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Acts 1

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Verse 1

The former treatise - The former book. The Gospel of Luke is here evidently intended. Greek: the former λόγος logos, meaning “a discourse,” or “a narrative.”

O Theophilus - See the notes on Luke 1:3. Since this book was written to the same individual as the former, it was evidently written with the same design to furnish an authentic and full narrative of events concerning which there would be many imperfect and exaggerated accounts. See Luke 1:1-4. Since these events pertained to the descent of the Spirit, to the spread of the gospel, to the organization of the church, to the kind of preaching by which the church was to be collected and organized, and as the facts in the case constituted a full proof of the truth of the Christian religion, and the conduct of the apostles would be a model for ministers and the church in all future times, it was of great importance that a fair and full narrative of these things should be preserved. Luke was the companion of Paul in his travels, and was an eye-witness of no small part of the transactions recorded in this book. See Acts 16:10, Acts 16:17; Acts 20:1-6; Acts 27:0; Acts 28:0. As an eye-witness, he was well qualified to make a record of the leading events of the primitive church. And as he was the companion of Paul, he had every opportunity of obtaining information about the great events of the gospel of Christ.

Of all - That is, of the principal, or most important parts of the life and doctrines of Christ. It cannot mean that he recorded all that Jesus did, as he had omitted many things that have been preserved by the other evangelists. The word “all” is frequently thus used to denote the most important or material facts. See Acts 13:10; 1 Timothy 1:16; James 1:2; Matthew 2:3; Matthew 3:5; Acts 2:5; Romans 11:26; Colossians 1:6. In each of these places the word here translated “all” occurs in the original, and means “many, a large part, the principal portion.” It has the same use in all languages. “This word often signifies, indefinitely, a large portion or number, or a great part” (Webster).

That Jesus - The Syriac Version adds, “Jesus our Messiah.” This version was probably made in the second century.

Began to do ... - This is a Hebrew form of expression; meaning the same thing as that Jesus did and taught. See Genesis 9:20, “Noah began to be a farmer,” that is, was a farmer. Genesis 2:3, in the Septuagint: “Which God began to create and make”; in the Hebrew, “which God created and made.” Mark 4:7, “began to send them forth by two and two,” that is, sent them forth. See also Mark 10:32; Mark 14:65, “And some began to spit on him”; in the parallel place in Matthew 26:67, “they did spit in his face.”

To do - This refers to his miracles and his acts of benevolence, including all that he did for man’s salvation. It probably includes, therefore, his sufferings, death, and resurrection, as a part of what he has done to save people.

To teach - His doctrines. As the writer had given an account of what the Lord Jesus did, so he was now about to give a narrative of what his apostles did in the same cause, that thus the world might be in possession of an inspired record respecting the establishment of the Christian church. The record of these events preserved in the sacred narrative is one of the greatest blessings that God has conferred on mankind; and one of the highest privileges which people can enjoy is that which has been conferred so abundantly on this age in the possession of the Word of God.

Verse 2

Until the day - The 40th day after the resurrection, Acts 1:3. See Luke 24:51.

In which he was taken up - In which he ascended to heaven. He was taken up into a cloud, and is represented as having been borne or carried to heaven, Acts 1:9.

After that ... - This passage has been variously rendered. The Syriac translates it, “After he had given commandment unto the apostles whom he had chosen by the Holy Spirit.” So also the Ethiopic version. Others have joined the words “through the Holy Spirit” to the phrase “was taken up,” making it mean that he was taken up by the Holy Spirit. But the most natural and correct translation seems to be what is in our King James Version.

Through the Holy Ghost - To understand this, it is necessary to call to mind the promise that Jesus made before his death, that after his departure, the Holy Spirit would descend to be a guide to his apostles. See John 16:7-11, and the notes on that place. It was to be his office to carry forward the work of redemption in applying it to the hearts of people. Whatever was done, therefore, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, was to be regarded as under the unique influence and direction of the Holy Spirit. Even the instructions of Jesus and his commission to the apostles, were to be regarded as coming within the department of the sacred Spirit, or within the province of his unique work. The instructions were given by divine authority, by infallible guidance, and as a part of the work which the Holy Spirit was sent down to accomplish. Under the direction and guidance of that Spirit the apostles were to go forth; by his aid they were to preach the gospel, to organize the church, to establish its order and its doctrines; and hence, the entire work was declared to be by his direction. Though in his larger and more mighty influences the Spirit did not descend until the day of Pentecost (Luke 24:49; compare Acts 2:0), yet, in some measure, his influence was imparted to the apostles before the ascension of Christ, John 20:22.

Had given commandments - Particularly the command to preach the gospel to all nations, Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-19. It may be worthy of remark, that the word “commandments,” as a noun in the plural number, does not occur in the original. The single word which is translated, “had given commandments” is a participle, and means simply “having commanded.” There is no need, therefore, of supposing that there is reference here to any other command than to that great and glorious injunction to preach the gospel to every creature. That was a command of so much importance as to be worthy of a distinct record, as constituting the sum of all that the Saviour taught them after his resurrection.

The apostles - The eleven that remained after the treason and death of Judas.

Whom he had chosen - Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16.

Verse 3

He showed himself - The resurrection of Jesus was the great fact on which the truth of the gospel was to be established. Hence, the sacred writers so often refer to it, and establish it by so many arguments. As the fact of his resurrection lay at the foundation of all that Luke was about to record in his history, it was of importance that he should state clearly the sum of the evidence of it in the beginning of his work.

After his passion - After he suffered, referring particularly to his death as the consummation of his sufferings. The word “passion” with us means commonly excitement or agitation of mind, as love, hope, fear, anger, etc. The original means “after he suffered.” The word “passion,” applied to the Saviour, denotes his last sufferings. Thus, in the Litany of the Episcopal Church, it is beautifully said, “By thine agony and bloody sweat; by thy cross and passion, good Lord, deliver us.” The Greek word of the same derivation is rendered sufferings in 1 Peter 1:11; 1 Peter 4:13; Colossians 1:24.

By many infallible proofs - The word rendered here “infallible proofs” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. In Greek authors it denotes an infallible sign or argument by which anything can be certainly known (Schleusner). Here it means the same - evidence that he was alive which could not deceive, or in which they could not be mistaken. That evidence consisted in his eating with them, conversing with them, meeting them at various times and places, working miracles John 21:6-7, and uniformly showing himself to be the same friend with whom they had been familiar for more than three years. This evidence was infallible:

(1) Because it was to them unexpected. They had manifestly not believed that he would rise again, John 20:25; Luke 24:19-24. There was, therefore, no delusion resulting from any expectation of seeing him, or from a design to impose on people.

(2) It was impossible that they could have been deceived in relation to one with whom they had been familiar for more than three years. No people in the possession of reason could be made to believe that they really saw, talked with, and ate with, a friend whom they had known so long and familiarly, unless it was real.

(3) There were enough of them to avoid the possibility of deception. Though it might be pretended that one man could be imposed on, yet it could not be that an imposition could be practiced for forty days on eleven men, who were all at first incredulous.

