witness at home and then extend it “into all the world.” As Dr. Oswald J. Smith used to say, “The light that shines the farthest will shine the brightest at home.”
The assurance of His coming again (vv. 9–11). Our Lord’s ascension into heaven was an important part of His ministry, for if He had not returned to the Father, He could not have sent the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5–15). Also, in heaven today, the Saviour is our interceding High Priest, giving us the grace that we need for life and service (Heb. 4:14–16). He is also our Advocate before the Father, forgiving us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9–2:2). The exalted and glorified Head of the church is now working with His people on earth and helping them accomplish His purposes (Mark 16:19–20).
As the believers watched Jesus being taken up to glory, two angels appeared and gently rebuked them. Angels play an important role in the ministry described in Acts, just as they do today, even though we cannot see them (see Acts 5:19–20; 8:26; 10:3–7; 12:7–10, 23; 27:23). The angels are the servants of the saints (Heb. 1:14).
The two messengers gave the believers assurance that Jesus Christ would come again, just as He had been taken from them. This seems to refer to His public “coming in clouds” (Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Rev. 1:7) rather than to His coming for His church “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51–52; 1 Thes. 4:13–18). Regardless of what views different people may take of God’s prophetic program, Christians agree that Jesus is coming again and that He can come at any time. This in itself is a great motivation for faithful Christian service (Luke 12:34–48).
They Believed in Each Other (Acts 1:12–14)
They obeyed their Lord’s commandment and returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). It is likely that the group met in the Upper Room where the last Passover had been celebrated, but they were also found at worship in the temple (Luke 24:53).
What a variety of people made up that first assembly of believers! There were men and women, apostles and “ordinary” people, and even members of the Lord’s earthly family (see Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). His “brethren” had not believed in Him during His ministry (John 7:5), but they did come to trust Him after the Resurrection (Acts 1:14). Mary was there as a member of the assembly, participating in worship and prayer along with the others. The center of their fellowship was the risen Christ, and all of them adored and magnified Him.
How easy it would have been for someone to bring division into this beautiful assembly of humble people! The members of the Lord’s family might have claimed special recognition, or Peter could have been criticized for his cowardly denial of the Saviour. Or perhaps Peter might have blamed John, because it was John who brought him into the high priest’s house (John 18:15–16). John might well have reminded the others that he had faithfully stood at the cross, and had even been chosen by the Saviour to care for His mother. But there was none of this. In fact, nobody was even arguing over who among them was the greatest!
The key phrase is “with one accord,” a phrase that is found six times in Acts (1:14; 2:1, 46; 4:24; 5:12; 15:25; and note also 2:44). There was among these believers a wonderful unity that bound them together in Christ (Ps. 133; Gal. 3:28), the kind of unity that Christians need today. “I do not want the walls of separation between different orders of Christians to be destroyed,” said the godly British preacher Rowland Hill, “but only lowered, that we may shake hands a little easier over them!”
It is not enough for Christians to have faith in the Lord; they must also have faith in one another. To these 120 people (Acts 1:15) the Lord had given the solemn responsibility of bearing witness to a lost world, and none of them could do the job alone. They would experience severe persecution in the days ahead, and one of them, James, would lay down his life for Christ. It was not a time for asking, “Who is the greatest?” or, “Who committed the greatest sin?” It was a time for praying together and standing together in the Lord. As they waited and worshiped together, they were being better prepared for the work that lay before them.
They Believed in Prayer (Acts 1:15, 24–25)
Prayer plays a significant role in the story of the church as recorded in the Book of Acts. The believers prayed for guidance in making decisions (Acts 1:15–26) and for courage to witness for Christ (Acts 4:23–31). In fact, prayer was a normal part of their daily ministry (Acts 2:42–47; 3:1; 6:4). Stephen prayed as he was being stoned (Acts 7:55–60). Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14–17), and Saul of Tarsus prayed after his conversion (Acts 9:11). Peter prayed before he raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36–43). Cornelius prayed that God would show him how to be saved (Acts 10:1–4), and Peter was on the housetop praying when God told him how to be the answer to Cornelius’ prayers (Acts 10:9).
