About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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My Commentary On The
Book Of Acts

 

The following commentary is based on the New International Version of the Bible, 1994 edition.  Chapter titles in this commentary are taken from the NIV chapter titles that make for easy comparison.

 

Introduction

 

Most all scholars believe that Luke, a Gentile doctor, was the author of the book of Acts.  It's also accepted that he wrote the Gospel according to Luke.  He was one of Paulís closest co-workers and friends.  Paul mentions him three times in his letters.  In Colossians 4:14 Paul calls Luke "a dear friend and a doctor".  So, we know he is a doctor.  In Philemon 24 Paul mentions him along with others in his final greeting to Philemon.  In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul tells Timothy to send Mark to him because "only Luke was with him" at the time of writing this letter to Timothy.

 

Another reason why scholars believe Luke wrote Acts is because anytime there is an illness or a physical problem with a person; he speaks in specific terms that a Roman doctor would understand.

 

Tradition states that Luke grew up in Philippi and was converted there.  Tradition also states that he died at the age of 84.   

 

In Acts 11 Luke describes a gathering of Christians in Antioch that he was at, which appears to be Lukeís home town as an adult.  Christian tradition also states that Luke was a citizen of Antioch.  He was not a Jew, but a pagan Greek.  Paul did not lead him to the Lord as he did Timothy and others.  Paul never calls him a "son in the faith" as he called Timothy.   It appears that Luke was already a Christian when Paul first visited Antioch with Barnabas. 

 

A careful reading of Acts will tell you that there were times when Luke was literally a part of the account he writes and other times when he wasnít. You can tell this by the personal pronouns that he uses.  Sometimes he says, "we", while other times he says "they".   We can call the sections of Acts where Luke speaks in the first person "we", the "we sections".  The first "we section" begins in Acts 11:28.  The next "we section" begins in Acts 16:10.  The last "we section" begins in Acts 20:6 and appears to carry on to the very end.

 

Luke was in Jerusalem when Paul was arrested after giving the gift of money to the Jerusalem church that Paul collected from many of the churches in Asia Minor. When Paul was quickly rushed to Caesarea and put into prison for two years, Luke appears to be with him all that time and then accompanied him to Rome where he was in house arrest for another two years. 

 

It is interesting to note that the Christian church begins in Acts 2 in Jerusalem , the centre for Jewish culture.  On that first day of church history, the church was totally Jewish, both in culture and individual membership.  Jerusalem was the headquarters for the early church, but by the end of the book of Acts the church was just as much Gentile as it was Jew, if not more Gentile, and the headquarters was no longer in Jerusalem.  This was probably God's will.  I'm not convinced that it is God's will to have a headquarters for His church outside of heaven itself.  Such ecclesiastical systems are more man-made than God-made.  Many people actually believe it was God's will for the Christians to be persecuted in Jerusalem that forced them to relocate.  Besides, Jesus told the apostles in Acts 1:8 that after the Holy Spirit came into their lives they would be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth.  It's clear that Jesus wanted these men to move on and not settle in Jerusalem.       

 

When it comes to dating the book of Acts there has been many opinions over the centuries as there are with the dating of most of the New Testament documents.  Since Acts ends with Paulís house arrest in Rome, without anything said about his impending trial, many feel the book must have been written around 62 to 64 AD.  Paul was beheaded in 66 A.D..  His house arrest was somewhere around 60 A. D. to 64 A. D. and lasted two years. Surely, if Luke had known the outcome of Paulís trial he would have written about it, or so I think.  Thus we have to date the book shortly after his two years of house arrest and before his trial and death. This would make the date around 62 to 64 A. D..

 

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his followers that once the Holy Spirit came into their lives they "would be witnesses", first in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.  Thus, this is the story how the transition of the gospel went, from Jerusalem and the Jews, to the ends of the known earth, Rome and beyond, in Gentile territory; to you and I, wherever you live today.

 

The book of Acts doesnít tell the whole story of the early church.  It centers around Peter in the first part, and then Paul in the second part.  Acts can be divided into three main parts. The first part is chapter 1, the introductory.  The second part is chapter 2 through chapter 12, which is the progress of the gospel to the Jews under Peterís preaching.  The third part is chapter 13 through to the end that shows the progress of the gospel among the Gentiles under Paulís preaching.  

 

As I have said, Luke does not tell the whole story of the early church, only that part he must have known well.  There were other apostles and preachers across the land that must have made significant inroads in the preaching of the gospel as well. There was James, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church.  We know a little about him from Luke, but I am sure there is more to know about him.  What we do have is an account of the spread of the gospel by Peter and then by Paul.  Beyond Acts 13 we know very little about Peter and his ministry.  Tradition has it that he was executed for his faith in Jesus, two years before Paul was executed.  Peter was killed in Rome in 64 A. D..  Tradition states that he was hung up-side-down on a cross, by his request.  He did not feel he was worthy to die in the same fashion as Jesus, or so it is said.   It is said that Paul was beheaded in Rome in 66 A.D..

