1. The Promise of Power (Acts 1)

Audio (40:48)

Harold Copping, 'The Ascension' (1910)
Harold Copping, 'The Ascension' (1910)

Acts of the Apostles may be the most exciting book in the Bible! Jesus is risen and appears to his followers over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3), then he ascends, and ten days later, on the Day of Pentecost (50 days after Passover), the Holy Spirit falls.

Suddenly, men and women, energized and empowered by the Spirit, begin to see powerful miracles. Anointed preaching sweeps multitudes into the newly-formed church, and, within a generation or two, carries the saving gospel to the far reaches of the known world -- as far west as Britain and as far east as India.

The first chapter introduces us to this mission that radiates out from Jerusalem. It fills the time period between Jesus' ascension and Pentecost, introduces us to the apostles trying to figure out their new task, and prepares for the explosion of power that comes in Acts 2.

1.1 Prologue to Acts (Acts 1:1-11)

Luke is a careful collector of stories of Jesus and of the early days of the church. A author of both the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles, he is essentially an early historian of the Jesus Movement. He seems to have met the Apostle Paul in Troas (Acts 16:10), for it is at this point in the Acts narrative that he begins to reference "we." While his name is Latin (Lucas), he doesn't seem to be from pagan roots; more likely he is a Greek-speaking Jew or a "God-fearer" who attended synagogue and was won to Christ by early Christian preaching. Green says,

"The narrative itself suggests that the author was well studied in Israel's Scriptures and sacred traditions, and had an advanced education in Greek grammar, rhetoric and literature."1

Luke begins Acts with a nod to a man named Theophilus, whom we first met in the early paragraphs of Luke's Gospel.

"1  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4)

Now as volume two of Luke's account begins -- that is what the Acts of the Apostles is -- we meet this Theophilus once more.

"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach." (Acts 1:1)

Theophilus means "lover of God" or man "dear to God." But who is he? A convenient symbol? A personification of Luke's readers? Maybe. But most likely he is a real person, perhaps Luke's literary patron who will assist with publication of the Gospel.2

In these early paragraphs of Acts, Luke is seeking to build a bridge between his account of Jesus' life in the Gospel of Luke, and Jesus' new life breaking out in the early church in the Book of Acts. He writes, "I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach...." The implication may be that what Jesus began to do during his life on earth, now he continues by the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church.3

In verses 1 and 2, Luke reviews briefly some incidents he related in the last chapter of his Gospel.

"1a ... I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2  until the day he was taken up4 to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen." (Acts 1:1-2)

Luke tells us he will review:

  1. Jesus' ascension (Acts 1:9-10) and
  2. Jesus' instructions to the apostles ("Wait for the Holy Spirit", Acts 1:4-8).

Jesus Post-Resurrection Appearances (Acts 1:3-11)

Now Luke gives us a glimpse into what is going on in this interim period between the resurrection and the ascension.

"After his suffering,5 he showed6 himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive." (Acts 1:3a)

You'll recall from the last chapter of Luke's Gospel, that Luke recounts:

  1. Jesus' appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).
  2. Jesus' appearance to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34).
  3. Jesus' appearance to the Eleven in Jerusalem on Sunday night (Luke 24:36-44).

The "convincing proofs"7 include having the disciples look at the wounds in his hands and feet, having them touch him, and Jesus eating a piece of broiled fish in their presence. All this was to show them that he was with them bodily, not in a vision or apparition or ghost (Luke 24:39-43).

"He appeared to them over a period of forty days
and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3a)

If we take the forty days as a precise number, rather than as a rounded number meaning "about a month,"8 it gives us an idea of what is happening in the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost.