(4) He was with them sufficient time to give evidence of his personal identity. It might be pretended, if they had seen him but once, that they were deceived. But they saw him often, and for the space of more than a month.

(5) They saw him in various places and at times in which there could be no deception. If they had pretended that they saw him rise, or saw him at twilight in the morning when he rose, it might have been said that they were deluded by something that was merely the result of imagination. It might have been said that, expecting to see him rise, their hopes, in the agitated state of their minds, deceived them, and that they only fancied that they saw him. But it is not pretended by the sacred writers that they saw him rise. An impostor “would have affirmed this, and would not have omitted it.” But the sacred writers affirmed that they saw him after he was risen; when they were free from agitation; when they could judge coolly; in Jerusalem; in their own company when at worship; when journeying to Emmaus; when in Galilee; when he went with them to Mount Olivet; and when he ascended to heaven: and how could they have been deceived in this?

(6) He appeared to them as he had always done, as a friend, companion, and benefactor; he ate with them, performed a miracle before them, was engaged in the same work as he was before he suffered, renewed the same promise of the Holy Spirit, and gave them his commands respecting the work which he had died to establish, and the work which he required them to do - carrying out the same purposes and plans which he had before he died. In all these circumstances it was impossible that they should be deceived.

Being seen of them forty days - There are no less than thirteen different appearances of Jesus to his disciples recorded. For an account of them, see the notes at the end of the gospel of Matthew.

Speaking to them ... - He was not only seen by them, but he continued the same topics of discourse as before his sufferings; thus showing that he was the same person that had suffered, and that his heart was still intent on the same great work. And as his heart was occupied with the same purposes which endued his attention before he suffered, we are taught by this that we should aim at the same great work in all the circumstances of our being. Afflictions, persecutions, and the prospect of death never turned him from his great plan; nor should they be allowed to divert our minds from the great work which God has given us to do.

The things pertaining to the kingdom of God - For an explanation of this phrase, the kingdom of God, see the notes on Matthew 3:2. The meaning is, Jesus gave them instructions about the organization, spread, and edification of his church.

Verse 4

And being assembled together - Margin, “or, eating together.” This sense is given to this place in the Latin Vulgate, the Ethiopic, and the Syriac versions. But the Greek word has not properly this signification. It has the meaning of “congregating, or assembling.” It should have been, however, translated in the active sense, “and having assembled them together.” The apostles were scattered after his death. But this passage denotes that he had assembled them together by his authority, for the purpose of giving them a charge respecting their conduct when he should have left them. When this occurred does not appear from the narrative; but it is probable that it was not long before his ascension; and it is clear that the place where they were assembled was Jerusalem.

But wait for the promise of the Father - For the fulfillment of the promise respecting the descent of the Holy Spirit made by the Father.

Which ye have heard of me - Which I have made to you. See John 14:16, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-13.

Verse 5

For John truly baptized ... - These are the words of Jesus to his apostles, and he evidently has reference to what was said of John’s baptism compared with his own in Matthew 3:11; John 1:33. In those verses John is represented as baptizing with water, but the Messiah who was to come, as baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This promise was now about to be fulfilled in a remarkable manner. See Acts 2:0.

Not many days hence - This was probably spoken not long before his ascension, and of course not many days before the day of Pentecost.

Verse 6

When they therefore were come together - At the Mount of Olives. See Acts 1:9, Acts 1:12.

Wilt thou at this time ... - The apostles had entertained the common opinions of the Jews about the temporal dominion of the Messiah. They expected that he would reign as a prince and conqueror, and would free them from the bondage of the Romans. Many instances where this expectation is referred to occur in the gospels, notwithstanding all the efforts which the Lord Jesus made to explain to them the true nature of his kingdom. This expectation was checked, and almost destroyed by his death Luke 24:21, and it is clear that his death was the only means which could effectually change their opinions on this subject. Even his own instructions would not do it; and nothing but his being taken from them could direct their minds effectually to the true nature of his kingdom. Yet, though his death checked their expectations, and appeared to thwart their plans, his return to life excited them again. They beheld him with them; they were assured that it was the same Saviour; they saw now that his enemies had no power over him; they could not doubt that a being who could rise from the dead could easily accomplish all his plans. And as they did not doubt now that he would restore the kingdom to Israel, they asked whether he would do it at that time? They did not ask whether he would do it at all, or whether they had correct views of his kingdom; but, taking that for granted, they asked him whether that was the time in which he would do it. The emphasis of the inquiry lies in the expression, “at this time,” and hence, the answer of the Saviour refers solely to the point of their inquiry, and not to the correctness or incorrectness of their opinions. From these expectations of the apostles we may learn:

  1. That there is nothing so difficult to be removed from the mind as prejudice in favor of erroneous opinions.

(2)That such prejudice will survive the plainest proofs to the contrary.

(3)That it will often manifest itself even after all proper means have been taken to subdue it. Erroneous opinions thus maintain a secret ascendency in a man’s mind, and are revived by the slightest circumstances, even long after it was supposed that they were overcome, and in the face of the plainest proofs of reason or of Scripture.

Restore - Bring back; put into its former situation. Judea was formerly governed by its own kings and laws; now, it was subject to the Romans. This bondage was grievous, and the nation sighed for deliverance. The inquiry of the apostles evidently was, whether he would now free them from the bondage of the Romans, and restore them to their former state of freedom and prosperity, as in the times of David and Solomon. See Isaiah 1:26. The word “restore” also may include more than a reducing it to its former state. It may mean, wilt thou now bestow the kingdom and dominion to Israel, according to the prediction in Daniel 7:27?

The kingdom - The dominion; the empire; the reign. The expectation was that the Messiah the king of Israel would reign over people, and that thus the nation of the Jews would extend their empire over all the earth.

To Israel - To the Jews, and particularly to the Jewish followers of the Messiah. Lightfoot thinks that this question was asked in indignation against the Jews. “Wilt thou confer dominion on a nation which has just put thee to death?” But the answer of the Saviour shows that this was not the design of the question.

Verse 7

It is not for you to know - The question of the apostles respected the time of the restoration; it was not whether he would do it. Accordingly, his answer meets precisely their inquiry; and he tells them in general that the time of the great events of God’s kingdom was not to be understood by them. They had asked a similar question on a former occasion, Matthew 24:3, “Tell us when shall these things be?” Jesus had answered them then by showing them that certain signs would precede his coming, and then by saying Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” God has uniformly reproved a vain curiosity on such points, 1Th 5:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10; Luke 12:39-40.

The times or the seasons - The difference between these words is, that the former denotes any time or period that is indefinite or uncertain; the later denotes a fixed, definite, or appropriate time. They seem to be used here to denote the periods that would mark or determine all future events.

The Father hath put ... - So entirely had the Father reserved the knowledge of these to himself, that it is said that even the Son did not know them. See Mark 3:32, and the notes on that place.