 

It's important to understand that non-biblical books have supported and confirmed the accuracy of the book of Acts.  By this I mean that all government officials that Luke speaks about in Acts are historically accurate and can be accounted for in secular records. 

 

Why did Luke write Acts?  Some believe that he wrote it to show Rome that Christianity was not a rebellious religion as was thought.  Jews at the time were rebelling in Judea which subsequently led to Rome plummeting Jerusalem in 70 A. D..  Others say, and I tend to think this,  that Luke wrote the book of Acts as part of Paul's defense before the Roman court when he was on trial. 

 

 

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven (ch. 1:1 - 11)

 

In verse 1 we see right away that the author of the book of Acts wrote another book.  He wrote both books to someone named Theophilus.  In Luke 1:3 Luke says that he "wrote an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught".  Since both Acts and Luke are written to Theophilus, it's pretty much an established fact that Luke wrote both books. 

 

Another reason why scholars think Luke wrote Acts is because of the medical terminology he uses.  It's the type of language that doctors would have used in his day, and, we know that Luke was a doctor from Colossians 4:14. 

 

We know nothing about Theophilus other than he is mentioned here and in Luke 1:1.  The name "Theophilus" means "lover of God". "Theos" is the Greek word for "God' and "philos" in the Greek word meaning "brotherly, or reciprocal love".  We don't know if his name reflects his character or not, but Luke is writing to him for some reason.  Thus, Theophilus must have some reason to be further informed, not only about Jesus, but about the first generation of Christians. 

 

Some have thought that Theophilus is not a real man but a generic name representing those who love God.  I believe he was a real person.    

 

Some scholars have suggested that Theophilus had something to do with Paulís trial in Rome and that this account was actually part of Paulís defense in Rome, but this can't be verified.    

 

Luke 1:3 tells us that Theophilus was taught "these things" about Jesus and that Luke wanted to write to him as a confirmation of what he was taught.  Some have said, because of certain verb tenses in Luke 1:3, that Theophilus was not a Christian when Luke wrote his gospel account but became a Christian before Luke wrote Acts.

 

Another point to note from Luke 1:3 is that Luke calls Theophilus "most excellent". The use of these words strongly suggest that this man was a man of influence, either politically or financially.  Such a title was never given to a common person.  If this was so, this might help confirm that Theophilus had some importance in the trial of Paul in Rome.      

 

In Acts 1:1 Luke reminds Theophilus of his former book concerning Jesus and all he did and taught, up to the point of when he was taken up into Heaven.  This gives us the reason why Luke wrote Acts.  It was meant to update Theophilus on the last few days of Jesus' earthly existence and fill him in on the early church.   

 

Before Jesus actually went home to Heaven, Luke says in verse 2 that He "gave instruction through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen".  Notice at the very beginning of this book Luke mentions the Holy Spirit in his narrative. Even Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit accompanying His words when He taught his followers.  The Holy Spirit is especially prominent in the book of Acts, especially the first half of the book. 

 

We see the word "apostles" in verse 2.  An apostle is one who is sent by someone.  In this case it was Jesus who sent his followers to carry the message of the good news bout Jesus.    

 

Verse 3 begins with the words "after His suffering".  This is an obvious reference to the cross of Christ.  The suffering and death of Jesus was a problem to the Jews.  They could not believe their Messiah would suffer in such a way, but they missed many of the prophetic writings that predicted this; Isaiah 52 and 53 being just one example.  On the other hand, Greeks and Romans, whom Theophilus was, struggled with the resurrection of Jesus.  1 Corinthians 1:23 states that Jesus is a stumbling block to the Jews (because He suffered) and foolishness to the Greeks (because of the resurrection).      

 

The words "convincing proofs" in verse3 are important.  Many skeptics say Christians believe out of blind faith.  That shouldn't be the case, although I'm sure it is in many respects.  There are many convincing proves concerning, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Christians should understand that their faith is not blind, and they should know why they believe as they do.  Knowing why we believe is fundamental to the Christian life, but this is sadly lacking among so many Christians these days. We must know why we believe and then we must be able to explain to others why we believe.  This is even harder for many. 

 

Luke tells Theophilus in verse 3 that after "Jesusí suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive".  Before Jesus returned to His Father He showed Himself for forty days to prove that He had actually risen from the dead.  The resurrection is fundamental to the gospel.  Jesus made sure that His followers knew for sure that He was alive. There would be no gospel, no salvation, without the resurrection of Jesus.

