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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 1

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Jesus Ascends to Heaven, A New Apostle Chosen

A. Prologue.

1. (Act 1:1) Reference to former writings.

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.

a. The former account is the Gospel of Luke.  At one time the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were joined together as one book with two "volumes."

i. Imagine what it would be like if the Book of Acts were missing.  You would pick up your Bible and see the ministry of Jesus ending in the Gospel of John; next you would read about a guy named Paul writing to followers of Jesus in Rome.  Who was Paul?  How did the gospel get from Jerusalem to Rome?  The Book of Acts answers these questions. "A great New Testament scholar has said that the title of Acts might be, 'How they brought the Good News from Jerusalem to Rome.'" (Barclay)

ii. Acts is written in the literary style of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint.  "Since Luke can write in a different style (Lk. 1:1-4), this is something deliberate.  Probably he regarded himself as recording sacred history." (Marshall)

iii. We really don't know all that much about Luke from the New Testament.  We know that he was a doctor, we know that he was a Gentile, and we know that he was a companion of Paul.

iv. There was a time when many scholars thought that Acts was sort of a romance novel of the early church, written at least 100 years after the events supposedly happened.  But William Ramsay, a noted archaeologist and Bible scholar, proved that the historical record of Acts is remarkably accurate regarding the specific practices, laws and customs of the period it claims to record.  It is definitely the work of contemporary eyewitnesses.

v. In the mid-1960's, A.N. Sherwin-White, an expert in Graeco-Roman history from Oxford, wrote about Acts: "The historical framework is exact.  In terms of time and place the details are precise and correct … As documents these narratives belong to the same historical series as the record of provincial and imperial trials in epigraphical and literary sources of the first and early second centuries A.D. … For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming … Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.  Roman historians have long taken it for granted."

vi. John Calvin wrote that the Book of Acts was "a kind of vast treasure."  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called Acts "that most lyrical of books … Live in that book, I exhort you: It is a tonic, the greatest tonic I know of in the realm of the Spirit." (Cited in Stott)

b. Theophilus might have been a Christian wanting instruction.  He might have been a Roman official being briefed by Luke about the history of the Christian movement; or the name could be symbolic, because the name Theophilus means "God-lover."

i. In the introduction to the first volume (Luke 1:3), Luke addresses Theophilus with title most excellent, which was a way to address people who held high office.

ii. Since Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial before Caesar, some have wondered if Luke-Acts are not "defense briefs" on Paul's behalf to give a Roman official background on Paul's case. Luke arrived in Jerusalem with Paul in Acts 21:17; he left with him again on the journey to Rome in Acts 27:1.  In those two years, Luke had plenty of time to research and write his gospel and the Book of Acts.

iii. Luke wanted to show Rome that Christianity was harmless (some Romans officials had embraced it themselves), innocent (Roman judges could find no basis for prosecution) and lawful (as the true fulfillment of Judaism, an approved religion in the Roman Empire).

c. Notice that the former account concernedall that Jesus began both to do and teach. Luke's Gospel describes only the beginning of Jesus' work; Acts describes its continuation; and the work of Jesus continues to our present day.

i. We must remember that Acts does not give us a full history of the church during this period.  For example, the churches in Galilee and Samaria are barely mentioned (Acts 9:31), and the establishing of a strong church in Egypt during this time isn't mentioned at all.

ii. Acts takes us up to about 60 or 61 A.D., with Paul in Rome waiting to appear before Caesar Nero.  This same Nero began his infamous persecutions of Christians in 64 A.D.

2. (Act 1:2-3) The last work of Jesus before His ascension to heaven.

Until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

a. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, instructed the apostles regarding what to do in His absence.

b. Jesus also established the fact of His resurrection with many infallible proofs during the forty days after his resurrection but before His ascension.

i. In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul describes one of these many infallible proofs: He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present.  There were more than five hundred people who had seen the resurrected Jesus, and most of them were alive some twenty-five years later in the days of Paul!

c. The teaching Jesus gave during that period is not recorded, but we are told that He used that time to speak of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

i. Many Gnostic and New Age teachers would like to think that after His resurrection, Jesus used the forty days to teach His followers strange and obscure doctrines that must be "rediscovered" with new revelations today.  But Luke reminds us that Jesus simply taught them much the same material that He had taught them in His earthly ministry: The things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

B. The ascension of Jesus.

1. (Act 1:4-5) Jesus' final instructions to the disciples.