The believers in John Mark’s house prayed for Peter when he was in prison, and the Lord delivered him both from prison and from death (Acts 12:1–11). The church at Antioch fasted and prayed before sending out Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1–3; and note 14:23). It was at a prayer meeting in Philippi that God opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:13), and another prayer meeting in Philippi opened the prison doors (Acts 16:25ff). Paul prayed for his friends before leaving them (Acts 20:36; 21:5). In the midst of a storm, he prayed for God’s blessing (Acts 27:35), and after a storm, he prayed that God would heal a sick man (Acts 28:8). In almost every chapter in Acts you find a reference to prayer, and the book makes it very clear that something happens when God’s people pray.
This is certainly a good lesson for the church today. Prayer is both the thermometer and the thermostat of the local church; for the “spiritual temperature” either goes up or down, depending on how God’s people pray. John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, said, “Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.” In the Book of Acts, you see prayer accomplishing all of these things.
They Believed in God’s Leading (Acts 1:16–23)
The Lord Jesus was no longer with them to give them personal directions, but they were not without the leading of the Lord, for they had the Word of God and prayer. In fact, the Word of God and prayer formed the foundation for the ministry of the church as recorded in the Book of Acts (Acts 6:4).
Peter has been criticized for taking charge, but I believe he was doing the will of God. Jesus had made it clear that Peter was to be their leader (Matt. 16:19; Luke 22:31–32; John 21:15–17). Peter was “first among equals,” but he was their recognized leader. His name is mentioned first in each listing of the Apostles, including Acts 1:13.
But should Peter and the others have waited until the Spirit had been given? We must not forget that the Lord had previously “breathed” on them and imparted the Spirit to them (John 20:22). When the Spirit came at Pentecost, it was for the purpose of filling them with power and baptizing them into one body in Christ.
We must also remember that the Lord had opened up their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). When Peter referred to Psalms 69:25 and 109:8, he was not doing this on his own, but was being led by the Spirit of God. These people definitely believed in the divine inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 1:16; and see 3:18; 4:25), and they also believed that these Scriptures had a practical application to their situation.
A radio listener once wrote to ask me, “Why do you teach from the Old Testament? After all, it’s ancient history and it’s all been fulfilled by Jesus!” I explained that the only “Bible” the early church had was the Old Testament, and yet they were able to use it to discover the will of God. We need both the Old and the New; in fact, the New Testament writers often quote from the Old Testament to prove their point. St. Augustine said, “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New revealed.”
Certainly we must interpret the Old by the New, but we must not think that God no longer speaks to His people through the Old Testament Scriptures. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16, italics mine). “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, italics mine). We must use the whole Bible and balance Scripture with Scripture as we seek to discover the mind of God.
“But it was wrong for them to select a new apostle,” some claim, “because Paul was the one who was chosen by God to fill up the ranks. They chose Matthias and he was never heard of again!”
Except for Peter and John, none of the original Twelve are mentioned by name in the Book of Acts after 1:13! Paul could not have “filled up the ranks” because he could never have met the divine qualifications laid down in Acts 1:21–22. Paul was not baptized by John the Baptist; he did not travel with the Apostles when Jesus was with them on earth; and, though he saw the glorified Christ, Paul was not a witness of the Resurrection as were the original Apostles.
Paul made it clear that he was not to be classified with the Twelve (1 Cor. 15:8; Gal. 1:15–24), and the Twelve knew it. If the Twelve thought that Paul was supposed to be one of them, they certainly did not show it! In fact, they refused to admit Paul into the Jerusalem fellowship until Barnabas came to his rescue! (Acts 9:26–27) The 12 Apostles ministered primarily to the twelve tribes of Israel, while Paul was sent to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:1–10).
No, Paul was not meant to be the twelfth apostle. Peter and the other believers were in the will of God when they selected Matthias, and God gave His endorsement to Matthias by empowering him with the same Spirit that was given to the other men whom Jesus had personally selected (Acts 2:1–4, 14).