 

You might wonder why Jesus didn't show Himself to more people, like the Jewish religious rulers and the civil authorities.  I can't say if I know the reason for sure, but God has always wanted a group of people who would represent Him to the world.  This was really the job of Old Testament Israel, but they failed to carry out their job as they were told.  This is also true of the church, and like Israel of old, we're not doing the best job at representing Jesus to the world.  I think Jesus didn't show Himself to the world because that was to be the job of Christians.

 

Acts 1:3 is the only place in the New Testament that tells us the time line from the resurrection to the ascension to be forty days.  The number forty in the Bible, so some say, is the number of testing.  Jesus was tested forty days in the wilderness.  If there is validity to Biblical numbers, which I believe there is, this forty days might well have been a time of testing for the disciples of Jesus.  That being said, there was another ten days after the ascension of Jesus before the Holy Spirit came to the believers.  Thus, we end up with fifty days of testing instead of forty days of testing.            

 

During these forty days Luke tells us that Jesus taught His followers things concerning the Kingdom of God. The concept of the Kingdom of God is very important to Christians.  There are two aspects to the Kingdom of God.  One is that the Kingdom of God is present on earth in a spiritual sense through the Body of Christ.  The second aspect of the Kingdom of God is material or physical and will come to earth when Jesus returns and rules from Jerusalem.  The ultimate expression of the Kingdom of God will be seen when this present heaven and earth are replaced by a new heaven and earth, as seen at the end of the book of Revelation   

 

Verse 4 says, "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.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit'".  These words of Jesus are the foundation stone to the books of Acts. 

 

Note that the NIV uses the word "eating" in verse 4.  Jesus was eating with the disciples.  There is some textual discrepancy among Bible scholars and translators here.  Many translators feel the word shouldn't be "eating' but "assembling". 

 

Jesus told His followers not to leave Jerusalem .  The people to whom He was speaking were from Galilee .  That's farther north from Jerusalem.  They might well have been eager to get home, especially in light of all that had just recently happened with Jesus, but Jerusalem is important to the prophetic history of God, and something real important was about ready to take place in the city of God.  So, since the disciples might have been eager to get home, and since Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem, this might indeed been a forty day test for them.     

 

We need to ask, "What is the gift that Jesus is talking about here"?  Many have said that the gift is an experience called "the Baptism in the Holy Spirit", but this is not the case.  The text clearly states that the gift is the Holy Spirit Himself.  The gift is not an experience.  Neither is the gift the means by which the believer gets the gift.  Luke confirms this later when he quotes Peter in Acts 2:38.   Peter says, "repent Ö and you will receive the gift of the Holy SpiritÖĒ   Peter understood the gift of God to be the Holy Spirit, not what some call the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

 

It's simple; the gift that the Father promised was the Holy Spirit.  We should not over emphasize the way in which we receive the Holy Spirit, that being like a baptism.  In my opinion, Pentecostals emphasize the way in which one receives the Holy Spirit over the Holy Spirit Himself.  They also claim that the gift spoken of here is an experience that they call the Baptism in the Spirit.  As I've said, the gift is the Spirit, not an experience.  The word "baptism" relates to how one receives the Spirit.  It's not the gift.   

 

At this point I will tell you that I am Pentecostal by experience but not by doctrine.  This will be evident as we go along in this commentary.  I'm Pentecostal by experience because I do pray in tongues.  I'm not Pentecostal by doctrine because I do not believe the Pentecostal experience called the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is Biblical, as Pentecostals teach.  This we will see as we continue in this study.      

 

I have often heard people ask in Pentecostal or Charismatic circles, "have you received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit"?  This should not be the question.  We should ask, as Paul did in Acts 19:1 Ė 8, "have you received the Holy Spirit"?  Again, we should not major on how we receive the Spirit, but we should major on the Spirit Himself.  I'll speak more to this issue as we work our way through the book of Acts.

 

Jesus said in verse 5 that John baptized with water but in a few days the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus used the word "baptized" to tell His followers just how they would receive the Spirit.  It would be similar to water baptism.  As one gets soaking wet in water when he is water baptized, so one gets drench with the Holy Spirit when the Holy Spirit is poured out on him.  Again, the word "baptism" refers to how we receive the Spirit. 

 

Concerning the word "baptize"; it is translated from the Greek word "baptizo".   "Baptizo" can mean, immerse, dip, or, to be overwhelmed.  Most Evangelicals believe that water baptism is an immersion into water.  The one being baptized literally goes under the water.  So, as I've said, the word "baptism" is a good word to use here because when one receives the Spirit the means of receiving Him is like a baptism; like water baptism.  The difference between water baptism and Spirit baptism, other than the difference between water and Spirit, is that the Holy Spirit is poured out from heaven on the believer, whereas with water baptism, one is immersed in the water. 

 

As an aside, because the Holy Spirit was "poured out" on the believers, some suggest that you can "pour out" water on a believer in water baptism as a substitute to being immersed.  I believe the preferable way of water baptism is by immersion, but if that is not possible for some reason, I suggest a pouring out of water, or sprinkling is okay.