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

a. He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem: Jesus has nothing else for the disciples to do other than to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He knows that they really can do nothing effective for the Kingdom of God until the Spirit comes.

b. These verses provide another of the many "Trinity in Miniature" examples.  Jesus tells of the Promise of the Father, which is the coming of the Holy Spirit.

c. You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit: The idea of being baptized is to be immersed or covered over in something; even as John baptized people in water, so these disciples would be "immersed" in the Holy Spirit.

i. Perhaps it is more useful to describe the baptism of the Holy Spirit more like a condition than an experience. We should perhaps ask, "are you baptized in the Holy Spirit?" instead of asking, "have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?"

2. (Act 1:6) The disciples ask Jesus a final question before His ascension.

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

a. Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?  This was a question asked many times before.  They must have believed that Jesus would certainly establish an earthly political kingdom before ascending to the Father.  Of course, when Jesus ascended into heaven, He would leave them in charge of the kingdom!

i. "The verb restore shows that they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause at this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment." (Stott)

ii. "Marvelous is their rudeness, that when as they had been diligently instructed by the space of three whole years, they betray no less ignorance than if they had heard never a word.  There are as many errors in this question as words." (Calvin)

b. The disciples certainly knew the many Old Testament prophecies describing the spiritual and political rebirth of Israel.  The disciples probably thought that the spiritual rebirth seemed certain, so the political would come, also.

3. (Act 1:7-8) Jesus' final teaching and final promise before His ascension.

And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

a. It is not for you to know: Jesus warned the disciples against inquiring into aspects of the timing of God's kingdom, because those things belong to God the Father alone (which the Father has put in His own authority).

i. It was wise for Jesus not to outline His plan over the next 2,000 years.  How do you think the disciples would have felt if they had known that the kingdom they wanted to see right then would not be coming for almost 2,000 years?

ii. At the same time, Jesus did not say that there was to be no restoration of the kingdom to Israel; He simply said that speculation into the times and dates of it was not proper for the disciples.

b. But you shall receive power: If the political kingdom they wanted would be delayed, power would not.  They would shortly receive power with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

i. The disciples were still seeing power, too much in terms of Caesar, and not enough in terms of Christ.  Jesus offers them real power, spiritual power, but how attractive did that seem?  They were thinking of political power!

c. The natural result of receiving that power would be that they would become witnesses of Jesus, all over the earth.

i. Notice that this really isn't a command; it is a simple statement of fact: When the Holy Spirit has come upon you … you shall be witnesses of Me.  The words shall be are in the indicative, not the imperative.  Jesus wasn't recommending that they become witnesses, He was saying they would be witnesses.

ii. If we want to be witnesses, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit!  Far more important than the best course in evangelism is the filling of the Holy Spirit!

iii. Isaiah 43:10 has the Lord proclaiming to His people You are My witnesses.  A cultic group today claims that this is their mandate for being "Jehovah's Witnesses." Unfortunately, they fail to see Isaiah 43:10 in the context of Acts 1:8; we are truly Yahweh's Witnesses when we are Jesus' Witnesses.

d. The progress of the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and then to the end of the earth becomes the outline of Acts.  Acts chapters 1 through 7 describe the gospel in Jerusalem, chapters 8 through 12 speak of the gospel in Judea and Samaria, and chapters 13 through 28 tell of the gospel going to the end of the earth.

i. We might imagine the objections to the places of ministry Jesus described.  Jerusalem was where Jesus was executed at the word of an angry mob; Judea rejected His ministry; Samaria was regarded as a wasteland of impure half-breeds; and in the uttermost parts of the earth, the Gentiles were seen as nothing better than fuel for the fires of Hell.  Yet God wanted a witness sent to all of these places.