It was necessary that twelve men witness at Pentecost to the twelve tribes of Israel, and also that twelve men be prepared to sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes (Luke 22:28–30). From Acts 2–7, the witness was primarily to Israel, “to the Jew first” (see Rom. 1:16; Acts 3:26; 13:46). Once the message had gone to the Gentiles (Acts 10–11), this Jewish emphasis began to decline. When the Apostle James was martyred, he was not replaced (Acts 12). Why? Because the official witness to Israel was now completed and the message was going out to Jews and Gentiles alike. There was no more need for 12 Apostles to give witness to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Peter’s account of the purchase of the land and the death of Judas appears to contradict the record in Matthew 27:3–10; but actually it complements it. Judas did not buy the field personally, but since it was his money that paid for it, in that sense, he was the buyer. And, since the thirty pieces of silver were considered “blood money,” the field was called “the field of blood” (Matt. 27:8). It was not Judas’ blood that gave the field its name, for the Jews would not use as a sacred cemetery a place that had been defiled by a suicide. Judas hanged himself, and apparently the rope broke and his body (possibly already distended) burst open when it hit the ground.
The believers prayed for God’s guidance before they “voted,” because they wanted to select the man that God had already chosen (Prov. 16:33). Their exalted Lord was working in them and through them from heaven. This is the last instance in the Bible of the casting of lots, and there is no reason why believers today should use this approach in determining God’s will. While it is not always easy to discover what God wants us to do, if we are willing to obey Him, He will reveal His will to us (John 7:17). What is important is that we follow the example of the early church by emphasizing the Word of God and prayer.
Not all our Lord’s followers were in the Upper Room, for there were only 120 present and 1 Corinthians 15:6 states that at least 500 persons saw the risen Christ at one time. Bible scholars do not agree on the size of the population of Palestine at that time, and their estimates run from 600,000 to 4 million. But regardless of what figure you select, the 120 believers were still a minority; yet they turned their world upside down for Christ!
What was their secret? The power of the Holy Spirit!
Dr. Luke explains this in Acts 2.
Why Aren't We Moving Mountains?
By Brad Adkins
|Issues: Is the day of miracles over? Moving Mountains? Or is our mountain moving today to be something different—less spectacular, but just as miraculous?|
BRUNO, a young businessman and a young disciple, called me on the telephone. He was feeling something very keenly. He wanted so much to see God's power revealed dynamically through his life in his character, in his home, at his office, and in his ministry. He wanted his Christian life to manifest such visible power that everyone he rubbed shoulders with would be convinced and believe. But it wasn't happening that way.
This is something I encounter frequently, especially among eager young Christians. We are fascinated, as we should be, as we read in the gospels and the book of Acts about the mighty works of God. But we are inclined to wonder why we are not seeing and experiencing similar miraculous results in our Christian life today.
This questioning can become a source of doubt and discouragement. We wonder if we're missing out on something. There may even be a tendency to question why God expects so much of us without giving us the kind of power the early disciples possessed. Or, like the man in the parable who had received only one talent, we may unconsciously accuse the Master of being "a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed" (Matthew 25:24).
Passages such as Matthew 17:20 are often quoted to justify our concern about experiencing "first-century" power: "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
In spite of this affirmation we have no record of Jesus or his disciples ever literally moving a mountain. Jesus did, of course, curse a fig tree, leaving his divine mark on -nature and demonstrating his sovereign power over it. But he never did anything as unnecessary and illogical as moving mountains from one location to another. But some conclude that we, as his followers, could literally move mountains if we only had an ounce of faith.
Adding to the confusion are many well-meaning Christian authors and speakers who relate contemporary miracles to the quantity of our faith. The sky is the limit if one can just muster enough faith. This aspiration, though admirable in its pursuit of godliness, can become a tool of the Enemy. We may hear others talk about miraculous experiences, and it tends to discourage rather than encourage us if the same kind of experiences aren't happening to us.
Another way the Enemy gets in is through our incorrect understanding of the Scriptures. We are not instructed in the Bible to duplicate everything Jesus did, or to repeat all of the dramatic phenomena in Acts. In Acts 1:1 the Spirit of God makes a distinction between what Jesus did and what he taught in the gospels. Luke says in this verse that he had written in his gospel "about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven."