 

The question should be asked, "When did these disciples actually receive the Holy Spirit"?  This is important because traditional Pentecostal doctrine states a two stage experience.  The first experience is salvation.  The second experience is what they call the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  I do not believe in this two stage approach when it comes to the Holy Spirit.  I believe you received the Holy Spirit when you first get saved and there is no second important experience.  That being said, we have many varying experiences with Jesus over the span of our life time.  In one sense of the word, these experiences should be a daily thing for us.  To suggest that there is one special experience called the Baptism in the Spirit, which people in Acts 2 received isn't Scriptural.  I'll explain as we go along, but until then, I'll start my explanation now.   

 

I believe that the disciples received the Spirit in Acts 2 when the Spirit was first poured out on them.  I don't believe they had the Holy Spirit in their lives prior to Acts 2.  Why do I say this?  In John 7:38 and 39 Jesus says, "Whoever believes in me Ö streams of living water will flow within him.  By this He meant the Spirit, who those who believed in Him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified".  Jesus clearly says here that at this point in time the believers did not, or could not, receive the Holy Spirit.  They had to wait for some later date, that is, after Jesus was glorified.  We then need to ask, "When was Jesus glorified"?

 

It is my thinking that Jesus was glorified at His ascension, when He returned to His Father.  I say this because of His prayer in John 17.  If you read His prayer carefully you will note that Jesusí desire was to be with His Father, the way it was before the beginning of time, and before He came to live within a human body.  He relates this to being glorified.  Thus, when Jesus ascended into Heaven to be with His Father, He was glorified.  Only after that point in time could the Holy Spirit be given to the believers.  This is also confirmed in John 16:7 when Jesus says that unless He goes away, the Counselor, who is the Holy Spirit, cannot come.  It's simple.  Jesus must leave the earth before the Spirit comes to earth and lives with God's people.

 

Those who know the Bible will immediately remind me of the event in John 20, especially verse 22.  Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection.  At this gathering He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit".  This was obviously before He ascended into Heaven.  So what happened when Jesus breathed on them?  Did they really receive the Spirit?  I don't think so.  I believe this was symbolic, a prophetic demonstration of what would happen in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost.  If I am right by saying that Jesus was glorified at the ascension, there is no way that these people could have received the Holy Spirit in John 20.  If they had received the Holy Spirit in John 20, why did Jesus tell them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit here in Acts 1?  It would make no sense.    

 

Those who believe that the disciples received the Spirit in John 20 believe Acts 2 to be a second experience called the Baptism in the Spirit, as I've said.  They have to believe it's a second work of grace concerning the Spirit because they say these people had already received the Spirit prior to Acts 2.  It makes no sense to say that eleven men received the Spirit in John 20, especially in light of the fact the there were a hundred and twenty believers in the upper room in Acts 2 waiting for the Spirit's arrival.  Acts 2 was definitely not a second experience concerning the Holy Spirit, or second work of grace, as it has been called. 

 

Some might say that Jesus was glorified when He rose from the dead.  It seems that He had His glorified body at that point.  I say "it seems", because I don't think we can know for certain that He had His full glorified body prior to His ascension.  We don't know if any changes took place in Jesus' body once He passed through the clouds when He ascended to heaven. 

 

The followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 in the way in which Jesus predicted.  The Spirit was given through baptism.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on these people to such a degree that they got totally drenched in Him, just as if they would have when they were immersed in water at their water baptism.  We'll see this to be true when we get to Acts 2.   

 

In verse 5 we should note what Jesus exactly said.  He said, "You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit".  Note that the word "baptized" is a verb here.  A verb is an action word.  Jesus is saying "how one will receive the Holy Spirit".  He's emphasizing how they'd receive Him.  What we've done here as Pentecostals or Charismatics is that we've turned the verb "baptized" into a noun when we use the phrase "baptism in the Spirit".  Jesus is not talking about a second work of grace called the "Baptism in the Spirit" here when He uses the word "baptized".  He is simply saying that the way, or, the means, by which you will receive the Spirit is a baptism.        

 

The disciples obeyed Jesusí words and stayed in Jerusalem, waiting for that day to come, even though they did not really understand what Jesus was telling them.  I say this because of the way they responded to Jesusí command to wait.  In verse 6 they asked Jesus, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel "?  Jesus just told them that they would receive the Holy Spirit, the gift the Father had always promised, and they interpreted that as being freedom from Roman domination and the coming of the long awaited Kingdom of God promised them through many Old Testament prophets.  Jews had been subject to many nations over the years, and at this point in time they were subject to Rome.  Israelis rightly believed at some point the Messiah would come and free them from foreign domination.  This is how the disciples interpreted what Jesus told them.  