4. (Act 1:9-11) Jesus ascends into heaven.

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."

a. Jesus was taken up from them, as He was blessing them (Luke 24:50).  As He slowly disappeared into the sky, surrounded by a cloud (of Shekinah glory?), they continued to gaze upward.

b. Why did Jesus ascend this way? He certainly could have simply "vanished" to the Father's presence in a secret sort of way.  But with the ascension, Jesus wanted His followers to know that He was gone for good, as opposed to the way He appeared and reappeared during the forty days after the resurrection.

i. Remember Jesus' words to His disciples in John 16:7: It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.  Now the disciples could know that that promise would be fulfilled.

c. Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  The two men (apparently angels) told the disciples to put their attention in the right place (obedience to Jesus' command to return to Jerusalem), not in wondering where and how Jesus went.  Jesus told them to go to the ends of the earth, and they stood gazing up into heaven.

i. Morgan speculates that the "men" were possibly Moses and Elijah.  It seems best to say they were angels.

d. Will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven: Jesus will return just as He left: physically, visibly, and to the Mount of Olives.

C. Matthias is appointed to replace Judas.

1. (Act 1:12-14) The followers of Jesus return to Jerusalem.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

a. A Sabbath's day journey describes a short distance, the only kind allowed on the Sabbath.

b. Who was there?  The eleven disciples (the twelve minus Judas) are present; along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, the brothers of Jesus (such as James and Jude), the women who followed Jesus, and others, adding up to about 120 (Acts 1:15).

i. The brothers of Jesus never seemed to be supportive of His ministry before His death and resurrection (John 7:5, Mark 3:21), but now that has changed - the power of the resurrected Jesus is already on display.

ii. Calvin translates with the women as with their wives, a reference to the wives of the apostles.

c. Their obedience is notable: They returned to Jerusalem. Jesus told them to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and that is exactly what they did.  They didn't forget the sermon right after they heard it, and they actually did what Jesus told them to do, even though He was no longer physically present with them.

d. Their unity is notable: These all continued with one accord.  When we saw the disciples in the gospels, it seemed that they were always fighting and bickering.  What had changed?  Peter still had the history of denying the Lord; Matthew was still a tax collector; Simon was still a zealot.  Their differences were still there, but the resurrected Jesus in their hearts was greater than any difference.

e. Their prayer is notable; they all prayed, and they continued in prayer and supplication.  The idea of supplication is a sense of desperation and earnestness in prayer.

f. Already, we see three important steps in making godly decisions: The disciples are in obedience, they are in fellowship, and they are in prayer.

2. (Act 1:15-20) Peter suggests selecting a replacement for Judas.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, "Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry." (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) "For it is written in the book of Psalms: 'Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it'; and, 'Let another take his office.'"

a. Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples: Here, Peter takes a natural leadership role among the disciples.  There is nothing wrong with seeing Peter as the leader of the first group of the apostles, even as he often was the spokesman among the disciples during the earthly ministry of Jesus.

i. However, the idea that the authority of Peter was supreme, and that he handed it down in unbroken succession, is unbiblical and wrong.

b. Peter's words show a wisdom we did not often see in him before; he begins by noting that Judas didn't spoil God's plan, he fulfilled it (this Scripture had to be fulfilled).  This is something that only the wise and mature can see when evil happens.

c. Luke's historical note calls attention to how Judas died.  Matthew 27:5 says that Judas hanged himself, but apparently he failed in the attempt, fell, and was killed by the impact of falling from the tree in the Field of Blood.

i. It was a Field of Blood not only because Judas spilled his blood there, but also because the field was purchased with the "blood money" given to the betrayer of Jesus.

d. For it is written: Peter, quoting from two separate Psalms, shows why God would have them choose another disciple to "officially" replace Judas.

i. Their reliance on God's Word is notable; this wasn't the wisdom of man at work, but a principle revealed in Scripture.  Also, this is the first time in the New Testament we read that Peter quoted Scripture!