  • Passover (Day 0), Last Supper, Thursday
  • Crucifixion (Day 1), Friday
  • Resurrection (Day 3), Sunday
  • Forty Days after the Resurrection (Days 3 to 43)
  • Ascension (Day 43)
  • Pentecost (Day 50)

This leaves about one week between Jesus' ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. During this time Jesus appears to groups of disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24; John 20:19-28) and Galilee (John 21). Paul records,

"He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

Paul's statement indicates that there are many still alive who can attest to the veracity of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances when he wrote these words in 1 Corinthians about 55 AD.

In addition to his appearances, Jesus continues to teach his disciples about the nature of the Kingdom of God in light of his crucifixion, death for sins, and his resurrection. No doubt many of the texts that the early disciples preached from in Jerusalem and beyond were explained by Jesus during these forty days.

Promise of the Holy Spirit's Coming (Acts 1:4-5)

Now Luke details the "instructions" (verse 2) or "command" (verse 4) that the disciples are given during a meal. I want to take some time with this because it underlies our understanding of the "baptism in the Holy Spirit," a theme of the early chapters of Acts.

"4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: 'Do not leave9 Jerusalem, but wait for10 the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 1:4-5)

This recalls the command he had given the disciples in the last few paragraphs of Luke's Gospel.

"I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay11 in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

Notice several things.

1. They are to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit is poured out.

It is important for God's plan that the disciples don't quickly return to their homes and occupations in Galilee. God is about to do something monumental. He is about to bring in the Era of the Spirit in Jerusalem, and he wants them to be there for it. So often, we're quick to run off to something else when God has something more he wants to do or say. We need to be sensitive to his voice and more patient. God is not rushed.12

2. Jesus describes the Spirit's coming with four analogies

  1. a gift,
  2. a promise,
  3. a baptism, and
  4. a clothing of power.

Let's look at each of these briefly.

A. The Analogy of a Gift (Acts 1:4, NIV; Acts 2:38). The NIV reads "the gift my Father promised." The underlying Greek text of our passage doesn't use the word "gift," as in the NIV translation, but this analogy of the Spirit as a gift is clearly found elsewhere13 and is also implied in the word "receive" in Acts 1:8.

B. The Analogy of the Promise (Acts 1:4; Luke 24:49).

"the promise of the Father"14 (Acts 1:4, ESV).15
"What my Father has promised" (Luke 24:49)

The phrase occurs in Acts 2 where Peter is explaining the outpouring of the Spirit.

"Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing." (Acts 2:33)

Paul uses this kind of language in a couple of places.

"He redeemed ... so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galatians 3:14)

"In him you also ... were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit." (Ephesians 1:13)

Where are we promised the Holy Spirit? As we'll see in Acts 2:16-20, Peter points directly to Joel's prophesy promising an outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-29)

"In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-19)

The passage from Joel may have been the most obvious promise, but there are others as well.

"I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants." (Isaiah 44:3b)

"And I will give them one heart,
and a new spirit I will put within them." (Ezekiel 11:19a, cf. 36:26)

C. The Analogy of a Baptism (Acts 1:4). With the analogy of a promise, Jesus offers the analogy of a baptism so we might understand better. In the context of waiting for the promise of the Father, Jesus says,

"For John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 1:5)

To be accurate, John the Baptist was the first to offer this analogy. Baptism or ritual immersion had been practiced by the Jews for centuries as a ceremonial cleansing from sin, after a woman's monthly period, childbirth, cleansing of a proselyte to Judaism, etc. Jews call this ritual bath a mikvah. Synagogues to this day are usually constructed with a built-in mikvah to perform ritual washings.16 John's baptism was, in fact, a mikvah in the Jordan River to wash away sins. John and Jesus compare the coming of the Holy Spirit to such an immersion. The Holy Spirit will immerse a believer into the presence of God. Later in Acts we see some examples of this happening, accompanied by prophecy, praise, and speaking in tongues as manifestations of the degree to which an individual may be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit.17

D. The Analogy of Clothing (Luke 24:49).

"I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city
until you have been clothed[18 with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

This is an expression that means to "wear" or "take on the characteristics, virtues" of something. Literally, to "wear" power from the Holy Spirit. We may think that the Holy Spirit is a rather tame, inner feeling of God, but the Holy Spirit is anything but tame. To be filled with the Spirit gives a person tremendous power -- to see change in him or herself and to minister.