Jesus did many mighty things to illustrate and prove that he was the promised Messiah, the very Son of God. As Peter said in his sermon in Acts 2, Jesus was "a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him" (Acts 2:22). Because of the power manifested in the miraculous birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we feel safe in giving all our allegiance and entrusting our eternity to him. There is, therefore, no confusion in our minds as to who the real Savior is (John 20:30–31).
We should be encouraged and thrilled that only the Savior can perform all of these miracles. This is not to deny that God does miraculous things in our day. Of course he does. His fingerprints are all over the life of any obedient Christian. But we must discern between what Jesus did to authenticate his divinity, and what he taught that we are to obey. We may safely conclude from Scripture and Christian history that the "greater things" mentioned in John 14:12 do not include his divinity-proving miracles.
Furthermore, it is important that we bear in mind the total scriptural teaching on this subject, and not draw conclusions based only on isolated verses. We need to consult the epistles for a complete understanding of the gospels and Acts. The same Spirit of God who taught in Matthew 21:22 that, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer," also conditioned this promise in 1 John 5:14 by saying we must ask God "according to his will." This seems logical enough, if we think about it.
Jesus could have gone around moving actual mountains, and he could have given us, his followers, the power to move them as well. But he didn't. It seems that the "mountains" in Matthew 17:20 and Matthew 21:21 are more difficult mountains-the spiritual ones.
The toughest mountain of all is surely a -man's unregenerate will. As Paul puts it, "You were dead in your transgressions and sins" (Ephes. 2:1). The formation of a living, Christlike character in one who was formerly dead represents the moving of a giant spiritual mountain. For example, the first time I met Javier, he said to me with an air of pride, "You'll never convince me that Jesus was the Son of God." Today, four years later, he is humbly obeying Christ. That's a miracle in any generation!
Another example of mountain moving today is maintaining a successful, God-honoring marriage. Being honest, faithful Christian employees in our jobs is another. These are tough heights. There are plenty of these kinds of mountains to move.
So how should we think about faith and miracles today? First we should have no interest in taking any glory away from our Savior. Instead of complimenting our faith, saying that we can do anything if we just have enough faith may do an injustice to the earthly work of Jesus. Even to the apostles, to whom he had given special powers to launch his kingdom—on earth, Jesus said, "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
We would also do well to remember the indicting words Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:39 to the scribes and Pharisees: "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!" We must base our faith on who God is, what he has already done, and what he has promised to do in the future. Our faith should not be based on contemporary signs and miracles. For faith means "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. . . . And without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:1; Hebrews 11:6).
George Mueller said, "Faith is not a matter of impressions, nor of probabilities, nor of appearances. Faith is the assurance that what God has said in his word is true, and that God will act according to what he has said in his word."
Finally, perhaps a greater demonstration of my faith would be a personal understanding with my Lord that for me to believe, love, and serve him, he does not need to show me more miracles or proofs than I already have in the Scriptures. Then I can concentrate on developing a heart like David's: "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you" (Psalm 63:1). This seeking of God is, I believe, the essence of faith and discipleship.
And at seeking God, by the way, my friend Bruno is doing well.
» See Also: On Your Own: Believing God—For What?
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:BRAD ADKINS leads the Navigator ministry in Venezuela.|
|On Your Own|
|Believing God—For What?|
|Looking Into Scripture1. In speaking about faith in Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, "Nothing will be impossible to you." Read all of this verse in your own Bible. What is an apparent "impossibility" which by faith you are now asking God (or can begin asking him) to bring about in your life? 2. Read Matthew 21:18–22. What seems to be the main point of this passage? 3. Study John 14:11–14. Why is the statement in John 14:12 so important to all followers of Jesus Christ? (Think of as many reasons as you can.) 4. At this moment, what to you are the five most important things you would ask the Lord to do?|
a Or in
a That is, about ¾ mile (about 1,100 meters)
b Greek brothers
c Psalm 69:25
d Psalm 109:8
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (278). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Ac 1:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.