In his own power - That is, he has fixed them by his own authority, he will bring them about in his own time and way; and therefore it is not proper for people anxiously to inquire into them. All prophecy is remarkably obscure in regard to the time of its fulfillment. The reasons why it is so are such as the following:

  1. To excite people to watch for the events that are to come, as the time is uncertain, and they will come “like a thief in the night.”

(2)As they are to be brought about by human agency, they are so arranged as to call forth that agency. If people knew just when an event was to come to pass, they might be remiss, and feel that their own efforts were not needed.

(3)The knowledge of future scenes of the exact time, might alarm people, and absorb their thoughts so entirely as to prevent a proper attention to the present duties of life. Duty is ours now; God will provide for future scenes.

(4)Promises sufficiently clear and full are therefore given us to encourage us, but not so full as to excite a vain and idle curiosity. All this is eminently true of our own death, one of the most important future scenes through which we are to pass. It is certainly before us; it is near; it cannot be long delayed; it may come at any moment. God has fixed the time, but will not inform us when it shall be. He does not gratify a vain curiosity; nor does he terrify us by announcing to us the day or the hour when we are to die, as we do a man that is to be executed. This would be to make our lives like that of a criminal sentenced to die, and we should through all our life, through fear of death, be subject to bondage, Hebrews 2:15. He has made enough known to excite us to make preparation, and to be always ready, having our loins girt about and our lamps trimmed and burning, Luke 12:35.

Verse 8

But ye shall receive power ... - Literally, as it is translated in the margin, “Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you.” This was said to them to console them. Though they could not know the times which God reserved in his own appointment, yet they should receive the promised Guide and Comforter. The word “power” here refers to the help or aid which the Holy Spirit would grant; the power of speaking with new tongues; of preaching the gospel with great effect; of enduring great trials, etc. See Mark 16:17-18. The apostles had impatiently asked him if he was then about to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus by this answer rebuked their impatience, taught them to repress their ill-timed ardor; and assured them again of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Ye shall be witnesses - For this purpose they were appointed; and to prepare them for this they had been with him for more that three years. They had seen his manner of life, his miracles, his meekness, his sufferings; they had listened to his instructions, and had conversed and eaten with him as a friend; they had seen him after he was risen, and were about to see him ascend to heaven; and they were thus qualified to bear witness to these things in all parts of the earth. Their number was so great that it could not be pretended that they were deceived; they had been so intimate with him and his plans that they were qualified to state what his doctrines and purposes were; and there was no motive but conviction of the truth that could induce them to make the sacrifices which they would be required to make in communicating these things to the world. In every respect, therefore, they were qualified to be impartial and competent witnesses. The original word here is μάρτυρες martures, martyrs. From this word the name martyrs has been given to those who suffered in times of persecution. The reason why this name was given to them was that they bore witness to the life, instructions, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, even in the midst of persecution and death. It is commonly supposed that nearly all of the apostles bore witness as martyrs in this sense to the truths of the Christian religion, but of this there is not clear proof. See Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. p. 55, 56. Still the word here does not necessarily mean that they to whom this was addressed would be martyrs, or would be put to death in bearing witness to the Lord Jesus; but that they were everywhere to testify to what they knew of him. The fact that this was the design of their appointment, and that they actually bore such testimony, is abundantly confirmed in the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 1:22; Acts 5:32; Acts 10:39, Acts 10:42; Acts 22:15.

In Jerusalem - In the capital of the nation. See Acts 2:0. The great work of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost occurred there. Most of the disciples remained in Jerusalem until the persecution that arose about the death of Stephen, Acts 8:1, Acts 8:4. The apostles remained there until Herod put James to death. Compare Acts 8:1, with Acts 12:1-2. This was about eight years. During this time, however, Paul was called to the apostleship, and Peter had preached the gospel to Cornelius, Philip to the eunuch, etc.

In all Judea - Judea was the southern division of the Holy Land, and included Jerusalem as the capital. See the notes on Matthew 2:22.

And in Samaria - This was the middle portion of Palestine. See the notes at Matthew 2:22. This was fulfilled by the disciples. See Acts 8:1, “And they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria”; compare Acts 1:4-5, “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” See also Acts 1:14; Acts 9:31.

And unto the uttermost part of the earth - The word “earth,” or “land,” is sometimes taken to denote only the land of Palestine. But here there does not seem to be a necessity for limiting it thus. If Christ had intended that, he would have mentioned Galilee, as being the only remaining division of the country. But as he had expressly directed them to preach the gospel to all nations, the expression here is clearly to be considered as including the Gentile lands as well as the Jewish. The evidence that they did this is found in the subsequent parts of this book, and in the history of the church. It was in this way that Jesus replied to their question. Though he did not tell them the time when it was to be done, nor affirm that he would restore the kingdom to Israel, yet he gave them an answer that implied that the work should advance - should advance much further than the land of Israel; and that they would have much to do in promoting it. All the commands of God, and all his communications, are such as to call up our energy, and teach us that we have much to do. The uttermost parts of the earth have been given to the Saviour Psalms 2:8, and the church should not rest until he whose right it is shall come and reign, Ezekiel 21:27.

Verse 9

While they beheld - While they saw him. It was of importance to state that circumstance, and to state it distinctly. It is not affirmed in the New Testament that they “saw him rise” from the dead, because the evidence of that fact could be better established by their seeing him after he was risen. But the truth of his “ascension to heaven” could not be confirmed in that manner. Hence, it was so arranged that he should ascend in open day, and in the presence of his apostles; and that not when they were asleep, or were inattentive to what was occurring, but when they were engaged in a conversation that’ would fix the attention, and even when they were looking upon him. Had Jesus vanished secretly, or had he disappeared in the night, the apostles would have been amazed and confounded; perhaps they would even have doubted whether they had not been deceived. But when they saw him leave them in this manner, they could not doubt that he had ascended to heaven, and that God approved his work, and would carry it forward. This event was exceedingly important:

(1) It was a confirmation of the truth of the Christian religion.

(2) It enabled the apostles to state distinctly where the Lord Jesus was, and at once directed their affections and their thoughts away from the earth, and opened their eyes on the glory of the scheme of religion they were to establish. If their Saviour was in heaven, it settled the question about the nature of his kingdom. It was clear that it was not designed to be a temporal kingdom. The reasons why it was proper that the Lord Jesus should ascend to heaven rather than remain on earth were:

(1) That he had “finished” the work which God gave him to do “on the earth” John 17:4; John 19:30, and it was proper that he should be received back to the glory which he had with the Father before the world was, John 17:4-5; Philippians 2:6, Philippians 2:9-10.

(2) It was proper that he should ascend in order that the Holy Spirit might come down and perform his part of the work of redemption. Jesus, by his personal ministry, as a man, could be but in one place; the Holy Spirit could be in all places, and could apply the work to all people. See note on John 16:7.