We'll examine more analogies and metaphors of the Holy Spirit's coming in Lesson 2, Lesson 6, and Lesson 8.

The Mistaken Eschatology Question (Acts 1:6-7)

The disciples imagine that the Master is telling them that in a few days he will take his throne in Jerusalem as Messiah and usher in the visible Kingdom of God on earth. Oops.

"6  So when they met together, they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore19 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." (Acts 1:6-7)

Jesus politely tells them it is none of their business. Earlier he had told them that even he didn't know when this would occur (Matthew 24:36). No, the coming of the Spirit isn't going to immediately restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel. But the Kingdom will come with power in an unexpected way. Some things we're not to know. But know this, Jesus says. The Spirit's coming is imminent. Don't leave town!

The Spirit Will Come upon You (Acts 1:8)

The scope of God's plan goes far beyond restoring the Kingdom of David. It is designed to transform the world.

"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.'" (Acts 1:8)

We're going to spend some time on this one verse because it is actually a theme verse and outline for the whole book of Acts.

First, let's look at the key words in this verse. They spell out a promise that power will accompany the coming of the Holy Spirit -- power to be witnesses.

"Power" is dynamis, from which we get our words "dynamo, dynamic, dynamite." It means "potential for functioning in some way, power, might, strength, force, capability."20 With the Spirit's power we will be able to do what we are unable to do without him.

"Receive" is pretty straightforward -- "be a receiver, get, obtain."21

"Holy Spirit" is God -- God's presence, the Third Person of the Trinity.22

"Come upon" has the idea of "to move to or upon" a person from above.23 The idea of the Spirit coming upon a person has deep roots in the Old Testament. A number of times the Holy Spirit "comes upon" a person to empower him or her for some task or office.24 Perhaps the most significant incident is when Samuel anoints the young David.

"So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon25 David in power." (1 Samuel 16:13)

The Spirit comes upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22), and subsequently Jesus operates in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14, 18). Later in Acts, Peter explains,

"...How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38)

We must never underestimate what God can do through a person empowered by the Holy Spirit!

We see this coming of the Holy Spirit upon a person to empower him or her in Acts 1:8. But the difference now is that the Spirit doesn't just come to empower, but to take up residence in our hearts forever.

"He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Corinthians 1:21b-22)

We now live in the Spirit and by the Spirit day by day. This wonderful gift was given at Pentecost, then to each new believer, on and on until our own day. Praise the Lord!

One important part of this series of lessons are three to five Discussion Questions in each lesson. We learn by reflecting on what we have learned, processing it, and thinking through its implications. Don't skip this step, or you will have gained head knowledge without heart knowledge! I encourage you to write out your own answer to each question, perhaps in a journal. If you're studying with others, discuss it. If you're studying online, click on the web address (URL) following the question and read others' answers or post your own. (Note: You'll need to register on the Forum before you can post your own answers.

Q1. (Acts 1:4-8) Why aren't Jesus' disciples to leave Jerusalem and return to their homes? In what ways does the Spirit's coming represent a filling? A coming upon? A baptism?

The Purpose of the Spirit's Coming (Acts 1:8)

There's more.

"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." (Acts 1:8)

Verse 8 is not grammatically a purpose statement, but functionally. When the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises that they will become effective witnesses to the good news of Jesus -- "my witnesses." "Witness" is the Greek noun martys, which comes from the judicial realm, "one who testifies in legal matters, witness," then, more generally, "one who affirms or attests, testifier, witness, of anyone who can or should testify to anything.26 We get our word "martyr" from a person who testifies at the cost of his or her life.