 

The reason why the disciples would have asked this question is that the restoration of Israel goes back as far as the Abrahamic Covenant.  It stated that Israel would be a great and powerful nation, and that she would be a blessing to the whole world.  This prophecy was confirmed over and over again by the Jewish prophets.  Israelis, including Jesus' disciples, were waiting for the day to come.  The disciples thought that this day might just be around the corner, but it wasn't.  First would come the spiritual Kingdom of God.  Then, at the end of the age the physical Kingdom of God would come to earth when Jesus returns to rule as King of the world from Jerusalem.  

 

This subject was far from a new subject talked about by the disciples.  In Luke 24:21, after Jesusí death, you can see that the disciples were a little down hearted when they said, "But we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel".  They thought that Jesus at some point would free them from Roman domination in order to set up the Messianic kingdom.  There hopes were dashed to the ground when they saw Jesus dying on the cross. Thus, the disciples' question asked to Jesus is only a continuation of these ideas.

 

Jesus was not talking about restoring any kingdom to them at this moment of time.  He was speaking to them of the ď Kingdom of God Ē, a spiritual kingdom that they did not yet understand.  This kingdom would come to them when they received the Holy Spirit, for the present day kingdom of God is found only in the Spirit of God.  This was not the earthly kingdom that Jesusí followers expected.  

 

It is interesting to note Jesusí response.  He did not say that He would never restore the kingdom to Israel.  In verse 7 He just told the disciples that it was not up to them to know "the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority".  The Greek word translated as "times" here means an era; a long period of time.  The Greek word translated as "dates" means a specific date.  Jesus was telling these men that it was not for them to know when the specific date would come that would end this era.

 

Jesus never refuted the fact that Israel would be restored at some future date.  I believe that Jesus' statement clearly implies that at some point the kingdom will be restored to Israel as they were hoping.  Jesus didn't even hint that the Israel wouldn't find restoration at some future point in history.  This verse should help dispel the false teaching of Replacement Theology that states that Israel has no more prophetic significance in the eyes of God since she rejected Jesus.  Those holding to this view believe that the church has replaced Israel in prophetic history and that all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel concerns the restoration of the church.  I don't believe in Replacement Theology, and this verse is one verse I believe shoots this theology down.

 

Note who has the final word when it comes to the restoration of Israel.  It's in the Father's hand.  It's not even in Jesus' hand.     

 

The second part of Jesusí response to the disciples is seen in verse 8; "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem , in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth".  This is the main point that Jesus wanted His disciples to understand.  He told them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  They thought this meant restoring Israel to nationhood.  Jesus replied by saying that the restoration of Israel is not for them to know or to be thinking about right now. What they needed to know and understand was that when the Spirit comes on them, they would receive dynamic power.  This power was for one reason, and that was to enable them to be witnesses. 

 

When we get to Acts 2, we'll note that when these men received the Holy Spirit, it was a pretty far out experience.  What I've seen way to often in Pentecostal Charismatic circles over the years is that interaction with the Holy Spirit is for some kind of a spiritual high.  It's similar to a drug addict wanting a high on drugs.  We should never view any experience with the Holy Spirit as a spiritual high.  We should never seek the Holy Spirit for the sole purpose of feeling good.  Any experience we have with Him is to enable us to become better witnesses for Jesus.  If we view Him as a spiritual high, I believe He will soon depart from us.  This is the reason why many Pentecostal or Charismatic churches have dried up spiritually, or so I think.    

 

You might think that the Holy Spirit has been given to us to help us feel good and to comfort us because Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the comforter in John 14.  The Greek word translated as "comforter" in the KJV means "to come along side".  Some translations translate this Greek word as "counselor".  Comfort might be a part of the reason why we have the Holy Spirit, but in the long run, we're comforted so that we can be the witness to Jesus that we are meant to be, thus fulfilling Acts 1:8.      

 

The Greek word "martus" is the word that is translated as "witness".  This is where we get our English word martyr. A witness is one who gives testimony "to what he has seen and heard".  John says it best in 1 John 1:1 where he says, "that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched Ė this we proclaim concerning the word of life".  Concerning the Greek word "martus", where we derive our English word "martyr", it should be noted that many of the men Jesus spoke to this day were martyred for their allegiance to Jesus.         

 

The disciples would not only be witnesses in Jerusalem, but wherever they would end up in the world.  Little did they know that most of them would be driven out of Jerusalem because of persecution.  This is the story of Acts, that is, men and women being witnesses to Jesus throughout the known world. This witness begins in Jerusalem and found its way westward, all the way to Rome, and beyond.  It also spread east to India and south into Africa.

 

The gospel was spread by the first generation church to many parts of the known world, but today the gospel has been spread to the very ends of the earth, as Jesus predicted.  It seems to be coming back to Israel in full circle here in 2013 with the revival taking place in many middle eastern Islamic nations. 