(3) A part of the work of Christ was yet to be performed in heaven. That was the work of intercession. The high priest of the Jews not only made an atonement, but also presented the blood of sacrifice before the mercy-seat, as the priest of the people, Leviticus 16:11-14. This was done to typify the entrance of the great high priest of our profession into the heavens, Hebrews 9:7-8, Hebrews 9:11-12. The work which he performs there is the work of intercession, Hebrews 7:25. This is properly the work which an advocate performs in a court for his client. As applicable to Christ, the meaning is, that he, as our great high priest, still manages our cause in heaven; secures our interests; obtains for us grace and mercy. His work, in this respect, consists in his appearing in the presence of God for us Hebrews 9:24; in his presenting the merits of his blood Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:14; and in securing the continuance of the mercy which has been bestowed on us, and which is still needful for our welfare. The Lord Jesus also ascended that he might assume and exercise the office of King in the immediate seat of power. All worlds were made subject to him for the welfare of the church; and it was needful that he should be solemnly invested with that power in the presence of God as the reward of his earthly toils. 1 Corinthians 15:25, “he must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Compare Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:6-11.

A cloud received him - He entered into the region of the clouds, and was hid from their view. But two others of our race have been taken bodily from earth to heaven. Enoch was transported (Genesis 5:24; compare Hebrews 11:5); and Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind, 2 Kings 2:11. It is remarkable that when the return of the Saviour is mentioned, it is uniformly said that he will return in the clouds, Acts 1:11; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Revelation 1:7; Daniel 7:13. The clouds are an emblem of sublimity and grandeur, and perhaps this is all that is intended by these expressions, Deuteronomy 4:11; 2 Samuel 22:12; Psalms 97:2; Psalms 104:3.

Verse 10

Looked stedfastly - They fixed their eyes, or gazed intently toward heaven. Luke 4:20, “and the eyes of all them in the synagogue were fastened (Greek: the same word as here) on him.” It denotes the intense gaze when we are deeply interested, and wish to see clearly and distinctly. They were amazed and confounded; what had occurred was unlocked for; for they had just been inquiring whether he would not, at that time, restore the kingdom to Israel. With this mingled amazement, disappointment, and curiosity, and with an earnest desire to catch the last glimpse of their beloved master, they naturally continued to gaze on the distant clouds where he had mysteriously disappeared from their view. Never was a scene more impressive, grand, and solemn than this.

Toward heaven - Toward the distant clouds or sky which had received him.

As he went up - Literally, upon him going up; that is, they gazed on him as he ascended, and doubtless they continued to gaze after he had disappeared from their view.

Two men - From the raiment of these “men,” and the nature of their message, it seems clear that they were angelic beings, who were sent to meet and comfort the disciples on this occasion. They appeared in human form, and Luke describes them as they appeared. Angels are not infrequently called people. Luke 24:4, “two men stood by them in shining garments,” etc. Compare John 20:12; Matthew 28:5. As two angels are mentioned only as addressing the apostles after the resurrection of Jesus John 20:12; Luke 24:4, it is no unnatural supposition that these were the same who had been designated to the honorable office of bearing witness to his resurrection, and of giving them all the information about that resurrection, and of his ascension, which their circumstances needed.

In white apparel - Angels are commonly represented as clothed in white. See the John 20:12 note; Matthew 28:3 note; Mark 16:5 note. It is an emblem of purity; and the worshippers of heaven are represented as clothed in this manner. Revelation 3:4, “they shall walk with me in white”; Revelation 3:5, “He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment”; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13-14.

Verse 11

Ye men of Galilee - Galilee was the place of their former residence, and they were commonly known by the name of Galileans.

Why stand ye ... - There is doubtless a slight degree of censure implied in this, as well as a design to call their attention away from a vain attempt to see the departed Saviour. The impropriety may have been:

  1. In the feeling of disappointment, as if he would not restore the kingdom to Israel.
  2. Possibly they were expecting that he would again soon appear, though he had often foretold them that he would ascend to heaven.

(3)There might have been an impropriety in their earnest desire for the mere bodily presence of the Lord Jesus, when it was more important that he should be in heaven. We may see here also that it is our duty not to stand in idleness, and to gaze even toward heaven. We, as well as the apostles, have a great work to do, and we should actively engage in it without delay.

Gazing up - Looking up.

This same Jesus - This was said to comfort them. The same tried friend who had been so faithful to them would return. They ought not, therefore, to look with despondency at his departure.

Into heaven - This expression denotes into the immediate presence of God; or into the place of perpetual purity and happiness, where God especially manifests his favor. The same thing is frequently designated by his sitting on the right hand of God, as emblematic of power, honor, and favor. See the Mark 16:19; Mark 14:62 notes; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1 notes; Acts 7:55 note; Romans 8:34 note; Ephesians 1:20 note.

Shall so come - At the day of judgment. John 14:3, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again,” etc.

In like manner ... - In clouds, as he ascended. See the Acts 1:9 note; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 note. This address was designed to comfort the disciples. Though their master and friend was taken from them, yet he was not removed forever. He would come again with similar majesty and glory to vindicate his people, and to tread his enemies under his feet. The design for which he will come will be to judge the world, Matthew 25:0. There will be an evident fitness and propriety in his coming for such reasons as the following:

(1) Because his appropriate work in heaven as mediator will have been accomplished; his people will have been saved; the great enemy of God and man will have been subdued; death will have been conquered; and the gospel will have shown its power in subduing all forms of wickedness; in removing the effects of sin; in establishing the Law, and in vindicating the honor of God; and all will have been done that is necessary to establish the authority of God throughout the universe. It will be proper, therefore, that this mysterious order of things shall be wound up, and the results become a matter of record in the history of the universe. This will be better than it would be to suffer an eternal millennium on the earth, while the saints should many of them slumber, and the wicked still be in their graves.

(2) It is proper that he should come to vindicate his people, and raise them up to glory. Here they have been persecuted, oppressed, put to death. Their character is assailed; they are poor; and the world despises them. It is fit that God should show himself to be their friend; that he should do justice to their injured names and motives; that he should bring out hidden and obscure virtue, and vindicate it; that he should enter every grave and bring forth his friends to life.

(3) It is proper that he should show his hatred of sin. Here it triumphs. The wicked are rich, and honored, and mighty, and say, Where is the promise of his coming? 2 Peter 3:4. It is right that he should defend his cause. Hence, the Lord Jesus will come to guard the avenues to heaven, and to see that the universe suffers no wrong by the admission of an improper person to the skies.

(4) The great transactions of redemption have been public, open, often grand. The apostasy was public, in the face of angels and of the universe. Sin has been open, public high-handed. Misery has been public, and has rolled its deep and turbid waves in the face of the universe. Death has been public; all worlds have seen the race cut down and moulder. The death of Jesus was public: the angels saw it; the heavens were clothed with mourning; the earth shook, and the dead arose. Jesus was publicly whipped, cursed, crucified; and it is proper that he should publicly triumph - that all heaven rejoicing, and all hell at length humbled, should see his public victory. Hence, he will come with clouds - with angels - with fire - and will raise the dead, and exhibit to all the universe the amazing close of the scheme of redemption.