Before the coming of the Spirit, the disciples gathered in an upper room to pray. But when the Holy Spirit falls, they begin to speak God's words with power, a crowd forms, Peter preaches, and 3,000 people become believers within the period of an hour or so. Effective witnesses -- that's what God wants to make of us. His Spirit reminds us of Jesus, giving us the ability to witness ourselves concerning his love and redemption (John 15:26-27; 16:8-15).

The Spread of the Gospel (Acts 1:8)

We're digging to learn all we can from this verse. But there is one thing more. Luke intends Acts 1:8 to serve as a thumbnail outline of the entire Book of Acts.

"You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Jerusalem. Acts 1-7 describe the gospel being declared to the Jews in Jerusalem and thousands believe (Acts 4:4).

Judea and Samaria. After Stephen's testimony in Acts 7, the Jewish leaders reject the gospel and martyr Stephen.

"A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).

Philip goes to Samaria and preaches there with powerful success (Acts 8:4-25).

The ends of the earth. Others flee to more far-flung destinations (Acts 11:19). Many of those who believe and are filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost also return to their homes throughout the Mediterranean world and begin to witness about Jesus.

  • Caesarea. Peter is called to declare the Gospel to Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 10:1-11:18).
  • Antioch. At Antioch, the Gospel spills over from the Jewish community to the Gentiles. A great revival takes place with thousands of believers creating a predominately Gentile community of believers (Acts 11:19-26). Here is where Paul is recruited to help.
  • Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, and Asia, turn to Christ -- and now finally to Rome. Through Paul's ministry, the Gospel travels to cities all over the Mediterranean world (Acts 13-28).

Acts 1:8 lays out this exciting spread of the gospel beyond the familiar Jewish lands of Galilee and Jerusalem to the entire world. The Apostle Thomas brought the gospel as far east as India. Other apostles preached in North Africa, Iraq, Iran and beyond. And unknown believers brought the gospel to Roman-occupied Britain. Acts continues the story of "what Jesus began to do and teach" and advances it. Through the Holy Spirit, you and I are carrying that story forward in our communities around the globe.

Q2. (Acts 1:8) What kinds of power does Jesus offer us in the Holy Spirit? In what ways does Acts 1:8 function as an outline or blueprint of the Book of Acts? Where do you and I fit in to fulfilling Acts 1:8?

The Ascension (Acts 1:9-12; Luke 24:50-53)

We've finished the prologue to Acts in verses 1-8. Now we begin to examine some of the incidents that took place among the apostles following the resurrection. First, Jesus' ascension. An account of this appears in both Luke and Acts.

Luke. "50  When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." (Luke 24:50-53)

Acts. "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.' 12  Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city." (Acts 1:9-12)

For a more detailed account of the Ascension see Lesson 112, in my Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel (JesusWalk, 2003, 2010, 2020).27

Blessing the Disciples (Luke 24:50)

The traditional site of the Ascension is between the East Gate of the Temple and Bethphage.
The traditional site of the Ascension is between the East Gate of the Temple and Bethphage. (Larger map)

The location of the Ascension is on the Mount of Olives, in the vicinity of Bethany. The traditional site is about half a mile east of Jerusalem, between the East Gate of the city and Bethphage.28

Luke indicates that Jesus is in the act of lifting his hands in blessing of the disciples as he is "taken up" into heaven, perhaps in a similar posture to Aaron blessing the people (Leviticus 9:22). "Blessed" here is the Greek verb eulogeō, "to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially of calling down God's gracious power, bless."29 We also see blessings by other spiritual leaders at their final leave-taking -- Jacob (Genesis 49) and Moses (Deuteronomy 33) bless the 12 Tribes. In our passage, Jesus blesses the New Testament equivalent of the 12 Tribes -- the 12 Apostles and their fellow disciples.