 

The disciples didn't quite get what Jesus was saying here, because when He spoke of them being His witnesses to the uttermost parts of the world, that meant they'd be witnessing about Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God to Gentile pagans, something Jews would never consider doing.  

 

It's interesting to note the progression in geographic areas in verse 8. The disciples would first be witnesses in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the earth.  This is exactly how it is recorded in the book of Acts.  In Acts 2 they witness in Jerusalem.  As the disciples left home after Acts 2 they witnessed in Judea.  In Acts 8 we see the gospel being witnessed and accepted in Samaria.  Samaritans were racially and religiously half Jews and half pagan Gentiles. Beyond Samaria in Acts 8 we see the Gentiles receiving the gospel in Acts 10.  Note that the gospel first came to the Jews, then to half Jews, and lastly, to Gentiles, fulfilling the Scriptural principle "to the Jew first and then to the Gentile".      

 

What Jesus says here in Acts 1 are the last recorded words of Jesus on earth.  Verse 9 says, "After saying this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight".  The men and women who saw this happening were astonished, as you and I would be as well.  They kept gazing wondrously into the sky until in verses 10 and 11 "two men in white stood beside them.  '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'". 

 

The general consensus is that these two men dressed in white were angels.  I believe they were.  Some believe they were Elijah and Moses since Jesus spoke to them on the Mount of Transfiguration, and that might be true, but it is a bit speculative.  It wouldn't surprise me that they were Elijah and Moses.  There's a good chance that the two witnesses we see in the book of Revelation are also Elijah and Moses. 

 

 Hebrews 1:14 calls angels "ministering spirits".  Angels are spirits, so when they appear on earth, they have to appear in some visible form, if they are to be seen by humans.   Whatever the case, Jesus had left the earth in dramatic fashion.  I am sure His observers were astonished, if not terrified.  It took Elijah and Moses, or two angels to bring these people back to their senses by announcing to them the great hope of the church, that is, this same Jesus would return in the clouds, the same way in which He left this earth.   

 

The two angels, or Elijah and Moses, said that "this same Jesus", the Jesus you see ascending into the clouds; not another Jesus, will return in the way He has left.  This fact is important in our day and age when new age people as well as liberal churchmen say that Jesus will return, but the way in which He will return is in us.  That is to say, the Christ within us all (or so they say) will arise and bring peace to the earth.  This is far from Scriptural.  This verse plainly says that the Jesus these people saw go up; will return in the same way He left.  As said in other verses, Jesus will physically return to earth in the sky.  His second coming is not a mystical appearing in people.  It is a real event.   

 

The word "cloud" is significant here.  I do believe that this was a physical cloud, but clouds in Scripture have lots of significance.  Throughout the Old Testament clouds are seen as the glory of God.  If you do s simple word search on the word cloud or clouds, you'll see this significance.     

 

Upon hearing these words the disciples returned to Jerusalem to do as Jesus told them to do, and that was to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had lived His earthly life of roughly thirty three years.  He had completed His three year ministry.  He walked with His followers and taught them for forty days after He rose from a terrible execution.  Now He was gone, but as Jesus told them, He would not leave them alone.  The Spirit of Truth would come into their lives and replace Him until the day would come for His return or their death.  All that they could do now was to wait in obedience to the command of the Lord, and that they did.

 

Matthias Chosen To Replace Judas (ch. 1:12 - 26)

Verse 12 tells us that the ascension took place on the Mount of Olives.  Note that Luke in the NIV, in Luke 24:50, tells us that Jesus was taken up "in the vicinity of Bethany.  Note also that the KJV in Luke 24:50 says that the ascension took place in Bethany, not the "vicinity of Bethany" as the NIV reads.  This might not be the problem you think it is.  Both the Mount of Olives and Bethany were on the same mountain ridge about two miles apart.  This is why the NIV uses the word "vicinity" to describe the location being spoken of.     

 

From the base of the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem was ďa Sabbath dayís journeyĒ.  Based on Exodus 16:29 and Numbers 35:5 the Jews figured out the distance an adult man could walk without disobeying the Sabbath laws in the Law of Moses was 2000 steps.  This tells you how detailed the Jewish religious leaders got when interpreting the Law of Moses.  This would be anywhere between a half and three quarters of a mile, depending on the individual doing the walking.  

 

Jesus did not ascend at the bottom of the hill.  He ascended somewhere up the hill as seen in Luke 24:50, where the road branches in two.  One branch went to Bethany.  It was around here, at this point where Jesus ascended into heaven; roughly another 4000 feet from the bottom of the hill. 

 

Verse 13 tells us that the disciples went back to Jerusalem and most scholars say that the room they went to was the same upper room where they ate the Passover with Jesus.  Many scholars feel this upper room belonged to John Mark, the Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark.     