(5) We have in these verses a description of the most grand and wonderful events that this world has ever known - the ascension and return of the Lord Jesus. Here is consolation for the Christian; and here is a source of ceaseless alarm to the sinner.

Verse 12

Then returned they unto Jerusalem - In Luke 24:52, we are told that they worshipped Jesus before they returned, and it is probable that the act of worship to which he refers was what is mentioned in this chapter their gazing intently on their departing Lord.

From the mount called Olivet - From the Mount of Olives. See the notes on Matthew 21:1. The part of the mountain from which he ascended was the eastern declivity, where stood the little village of Bethany, Luke 24:50.

A sabbath-day’s journey - As far as might be lawfully traveled by a Jew on the Sabbath. This was 2,000 paces or cubits, or seven furlongs and a half - not quite one mile. See the notes On Matthew 24:20. The distance of a lawful journey on the Sabbath was not fixed by the laws of Moses, but the Jewish teachers had fixed it at 2,000 paces. This measure was determined on because it was a tradition that in the camp of the Israelites, when coming from Egypt, no part of the camp was more than 2000 paces from the tabernacle, and over this space, therefore, they were permitted to travel for worship. Perhaps, also, some countenance was given to this from the fact that this was the extent of the suburbs of the Levitical cities, Numbers 35:5. Mount Olivet was only 5 furlongs from Jerusalem, and Bethany was 15 furlongs. But on the eastern declivity of the mountain the tract of country was called, for a considerable space, the region of Bethany; and it was from this place that the Lord Jesus ascended.

Verse 13

Were come in - To Jerusalem.

They went up into an upper room - The word ὑπερῷον huperoōn, here translated “upper room,” occurs only four times in the New Testament: Acts 9:37, “She (Dorcas) was sick and died; whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber” (see also Acts 9:39); Acts 20:8, “And there were many lights in the upper chamber where they were gathered together.” The room so designated was an upper chamber used for devotion, or as a place where to lay the dead before burial, or occasionally for conversation, etc. Here it evidently means the place where they were assembled for devotion. Luke 24:53 says they were continually “in the temple” praising and blessing God; and some have supposed that the upper room here designated was one of the rooms in the temple. But there is no evidence of that, and it is not very probable. Such a room as that here referred to was a part of every house, especially in Jerusalem; and the disciples probably selected one where they might be together, and yet so retired that they might be safe from the Jews. The expression used in Luke 24:53, “They were continually - διαπαντός diapantos - in the temple,” signifies no more than that this was a frequent or customary resort; they were always in the temple at the usual seasons of devotion, or they were in the constant habit of resorting thither. “Even DeWette allows that there is no discrepancy.”

Where abode - Where were remaining. This does not mean that this was their permanent habitation; but they remained there waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Peter ... - All the apostles were there which Jesus had at first chosen except Judas, Luke 6:13-16.

Verse 14

These all continued ... - The word “continued” denotes “persevering and constant attention.” The main business was devotion. Acts 6:4, “we will give ourselves continually to the ministry of the word.” Romans 12:12, “continuing instant in prayer”; Romans 13:6, “Attending continually upon this very thing.” It is their main and constant employment. Compare Colossians 4:2.

With one accord - Greek: ὁμοθυμαδόν homothumadon - “with one mind.” The word denotes the entire harmony of their views and feelings. There were no schisms, no divided interests, no discordant purposes. This is a beautiful picture of devotion, and a specimen of what social worship ought now to be, and a beautiful illustration of Psalms 133:1-3. The apostles felt that they had one great object; and their deep grief at the loss of their master, and their doubts and perplexities, led them, as all afflictions ought to lead us, to the throne of grace.

In prayer and supplication - These words are nearly synonymous, and are often interchanged. They express here petitions to God for blessings, and prayer to avert impending evils.

With the women - The women that had followed the Lord Jesus from Galilee, Luke 8:2-3, Luke 8:23, Luke 8:49, Luke 8:55; Luke 24:10; Matthew 27:55. The women particularly mentioned are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, the mother of Zebedee’s children, Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna. Besides these, there were others whose names are not mentioned. Most of them were relatives of the apostles or of the Saviour; and it is not improbable that some of them were wives of the apostles. Peter is known to have been married Matthew 8:14, and had his wife in attendance with him in his travels 1 Corinthians 9:5; and the same was doubtless true of some of the other apostles, 1 Corinthians 9:5.- Mary, the mother of Jesus, is here particularly mentioned, showing that she now cast in her lot with the apostles. She had, besides, been specially entrusted to the care of John John 19:26-27, and had no other home. This is the last time that she is mentioned in the New Testament.

And with his brethren - See the notes on Matthew 12:46. At first they had been unbelieving about the claims of Jesus John 7:5; but it seems that they had been subsequently converted.

Verse 15

In those days - On one of the days intervening between the ascension of Jesus and the day of Pentecost.

Peter stood up - Peter standing up, or rising. This is a customary expression in the Scriptures when one begins to do a thing, Luke 15:18. The reason why Peter did this may be seen in the notes on Matthew 16:16-17. It is not improbable, besides, that Peter was the most aged of the apostles; and from his uniform conduct we know that he was the most ardent. It was perfectly characteristic, therefore, for him to introduce the business of the election of a new apostle.

The disciples - This was the name, which was given to them as being learners in the school of Christ. See the notes on Matthew 5:1.

The number of the names - The number of the persons, or individuals. The word “name” is often used to denote “the person,” Revelation 3:4; Acts 4:12; Acts 18:15; Ephesians 1:21. In Syriac it is, “The assembly of people was about an hundred and twenty.” This was the first assembly convened to transact the business of the church; and it is not a little remarkable that the vote in so important a matter as electing apostle was by the entire church. It settles the question that the election of a minister and pastor should be by the church, and that a pastor should not be placed over a church by a patron, or by an ecclesiastical body. If a case could ever occur where it would be right and proper that one should be selected to exercise the office of a minister of Christ by the ministry only, the election of one to fall the office of an apostle was such a case. And yet in this the entire church had a voice. Whether this was all the true church at this time does not appear from the history. This expression cannot mean that there were no more Christians, but that these were all that had convened in the upper room. It is certain that our Saviour had, by his own ministry, brought many others to be his true followers. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Verse 16

Men and brethren - This is a customary mode of address, implying affection and respect, Acts 13:26. The Syriac renders it more appropriately than by the introduction of the conjunction “and” - “Men, our brethren.”

This scripture - This prediction contained in the writings of the Old Testament. Compare the notes on John 5:39. The passage to which Peter refers is commonly supposed to be that recorded in Psalms 41:9, “Yea, mine own familiar friend ...hath lifted up his heel against me.” This is expressly applied to Judas by our Saviour, in John 13:18. But it seems clear that the reference is not to the 41st Psalm, but to the passage in the 69th Psalm which Peter proceeds to quote in Acts 1:20.

Must needs have been fulfilled - It would certainly be fulfilled. Not that there was any physical necessity or any compulsion; but it could not but occur that a prediction of God would be fulfilled. This makes no affirmation about the freedom of Judas in doing it. A man will be just as free in wickedness if it be foretold that he will be wicked, as if it had never been known to any other being but himself.