Ascending into Heaven (Acts 1:9-11)

"After he said this, he was taken up30 before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." (Acts 1:9)

The disciples stand there staring, dumfounded. Then a pair of angels promise them:

"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." (Acts 1:11b)

Notice the mention of the cloud in verse 9. The angels now point to Jesus' return in the same way, recalling Jesus' promise:

"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud
with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27)

This deliberately recalls Daniel's prophecy of the Son of Man.

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven." (Daniel 7:13a)

We also see this promise of his coming on the clouds later in the New Testament.

"We ... will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

"Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him." (Revelation 1:7)

Jesus has left his disciples physically, but he has promised that he will return. In the meantime, he sends his Holy Spirit to them to replace him and empower them and us in his absence (John 14:16; 16:7).

1.2 Choosing of a Twelfth Apostle (Acts 1:12-26)

After the Ascension, the disciples return to an upper room in Jerusalem.

"When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying." (Acts 1:13a)

Some think that this upper room might have been the place they had the Last Supper (Luke 22:12), or where Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection (John 20:19-28), or perhaps the home of John Mark's mother (Acts 12:12). But this is little more than speculation.31

"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." (Acts 1:13b)

The list of disciples matches the list of disciples Jesus appointed (Luke 6:14-16), less Judas. But there were more present than the apostles, and they were all praying.

"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 believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)....." (Acts 1:14-15)

Notice the phrase, "They all joined together constantly in prayer." This was a time of waiting, of preparation spiritually, and of unity of this fellowship of the 120. Certainly, the number of Jesus-followers was far greater, especially in Galilee, since Paul records Jesus appearing to over 500 at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6). But this was the core group that God was preparing for the launch of his "church plant" in Jerusalem a few days hence.

The phrase "joined together constantly in prayer" (NIV) in this upper room gives us some idea of the intensity of this period leading up to Pentecost.

Persistence. The Greek word suggests persisting, being busily engaged in prayer, being devoted to praying.32

Unity. "With one accord" (ESV, KJV), "with one mind" (NASB) express the idea of being of one mind, purpose, and impulse. There is deep unity.


Prayer. "Prayer" is the noun proseuchē, "petition addressed to deity, prayer."34 From the history of revivals we've learned that great movements of God arise from united and sustained prayer.

Q3. (Acts 1:14) While we know that individual prayer is powerful (James 5:16b), Jesus indicates that group prayer is even more powerful (Matthew 18:19). How would you describe what was happening with this "Fellowship of the 120"? Have you ever been part of a group praying like this? Do you value prayer enough to gather with others to pray? How much of your church's "prayer meeting" is spent in actual prayer?

A Replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15-17)

"15  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (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.... (Acts 1:15-17)

Peter is troubled that Judas Iscariot's suicide has left a gap in the band of apostles. Normally, when a Christian leader dies, we mourn his or her passing and go on, realizing that he or she is unique, that there will be no one like him or her.

Notice how Peter says, "he was one of our number...." This band of precisely twelve apostles is unique in that Jesus chose exactly twelve individuals to have this special role, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is consciously creating a New Israel to supersede the first. Jesus had said,

"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:28)

Judas's Death (Acts 1:18-19)

Here, Luke inserts a parenthetical account of Judas' death. Matthew tells us that Judas felt awful for what he had done and returned the 30 pieces of silver, which the chief priests used to purchase a potter's field as a burial place for the poor (Matthew 27:3-10). In Acts we read the gruesome conclusion of Judas' suicide by hanging.35

"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.)" (Acts 1:18-19)

Qualifications for a Replacement Apostle (Acts 1:20-22)

Peter continues.

"''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," and, "May another take his place of leadership."'" (Acts 1:20)

Peter sees in the psalms a curse on God's enemies (Psalm 69:25) as well as a precedent for choosing a new apostle. When an evil man is accused and found guilty, says the psalmist,

"May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership." (Psalm 109:8)

Now Peter suggests that they select a new apostle to take Judas' place.