 

Note Simon the Zealot In verses 13.  The word "Zealot" means that Simon was an Israeli nationalist.  That would have meant he was strongly opposed to Roman rule and would have been in favour of military action against Rome.  With this in mind, it is interesting that Jesus picked an Israeli Zealot and an Israeli Roman tax collector named Matthew to be part of the Twelve.  Simon would have viewed Matthew as a traitor.  Matthew would have viewed Simon as a rebellious revolutionist.  In the natural sense of the word, these two men would have been at each other's throats, but after meeting Jesus things do change. 

 

Concerning the brothers of Jesus listed here, in John 7:1 Ė 5 we note that Jesusí brothers were not believers, but it appears that they were here in Acts 1.  It is most probable that the resurrection of Jesus brought a change of heart to these men.

 

To be accurate, Jesus simply told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem.  They did do that, but they prayed as well, as seen in verse 14.  These people knew something important was about to happen.  They were praying for that and preparing their hearts for what would soon take place. 

 

Concerning this upper room, Luke says in verse 13 that the one hundred and twenty were "staying" there. Verse 14 tells us that these people "joined together constantly in prayer".  This upper room must have been large for all these people to be staying there for so long.  We're not certain just where this room was, but many believe it was near the temple if not at the temple.  One reason for this is because the temple would have had rooms large enough to house that many people.  Another reason is that the temple area would have been very crowded this time of year because of the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Pentecost.  We know from chapter 2 that when the believers began to speak in tongues there was a crowd already in the neighborhood of the upper room.  If the upper room had have been on the outskirts of town, there might not have been such a large crowd to hear the believers speaking in tongues.   Beyond this, Luke 24:53 tells us that the believers stayed continually at the temple, suggesting the upper room was at the temple or at least near it.       

 

Verse 15 tells us that there were a hundred and twenty people in this upper room when Peter got up to speak.  From Peter we learn in verse 16 and 17 that the Scriptures must be fulfilled concerning Judas. The Scriptures predicted that Judas would betray Jesus.   He will quote Psalms in a couple of verses to back up his point. 

 

Peter places a great emphasis on the Old Testament.  This is seen when he says that the Holy Spirit spoke through David.  This is the meaning of the doctrine called the "Inspiration of Scripture".  The Holy Spirit "inspires, not dictates" what should be written.  When I use the word "inspire" and not "dictate", I mean that the one being inspired uses his own wording.  He is not writing a word for word dictation from the Holy Spirit.    

 

Verse 18 is a bit controversial.  It says that Judas bought a field where he hung himself.  Matthew 27:7 says that the Jewish leaders bought the field.  Judas threw the money he got from finding Jesus for the Jewish leaders back at them.  It appears they actually bought the field  on behalf of Judas, using his money and maybe his name in the transferring of land. 

 

In verse 19 we note the "field of blood" was so named because this is where Judas hung himself and spilled his blood on the ground.  It's also called the Potter's Field where aliens to Jerusalem were buried.    

 

In verse 20 Peter quotes from Psalm 69:25 which he believes is in reference to Judas.  The Psalm reads; "may his place be deserted.  Let there be no one to dwell in it'.  The pronoun "he" is obviously in reference to Judas, but, if you turn back to the Psalm, at least in the NIV, there is no pronoun "he".  The Psalm says, "May 'their'  place be deserted Ö"  There's a big difference between "he" and "their".  What I believe Peter is doing here is that he is taking an Old Testament  principle that applies to wicked people and he applies it to one wicked  man in Judas.

 

Peter also uses Psalm 109:8 to back up his point.  It reads; "may another take his place of leadership.  The pronoun "his" is in reference to Judas.  We don't have the same pronoun problem here as we had in the last Psalm.  The word "he" is in both the Psalms and here in Acts.  Peter associates "he" with Judas.  Either Psalm 108 has more than one meaning or else we should understand that part of the Psalm to be as Peter interprets it. We do need to understand that when it comes to prophetic passages, including prophetic Psalms, many of these passages have a double, sometimes even triple, fulfillment, which might be the case here.                            

 

In verse 21 Peter says that because of these Scriptures, "it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time".  Judas' replacement had to have been with Jesus and the disciples from Johnís baptism up to and, including the ascension.  Peter says that Judas' replacement would "be a witness of the resurrection".  Once again, it is the resurrection that formed the basis of the apostolic gospel and whoever would be one of the Twelve must have seen the resurrection of Jesus.  We know from 1 Corinthians 15:6 that many people saw the resurrected Jesus, including five hundred at one point in time.