The Holy Ghost ... - This is a strong attestation to the inspiration of David, and accords with the uniform testimony of the New Testament, that the sacred writers spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:21.

Concerning Judas - In what respect this was concerning Judas, see Acts 1:20.

Which was guide ... - Matthew 26:47; John 18:3.

Verse 17

He was numbered with us - He was chosen as an apostle by the Lord Jesus, Luke 6:13-16. This does not mean that he was a true Christian, but that he was reckoned among the apostles. Long before he betrayed him, Jesus declared that he was a devil, John 6:70. He knew his whole character when he chose him, John 2:25. If it be asked why he chose such a man to be an apostle; why he was made the treasurer of the apostles, and was admitted to the fullest confidence; we may reply, that a most important object was gained in having such a man - a spy - among them. It might be pretended, when the apostles bore testimony to the purity of life, of doctrine, and of purpose of the Lord Jesus, that they were interested and partial friends; that they might be disposed to suppress some of his real sentiments, and represent him in a light more favorable than the truth. Hence, the testimony of such a man as Judas, if favorable, must be invaluable.

It would be free from the charge of partiality. If Judas knew anything unfavorable to the character of Jesus, he would have communicated it to the Sanhedrin. If he knew of any secret plot against the government, or seditious purpose, he had every inducement to declare it. He had every opportunity to know it; he was with him; heard him converse; was a member of his family, and admitted to terms of familiarity. Yet even Judas could not be bought or bribed, to testify against the moral character of the Saviour. If he had done it, or could have done it, it would have preserved him from the charge of treason; would have entitled him to the reputation of a public benefactor in discovering secret sedition; and would have saved him from the pangs of remorse, and from self-murder. Judas would have done it if he could. But he alleged no such charge; he did not even dare to lisp a word against the pure designs of the Lord Jesus; and his own reproofs of conscience Matthew 27:4, and his voluntary death Matthew 27:5, furnish the highest proof that can be desired of his conviction that the betrayed Redeemer was innocent.

Judas would have been just the witness which the Jews desired of the treasonable purposes of Jesus. But that could not be procured, even by gold; and they wore compelled to suborn other men to testify against the Son of God, Matthew 26:60. We may add here, that the introduction of such a character as that of Judas Iscariot into the number of the apostles, and the use to be made of his testimony, would never have occurred to the author of a forged book. He would have said that they were all the true friends of the Lord Jesus. To have invented such a character as that of Judas, and to make him perform such a part in the plan as the sacred writers do, would have required too much art and cunning - was too refined and subtle a device, to have been thought of unless it had actually occurred.

Verse 18

Now this man ... - The money which was given for betraying the Lord Jesus was thrown down in the temple, and the field was purchased with it by the Jewish priests. See Matthew 27:5, Matthew 27:10, and the notes on that place. A man is said often to do a thing when he furnishes means for doing it. Compare Matthew 27:60, “And laid it (the body of Jesus) in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock.” That is, had caused to be hewn out. John 4:1, “when, therefore, the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus “made and baptized” more disciples than John.” Through his disciples, for Jesus himself baptized not, John 4:2. The same principle is recognized in law in the well-known maxim, “Qui facit per alium, facit per se.”

The reward of iniquity - The price which he had for that deed of stupendous wickedness - the betraying of the Lord Jesus.

And falling headlong - The word here rendered “headlong” - πρηνής prēnēs (Latin “pronus,” whence our English word “prone”) - means properly “bent forward, head-foremost”; and the idea is, that his position in hanging himself was such that when the cord broke he fell headlong, or fell forward on his face. This can easily be supposed if he threw himself from a rock or elevated place. He first hanged himself, and then fell and was burst asunder. See the notes on Matthew 27:5.

Verse 19

It was known ... - , Matthew 27:8. The scene in the temple; the acts of the priests in purchasing the field, etc., would make it known; and the name of the field would preserve the memory of the guilt of Judas.

Their proper tongue - The language spoken by the Jews the Syro-Chaldaic.

Aceldama - This is composed of two Syro-Chaldaic words, and means literally, the field of blood.

Verse 20

For it is written ... - See Psalms 69:25. This is the prediction doubtless to which Peter refers in Acts 1:16. The intermediate passage in Acts 1:18-19, is probably a parenthesis; the words of Luke, not of Peter. So Calvin, Kuinoel, Olshausen, DeWette, and Hackett understand it. It is not probable that Peter would introduce a narrative like this, with which they were all familiar, in an address to the disciples. The Hebrew in the Psalm is, “Let their habitation (Hebrew: fold, enclosure for cattle; tower, or palace) be desolate, and let none dwell in their tents.” This quotation is not made literally from the Hebrew, nor from the Septuagint. The plural is changed to the singular, and there are some other slight variations. The Hebrew is, “Let there be no one dwelling in their tents.” The reference to the tents is omitted in the quotation. The term “habitation,” in the Psalm, means evidently the dwelling-place of the enemies of the writer of the Psalm. It is an image expressive of their overthrow and defeat by a just God: “Let their families be scattered, and the places where they have dwelt be without an inhabitant, as a reward for their crimes.”

If the Psalm was originally composed with reference to the Messiah and his sufferings, the expression here was not intended to denote Judas in particular, but one of his foes who was to meet the just punishment of rejecting, betraying, and murdering him. The change, therefore, which Peter made from the plural to the singular, and the application to Judas especially “as one of those enemies,” accords with the design of the Psalm, and is such a change as the circumstances of the case justified and required. It is an image, therefore, expressive of judgment and desolation coming upon his betrayer - an image to be literally fulfilled in relation to his habitation, drawn from the desolation when a man is driven from his home, and when his dwelling-place becomes tenantless. It is not a little remarkable that this Psalm is repeatedly quoted as referring to the Messiah: Psalms 69:9, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” expressly applied to Christ in John 2:17, John 2:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” - the thing which was done to Jesus on the cross, Matthew 27:34.

The whole Psalm is expressive of deep sorrow of persecution, contempt, weeping, being forsaken, and is throughout applicable to the Messiah; with what is remarkable, not a single expression necessarily limited to David. It is not easy to ascertain whether the ancient Jews referred this Psalm to the Messiah. A part of the title to the Psalm in the Syriac version is, “It is called a prophecy concerning those things which Christ suffered, and concerning the casting away of the Jews.” The prophecy in Acts 1:25 is not to be understood of Judas alone, but of the enemies of the Messiah in general, of which Judas was one. On this principle the application to Judas of the passage by Peter is to be defended.