"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." (Acts 1:21-24)

The qualifications for one of the Twelve Apostles are unique. The replacement apostle needs to be a person who had travelled with Jesus' band from the beginning and who has witnessed Jesus' resurrection appearances with his own eyes. These Twelve have a unique role of being personal witnesses to the life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul and later apostles are true apostles selected by Christ without being one of the Twelve.36

Selection by Lot (Acts 1:23-26)

The believers in the upper room then ask God to decide by lot between the two they have selected, going back to a Jewish tradition to determine God's will.37 They pray and believe that God will show them his will by how the lot comes up.

"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." (Acts 1:23-26)

We don't know much about Matthias, except that he had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, and that he was highly respected by the other apostles. His name means "the gift of Yahweh." Eusebius says he was among the 70 sent out by Jesus on a mission (Luke 10:1),38 which is quite likely. Greek tradition has him preaching in Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea near Issus where he died about 80 AD. Other traditions have him being stoned or beheaded elsewhere -- we don't know for sure.39 We know he was a faithful servant, elevated to the position of apostle in which he acquitted himself with honor.

And so we come to the end of Acts 1. Luke has introduced his purpose and reminded us of Jesus' command to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, whose power will enable his followers to be witnesses in Jerusalem, and, eventually, the whole world. And so the disciples are obedient. They gather for prayer in Jerusalem, elect a replacement twelfth apostle, and wait for the promise of the Spirit. They don't have to wait long.

Lessons for Disciples

There a number lessons to extract from this passage.

  1. What "Jesus began to do and teach" is continued in the ministry of the early church and today (Acts 1:1).
  2. Jesus impressed on his disciples the importance of waiting in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit -- it was of prime importance. We believers have received the Spirit, but we would do well to open ourselves to the Lord, surrender our hearts, and receive a fresh "filling" of the Holy Spirit for today (Acts 1:4; Luke 24:49).
  3. The power of the Holy Spirit is to make us effective witnesses to Jesus wherever we are. If we suppress witnessing, then we suppress God's will for our lives (Acts 1:8)
  4. God's plan was to spread the good news in radiating circles from Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. This forms the rough outline of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:8).
  5. When Jesus returns in his Second Coming, he will return in the clouds (Acts 1:9-11; Matthew 24:30; 26:64; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
  6. One important characteristic of the early church was fervent, united prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4: 24-31).
  7. Jesus deliberately chose twelve disciples to represent the 12 tribes of Israel -- the new Israel. That is why the disciples felt it was important to replace Judas with Matthias (Acts 1:15-26; Matthew 19:28; Galatians 6:16).

The Early Church: Acts 1-12, book formats
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Father, thank you for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Teach us how to discern and cooperate with the Spirit you've placed within us. Empower us to witness, to use our spiritual gifts, to reach out and touch the people with your presence that you've placed in our lives. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"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." (Acts 1:4--5, NIV)

"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." (Acts 1:8, NIV)

"They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." (Acts 1:14, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[1] Joel B. Green, "Luke, Gospel of," DJA2, p. 541.

[2] Marshall, Acts, pp. 55-56.

[3] "Began" (ESV, NIV, KJV, NRSV) is the aorist indicative of archō, "to initiate an action, process, or state of being, begin" (BDAG 140, 2aβ). Bruce (Acts, p. 32, fn. 13) asserts that archō carries a certain emphasis and is not to be regarded as a Semitizing auxiliary." BDAG, on the other hand observes, "Often archō only means that the person in question has been doing something else and that the activity now takes a new turn. In such cases it is frequently almost superfluous as an auxiliary, in accordance with late Semitic usage. So Acts 1:1 = simply "what Jesus did" (BDAG 140, 2aβ). Following this interpretation, we see the translations "did and taught" (NRSV) and "had done and taught" (NJB).

[4] "Taken up" is the aorist middle of analambanō, "to lift up and carry away, take up" (BDAG 66, 1).