 

In Peterís mind the qualification of being a true apostle, or, at least one of the original apostles, was that he had to have known and seen Jesus, but especially he had to have seen the risen Lord.  Is this a distinguishing factor for all apostles?  Remember, the word apostle simply means "sent one".  The Twelve, now the Eleven, were sent by Jesus personally while He was on earth to be a witness.  Does this mean that there are no longer apostles for today?  The church has been divided over this point.  Some feel that apostles were only these original twelve, plus Paul.  All other so-called apostles could not really be true apostles because they did not see the risen Lord.  Then, what about Paul?  He did not see the risen Lord, in the same sense that Peter is talking about here.  Paul himself claims that he did see the risen Lord on the road to Damascus , thus being "born out of season", being born spiritually late. (1 Corinthians 15:8)  I donít presume that I can end this discussion with my words, but I think that we should be able to conclude that if there are modern day apostles, whom I believe there are, they are somewhat different than the original Twelve, plus Paul.  Modern day apostles do not form their own gospel, they only repeat what the original Twelve, plus Paul, clearly state as being gospel.  Therefore, all modern day apostles are secondary apostles, when compared to the original apostles.

 

I use the term "original apostles" because I believe this is what Peter was really doing.  He wanted to replace one of the original apostles, and to be like the other original apostles, the replacement had to have been with them from the beginning just like Judas was. 

 

If you remember, back in verse 2 Luke specifically states that Jesus personally "chose" the twelve apostles.  I believe this might also be a reason why Peter stipulated that Judas' replacement had to have been with them since the beginning.  The personal touch had to remain in tact.     

 

Verse 23 tells us that those in the upper room chose only two men to be considered for Judas' replacement.  They clearly thought these two men were qualified for the task at hand.  They were Joseph and Matthias.  Lots were cast after Peter prayed.  What most likely happened here, since it was a custom in those days, was that the names of these two men were written down and placed in some kind of container.  The container was shaken so hard that the first name to fall out was the one chosen.  In this case Matthias was chosen.  We can't know this for sure, but however they did it, on the surface the replacement was made by a game of chance.  That being said, Peter and the rest believed this was God's will.

 

Verse 24 tells us that they had corporate prayer prior to the casting of the lots.  "Lord, you know everyoneís heart.  Show us which of these two you have chosen Ö"  The question should be asked at this point, "why choose a replacement with such a method"?  Obviously Peter trusted that Jesus would determine the outcome, thus Matthias would be Jesusí choice.   

 

Another point to be made here is that Peter and the rest of these people still lived in the Old Testament era.  Acts 1 actually is the closing chapter of Old Testament times.  The New Testament era begins in Acts 2 with the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believers.  After that, Godís will was not determined by casting lots.  The Holy Spirit Himself spoke to His people, leading and guiding them in the ways that they should go.  We need to see this event as an Old Testament event, something that we do not need to copy. 

 

We do need to note that the Law of Moses permitted such ways to find God's will in certain matters.  This can be seen in Leviticus 16:8.

 

The above being said, this doesnít totally answer our question, whether this act was really Godís will or Peterís will.  Was Peter being "impetuous Peter"?  Was he stepping out in his own human thinking, and trying to fulfill prophecy?  Peter could easily have done such a thing.  We really do not know the answer to this question for sure, or so I think.  One thing is certain, we do not ever hear about Matthias from this point on.  This should not be a determining point though.  We donít hear about most of the original Twelve from this point on.  I do believe that God will and can use human methods like this to get His will done, even though they might not be His favourite method.  I'm reminded of Jacob tricking his father into believing that he was actually his brother Esau.  This resulted in Jacob inheriting all that was Isaac's.  We know that this was God's will because God told Rebekah that it would be Jacob that receives the birthright, not Esau.  The way in which this happened was pure humanism, and sinful humanism at that, but God's will was done.

 

Christian tradition states that Matthias eventually went to Ethiopia and preach the gospel there. 

 

Note in verse 25 that part of the prayer these people prayed includes the point that Judas went where he belongs.  I do not expect to see Judas in heaven.  The main reason why I say that is that even though he felt so bad about what he did that he killed himself, he showed no evidence of repenting and returning to Jesus to find forgiveness.  For this reason Judas was lost.  I think it's clear from this prayer that those in the upper room did not believe Judas ended up in heaven.  Judas didn't end up in hell, or Hades, because he killed himself.  He ended up in Hades because he did not repent and have genuine faith in Jesus.

 

Verse 26 simply states that they cast lots and Matthias was determined to be Judas' replacement.  With this in mind, many have asked over the years if Matthias was really God's choice here.  Some have said that God's choice was really Paul.  I don't think we can know this for sure.  Paul was obviously called by Jesus to be an apostle, but to be one of the original twelve might be a different story.  Whatever the case, I believe that Paul ranks up with the original twelve, and I believe he thought the same, according to what he said in the first ten verses of 1 Corinthians 15.  When it comes to Paul, it's my thinking that as Moses was to Old Testament times, so Paul is to New Testament times.  He is that important.   It's primarily  his teaching that forms the basis of New Testament teaching.         

      

Next Section - Chapter 2

 

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