And his bishopric let another take - This is quoted from Psalms 109:8, “Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” This is called “a Psalm of David,” and is of the same class as Psalms 6:1-10; Psalms 22:0; Psalms 25:0; Psalms 38:0; Psalms 42:1-11; This class of Psalms is commonly supposed to have expressed David’s feelings in the calamitous times of the persecution by Saul, the rebellion of Absalom, etc. They are all also expressive of the condition of a suffering and persecuted Messiah, and many of them are applied to him in the New Testament. The general principle on which most of them are applicable is, not that David personated or typified the Messiah which is nowhere affirmed, and which can be true in no intelligible sense - but that he was placed in circumstances similar to the Messiah; was encompassed with like enemies; was persecuted in the same manner. They are expressive of high rank, office, dignity, and piety, cast down, waylaid, and encompassed with enemies.

In this way they express “general sentiments” as really applicable to the case of the Messiah as to David. They were placed in similar circumstances. The same help was needed. The same expressions would convey their feelings. The same treatment was proper for their enemies. On this principle it was that David deemed his enemy, whoever he was, unworthy of his office, and desired that it should be given to another. In like manner, Judas had rendered himself unworthy of his office, and there was the same propriety that it should be given to another. And as the office had now become vacant by the death of Judas, and according to one declaration in the Psalms, so, according to another, it was proper that it should be conferred on some other person. The word rendered “office” in the Psalm means the care, charge, business, oversight of anything. It is a word applicable to magistrates, whose care it is to see that the laws are executed; and to military men who have charge of an army, or a part of an army.

In Job 10:12 it is rendered “thy visitation.” In Numbers 4:16, “and to the office of Eleazar,” etc. In the case of David it refers to those who were entrusted with military or other offices who had treacherously perverted them to persecute and oppose him, and who had thus shown themselves unworthy of the office. The Greek word which is used here, ἐπισκοπὴν episkopēn, is taken from the Septuagint, and means the same thing as the Hebrew. It is well rendered in the margin “office, or charge.” It means charge or office in general, without in itself specifying of what kind. It is the concrete of the noun ἐπισκόπους episkopous, commonly translated “bishop,” and means his office, charge, or duty. That word means simply having the oversight of anything, and as applied to the officers of the New Testament, it denotes merely “their having charge of the affairs of the church,” without specifying the nature or the extent of their jurisdiction.

Hence, it is often interchanged with presbyter or elder, and denotes the discharge of the duties of the same office: Acts 20:28, “Take heed (presbyters or elders, Acts 20:17) to yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers” - ἐπισκόπους episkopous - bishops; Hebrews 12:15, “Looking diligently,” etc. - ἐπισκοποῦντες episkopountes; Philippians 1:1, “with the bishops and deacons”; “Paul called presbyters bishops, for they had at that time the same name” (Theodoret, as quoted by Sehleusner); 1 Peter 5:2, “Feed the flock of God (that is, you who are elders, or presbyters, 1 Peter 5:1), taking the oversight thereof” - ἐπισκοποῦντες episkopountes. These passages show that the term in the New Testament designates the supervision or care which was exercised over the church, by whomsoever performed, without specifying the nature or extent of the jurisdiction. It is scarcely necessary to add that Peter here did not intend to affirm that Judas sustained any office corresponding to what is now commonly understood by the term “bishop.”

Verse 21

Wherefore of these men - Of those who had witnessed the life and works of Christ, and who were therefore qualified to discharge the duties of the office from which Judas fell. Probably Peter refers to the seventy disciples, Luke 10:1-2.

Went in and out - A phrase signifying that he was their constant companion. It expresses in general all the actions of the life, Psalms 121:8; Deuteronomy 28:19; Deuteronomy 31:2.

Verse 22

Beginning from the baptism of John - The words “beginning from” in the original refer to the Lord Jesus. The meaning may be thus expressed, “during all the time in which the Lord Jesus, beginning (his ministry) at the time when he was baptized by John, went in and out among us, until the time when he was taken up,” etc. From those who had during that time been the constant companions of the Lord Jesus must one be taken, who would thus be a witness of his whole ministry.

Must one be ordained - It is fit or proper that one should be ordained. The reason of this was, that Jesus had originally chosen the number twelve for this work, and as one of them had fallen, it was proper that the vacancy should be filled by some person equally qualified for the office. The reason why it was proper that he should be taken from the seventy disciples was, that they had been particularly distinguished by Jesus himself, and had been witnesses of most of his public life, Luke 10:1-16. The word “ordained” with us has a fixed and definite signification. It means to set apart to a sacred office with proper forms and solemnities, commonly by the imposition of hands. But this is not, of necessity, the meaning of this passage. The Greek word usually denoting “ordination” is not used here. The expression is literally, “must one be, or become, γενέσθαι genesthai, a witness with us of his resurrection.” The expression does not imply that he must be set apart in any particular manner, but simply that one should be designated or appointed for this specific purpose, to be a witness of the resurrection of Christ.

Verse 23

And they appointed two - They proposed, or, as we should say, nominated two. Literally, they placed two, or made them to stand forth, as persons do who are candidates for office. These two were probably-more distinguished by prudence, wisdom, piety, and age than the others, and they were so nearly equal in qualifications that they could not determine which was the best suited for the office.

Joseph called Barsabas ... - It is not certainly known what the name Barsabas denotes. The Syriac word “Bar” means “son,” and the word “Sabas” has been translated “an oath, rest, quiet, or captivity.” Why the name was given to Joseph is not known but probably it was the family name - Joseph son of Sabas. Some have conjectured that this was the same man who, in Acts 4:36, is called Barnabas. But of this there is no proof. Lightfoot supposes that he was the son of Alpheus and brother of James the Less, and that he was chosen on account of his relationship to the family of the Lord Jesus.

Was surnamed Justus - Who was called Justus. This is a Latin name, meaning just, and was probably given him on account of his distinguished integrity. It was not uncommon among the Jews for a man to have several names, Matthew 10:3.

And Matthias - Nothing is known of the family of this man, or of his character, further than that he was numbered with the apostles, and shared their lot in the toils, the persecutions, and the honors of preaching the gospel to mankind.

Verse 24

And they prayed - As they could not agree on the individual, they invoked the direction of God in their choice - an example which should be followed in every selection of an individual to exercise the duties of the sacred office of the ministry.

Which knowest the hearts of all men - This is often declared to be the special prerogative of God, Jeremiah 17:10, “I, Yahweh, search the heart,” etc.; Psalms 139:1, Psalms 139:23; 1 Chronicles 28:9. Yet this attribute is also expressly ascribed to Jesus Christ, Revelation 2:18; compare 23, “These things saith the Son of God - I am he which searcheth the reins and the hearts”; John 2:25; John 6:64; John 16:19. There are strong reasons for supposing that the apostles on this occasion addressed this prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ:

  1. The name Lord - Κύριος Kurios - is the common appellation which they gave to him, Acts 2:36; Acts 7:59-60; Act 10:36; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 11:8, et al.

(2)We are told that they worshipped him, or rendered him divine honors after his ascension, Luke 24:52.

(3)The disciples were accustomed to address him after his crucifixion by the names Lord or God indifferently, Acts 1:6; John 20:28; Acts 7:59.