[5] "Suffering" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "passion" (KJV) is the aorist infinitive of paschō, "suffer, endure" (also in the sense 'suffer death, be killed, [have to] die') (BDAG 785, 3aα).

[6] "Showed himself" (NIV), "shewed himself alive" (KJV), "presented himself alive" (ESV, NRSV, NASB) is the aorist indicative of paristēmi, "present, represent," someone to someone (literally) (BDAG 778, 1bα); and the present active participle of zaō, "to be alive physically, live" (BDAG 424, 1aα).

[7] "Proofs" (ESV), "convincing proofs" (NIV, NRSV), "infallible proofs" (KJV) is tekmērion, "that which causes something to be known in a convincing and decisive manner, proof" (demonstrative proof) (BDAG 994). From the verb tekmairō, "to show or prove by sure signs;" from tekmar, "a sign" (Thayer, p. 617).

[8] Birch suggests, "The abundant occurrences of the number forty indicate that it was used as a rounded rather than an exact figure" (Bruce C. Birch, "Number," ISBE 3:558). We might talk about "a month" as a round number, but when the Hebrews used the word "month" (ḥōdesh) they used it to refer to a particular lunar month of their calendar, or a calendar month of time, not a rounded month-long period. But for them 40 days may be how they would say "about a month." We just don't know for sure.

[9] "Leave" is the present infinitive of chorizo, "to separate by departing from someone, separate, leave," here in the sense, "be taken away, take one's departure, go away" (BDAG 1095, 2b).

[10] "Wait for" is the present infinitive of perimenō, "wait for," from peri, "further" + meno, "remain" (BDAG 802, Thayer, p. 504).

[11] "Stay" (NIV, ESV, NRSV, NASB), "tarry" (KJV) is kathizō, "cause to sit down, seat, set," here, "to be or remain in a place," intransitive, "reside, settle, stay, live" (BDAG 492, 4). Only other such use is Acts 18:11.

[12] You sometimes hear teaching that you must "tarry" for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which they believe is manifested in speaking in tongues. (Disclaimer: I had an experience Pentecostals would identify as the baptism in the Holy Spirit when I was 18. It was life-changing for me.) By "tarrying," some mean that you need to wait on God until you receive this particular experience. But once the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Pentecost, this kind of "tarrying" is never the norm. Rather, the Spirit is poured out spontaneously to people when they believe. I explain this whole subject in greater detail in Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit, Lesson 6, www.jesuswalk.com/spirit/06_spirit_baptized.htm

[13] Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; John 4:10; and Hebrews 6:4.

[14] "Promised" is epangelia, "to make something known publicly," here, "declaration to do something with implication of obligation to carry out what is stated, promise, pledge, offer" (BDAG 356, 1bβ).

[15] Note, the NIV reads "the gift my Father promised," but the word "gift" is not in the Greek text here. Nevertheless, the idea of "gift" associated with the Holy Spirit is found elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38; 10:45; Hebrews 6:4).

[16] See Wikipedia article on "Mikvah."

[17] Acts 2:4; 8:15-18; 10:44-46; 19:6.

[18] "Clothed" is the subjunctive aorist middle of enduō, "dress, clothe," here in the middle voice, "to put any kind of thing on oneself, clothe oneself in, put on, wear' something, metaphorically, taking on the characteristics, virtues, intentions, etc. (Romans 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:53; Colossians 3:10, 12; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24) (BDAG 33, 2b).

[19] "Restore" is apokathistēmi, "to change to an earlier good state or condition, restore, reestablish" (BDAG 111, 1), from apo-, "finishing, completion" + kathistēmi, "to set in place, appoint."

[20] Dynamis, BDAG 262, 1a.

[21] "You will receive" is future indicative plural, "all y'all" of lambanō, "take hold of, grasp," here, "to be a receiver, receive, get, obtain" (BDAG 584, 10b).