ii. Let his habitation be desolate: David, the writer of these quoted Psalms, knew what it was like to be betrayed by another.  When he was a fugitive from Saul, he was betrayed by a man named Doeg (1 Samuel 21-22), and many innocent people died as a result.  David may have penned these very words in reference to this betrayer.

iii. Let another take his office: When David was betrayed, he desired that the betrayer would be desolate and that another fill the betrayer's office.  It wasn't hard to understand that the Son of David - Jesus, whom David often pictured - would desire the same thing.

iv. Their desire for God's will is notable; because of the principle of the quoted Scripture, they will replace Judas because they believe it is what Jesus wants, not because it is what they want.

3. (Act 1:21-23) Qualifications are stated and two men are nominated.

"Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

a. One of these must become a witness with us: The disciples were bold enough to make a decision because they knew from God's Word that this is what He wanted.  The apostles did not sense an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them; that was yet to come.  But God did not leave them without guidance.  They knew what to do from the Word.  Even when we don't "feel" the Holy Spirit, we still have God's voice permanently established in His Word.

i. When we don't feel a special blessing from the Holy Spirit in an area not revealed by God's Word, we still know what to do: Obey God's Word.

b. Who have accompanied us all the time: Whoever replaces Judas must be one who had been with them since they were baptized by John, stayed with them during the days of Jesus' earthly ministry, and they must have seen the resurrected Jesus.

i. What told them that these were to be the qualifications?  Sanctified common sense!  There was no direct, awesome revelation from God; their common sense was being blessed because they were in obedience, in fellowship, in prayer, in the Word, and desiring God's will.

ii. Their sanctified common sense was notable; it didn't answer everything, but it did narrow it down to two men.

c. The main job of the new apostle was simply to become a witness with us of His resurrection.  We can do the same job by showing that Jesus lives in our lives.

4. (Act 1:24-26) The disciples pray and cast lots to select a replacement for Judas.

And they prayed and said, "You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place." And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

a. And they prayed: They prayed first, and it was easy to pray because they had already been praying (Acts 1:14).

i. Their doing what Jesus would do was notable.  How did Jesus choose the disciples?  He prayed (Luke 6:12-13), even as these disciples did, to see who the Lord would add to their number.

b. And they cast their lots: Many people have questioned the method for choosing one of the two men - after all these great spiritual steps, they end up rolling dice to pick the winner.  Is this any way to choose an apostle?

i. Their reliance on God is notable.  Though they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit, as they would be, they still wanted to choose a method that would make them rely on God. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)

ii. The casting of lots may be an imperfect way to discern God's will, but it is much better than the methods many Christians use today, relying on emotions, circumstances, feelings, carnal desires and so forth.

c. And the lot fell on Matthias: Was Matthias the right man for the job of the twelfth apostle?

i. Some insist that Matthias was the wrong choice and the use of lots was not right.  The idea is that God would have chosen Paul if the office had been left vacant.  But we must respect the testimony of the Scriptures; God did not want to leave the office vacant.  If He did, it might be seen as a victory for Satan - Jesus picked 12, but one came up short and defeated Jesus' desire to have 12 apostles.

ii. Even though we read nothing more of Matthias, we should not assume he was a "dud" as an apostle; except for Peter and John, none of the original twelve are mentioned again after Acts 1. Matthias was no more of a "dud" than Matthew or Andrew or Thomas or any of the others.

iii. Paul considered himself an apostle, but one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:8).  It doesn't seem that he objected to the selection of Matthias.

iv. Revelation 21:14 tells us that each of the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem has the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  Is the twelfth apostle Paul or Matthias?  Who can say for certain?

d. No one can fault all the things they did before they cast lots.  We must believe that all these things put them into the place where God would truly guide their decision.  If we would put ourselves into the same place, we wouldn't make many wrong decisions!

i. How many wrong decisions would we make if we did all of these things before the decision?  The disciples were in obedience, they were in fellowship, they were in prayer, they were in the Word, they wanted to do God's will, they used sanctified common sense, they did what Jesus would do, and they did what they could do to rely on God.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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