[22] For more, see Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit (JesusWalk, 2018), www.jesuswalk.com/spirit/

[23] "Comes upon you" (NIV), "has come upon you" (ESV, NRSV, cf. KJV) is the aorist active participle of eperchomai, "to move to or upon, " here, of the Holy Spirit, "come upon," from a superior position" (BDAG 361, 1b). Used in Luke 1:35 of coming of the Spirit upon Mary at the Annunciation.

[24] The 70 elders (Numbers 11:25); Othniel (Judges 3:10), Jephthah (Judges 11:29), Gideon (Judges 6:34), and Samson (Judges 14:6, 19:15:14). We see this with Saul's anointing as king (1 Samuel 10:6). In the New Testament, we see this also, but the with the phrase "filled with the Spirit" (Luke 1:41, 67; Acts 1:8; 4:8; 13:9).

[25] The phrase, "came in power" (NIV), "came mightily" (NRSV, NASB) uses the verb ṣālaḥ, "rush" (TWOT #1916), "be strong, effective, powerful" (Holladay 306).

[26] Martys, BDAG 620, 2c.

[28] "A Sabbath's day's walk" (Acts 9:12) is the distance one could walk on the Sabbath without breaking the Jewish laws against travelling on the Sabbath. A Sabbath day's journey is a unit of 1000 double steps, then an expression for a relatively short distance. This is about 2000 cubits, or about two thirds of a mile (about 1 kilometer) (Paul K. Jewett, "Sabbath's Day's Journey," ISBE 4:252). The distance from the East Gate of Jerusalem to the present site of the Church of the Ascension on Mount Olivet is just over one half mile.

[29] Eulogeō, BDAG 408.

[30] "Taken up" in Acts 1:9 is the aorist passive of epairō, "lift up, hold up," passive, as here, "be taken up" (BDAG 357, 1). Luke's gospel uses the verb anapherō, "to cause to move from a lower position to a higher, take, lead, bring up" (BDAG 75. In Acts 1:11 the verb is the aorist passive of analambanō, "to lift up and carry away, take up" (BDAG 66, 1).

[31] Bruce (Acts, p. 42, fn. 39) observes that Zahn argues this must be the same location as the Last Supper because the use of the definite article "the" in "the room," but this doesn't seem very strong.

[32] "Constantly" (NIV), "constantly devoting" (NRSV), "continued/continually" (KJV, NASB) by the imperfect verb and the participle proskartereō, "to persist in something," here, to "busy oneself with, be busily engaged in, be devoted to" (BDAG 881, 2a), from pros-, "on, at" + katereō, "to be strong, steadfast."

[33] The adverb homothymadon, means "with one mind/purpose/impulse" (BDAG 706). It is a compound word from homos, "one and the same, common" and thumos, "soul, desire, inclination, will."

[34] Proseuchē, BDAG 878, 1. KJV adds the words "and supplication," reflecting the majority Byzantine text, but it is missing in the earliest texts (P74, Aleph A B C* D E Ψ etc.).

[35] Bruce (Acts, p. 49) notes, "The common harmonization of the two accounts at this point is that the chief priests, considering the 30 shekels to be legally Judas' property, bought the field with them in his name."

[36] 1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 15:8-9; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:1; 2:8. Based on 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and Ephesians 4:11, I see being an apostle as possessing a spiritual gift bestowed by God. Thus, I believe there is the possibility, even the probability, of there being apostles in our own day. For more on this see Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit, Lesson 6, www.jesuswalk.com/spirit/08_spirit_gifts1.htm .

[37] Proverbs 16:33. The Urim and Thummim in the high priest's breastplate also functioned as lots to determine God's will. For more on this see my article, "Inquiring of the Lord," Paraclete, Fall 1986, pp. 23-26 (www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/inquire.htm).

[38] Eusebius, Church History 1.12.3.

[39] D. W. Wead, "Matthias," ISBE 3:288; Wikipedia, "Saint Matthias"

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