(4)This was a matter pertaining especially to the church which the Lord Jesus had redeemed, and “to his own arrangement” in regard to it. He had chosen the apostles; he had given them their commission; he had fixed their number; and, what is worthy of special remark here, he had been the companion of the very men here designated as candidates for the office, and knew their qualifications for this work. If the apostles ever called on the Lord Jesus after his ascension, this was a case in which they would be likely to do it. That it was done is clear from the account of the death of Stephen, Acts 7:59-60. And in this important matter of ordaining a new apostle to be a witness for Jesus Christ, nothing was more natural than that they should address him, though bodily absent, as they would assuredly have done if he were present. But if on this occasion they did actually address Christ, then two things clearly follow. First, that it is proper to render him divine homage, agreeably to the uniform declarations of the Scripture: John 5:23, “That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father”; Hebrews 1:6, “And let all the angels of God worship him”; Philippians 2:10-11; Rev 5:8-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12. Secondly, he must be divine. To none other but God can religious homage be rendered; and none other can be described as knowing the hearts of all people. The reason why they appealed to him on this occasion as the searcher of the heart was doubtless the great importance of the work to which the successor of Judas was to be called. One apostle of fair external character had proved a traitor; and, with this fact before them, they appealed to the Saviour himself to select one who would be true to him, and not bring dishonor upon his cause.

Show whether ... - Show which of them.

Thou hast chosen - Which of the two thou hast judged to be best qualified for the work.

Verse 25

That he may take part of this ministry - The word rendered “part” - κλῆρον klēron - is the same which in the next verse is rendered lots. It properly means a lot or portion the portion divided to a man, or assigned to him by casting lots; and also the instrument or means by which the lot is determined. The former is its meaning here; the office, or portion of apostolic work, which would fall to him by taking the place of Judas.

Ministry and apostleship - This is an instance of the figure of speech hendiadys, when two words are used to express one thing. It means the apostolic ministry. See instances in Genesis 1:14, “Let them be for signs and for seasons,” that is, signs of seasons; Acts 23:6, “Hope and resurrection of the dead,” that is, hope of the resurrection of the dead.

From which Judas by transgression fell - Literally, went aside - παρέβη parebē - “as opposed to the idea of adhering faithfully to the character and service which his apostleship required of him” (Prof. Hackett). The transgression referred to was his treason and suicide.

That he might go to his own place - These words by different interpreters have been referred both to Matthias and Judas. Those who refer them to Matthias say that they mean that Judas fell that Matthias might go to his own place, that is, to a place for which he was suited, or well qualified. But to this there are many objections:

1. The apostolic office could with no propriety be called, in reference to Matthias, his own place, until it was actually conferred upon him.

2. There is no instance in which the expression to go to his own place is applied to a successor in office.

3. It is not true that the design or reason why Judas fell was to make way for another. He fell by his crimes; his avarice, his voluntary and enormous wickedness.

4. The former part of the sentence contains this sentiment: “Another must be appointed to this office which the death of Judas has made vacant.” If this expression, “that he might go,” etc., refers to the successor of Judas, it expresses the same sentiment, but more obscurely.

5. The obvious and natural meaning of the phrase is to refer it to Judas. But those who suppose that it refers to Judas differ greatly about its meaning. Some suppose that it refers to his own house, and that the meaning is, that he left the apostolic office to return to his own house; and they appeal to Numbers 24:25. But it is not true that Judas did this; nor is there the least proof that it was his design. Others refer it to the grave, as the place of man, where all must lie; and particularly as an ignominious place where it was proper that a traitor like Judas should lie. But there is no example where the word “place” is used in this sense, nor is there an instance where a man, by being buried, is said to return to his own or proper place. Others have supposed that the manner of his death by hanging is referred to as his own or his proper place. But this interpretation is evidently an unnatural and forced one. The word “place” cannot be applied to an act of self-murder. It denotes “habitation, abode, situation in which to remain”; not an act. These are the only interpretations of the passage which can be suggested, except the common one of referring it to the abode of Judas in the world of woe. This might be said to be his own, as he had prepared himself for it, and as it was proper that he who betrayed his Lord should dwell there. This interpretation may be defended by the following considerations:

1. It is the obvious and natural meaning of the words. It commends itself by its simplicity and its evident connection with the context. It has in all ages been the common interpretation; nor has any other been adopted, except in cases where there was a theory to be defended about future punishment. Unless people had previously made up their minds not to believe in future punishment, no one would ever have thought of any other interpretation. This fact alone throws strong light on the meaning of the passage.

2. It accords with the crimes of Judas, and with all that we know of him. What the future doom of Judas would be was not unknown to the apostles. Jesus Christ had expressly declared this - “it had been good for that man if he had not been born”; a declaration which could not be true if, after any limited period of suffering, he was at last admitted to eternal happiness. See Matthew 26:24, and the notes on that place. This declaration was made in the presence of the eleven apostles, at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and at a time when their attention was absorbed with deep interest in what Christ said; and it was therefore a declaration which they would not be likely to forget. As they knew the fate of Judas beforehand, nothing was more natural for them than to speak of it familiarly as a thing which had actually occurred when he betrayed his Lord and hung himself.

3. The expression “to go to his own place” is one which is used by the ancient writers to denote “going to an eternal destiny.” Thus, the Jewish Tract, Baal Turim, on Numbers 24:25, says, “Balaam went to his own place, that is, to Gehenna,” to hell. Thus, the Targum, or Chaldee Paraphrase on Ecclesiastes 6:6, says,” Although the days of a man's life were two thousand years, and he did not study the Law, and do justice, in the day of his death his soul shall descend to hell, to the one place where all sinners go.” Thus, Ignatius in the Epistle to the Magnesians says, “Because all things have an end, the two things death and life shall lie down together, and each one shall go to his own place.” The phrase his own place means the place or abode which was suited for him, which was his appropriate home.

Judas was not in a place which befitted his character when he was an apostle; he was not in such a place in the church; he would not be in heaven. Hell was the only place which was suited to the man of avarice and of treason. And if this be the true interpretation of this passage, then it follows:

1. That there will be such a thing as future, eternal punishment. There is certainly one man in hell, and ever will be. If there is one there, for the same reason there may be others. All objections to the doctrine are removed by this single fact; and it cannot be true that all people will be saved.

2. Each individual in eternity will find his own proper place. The punishment of hell is not an arbitrary appointment. Every man will go to the place for which his character is suited. The hypocrite is not suited for heaven. The man of pride, and avarice, and pollution, and falsehood, is not suited for heaven. The place adapted to such people is hell; and the design of the judgment will be to assign to each individual his proper abode in the eternal world. It would not be fit that the holy and pure should dwell forever in the same place with the unholy and impure; and the Lord Jesus will come to assign to each his appropriate eternal habitation.

3. The sinner will have no cause of complaint. If he is assigned to his proper place, he cannot complain. If he is unfit for heaven, he cannot complain that he is excluded. And if his character and feelings are such as make it proper that he should find his eternal abode among the enemies of God, then he must expect that a God of justice and equity will assign him such a doom. But,

4. This will not alleviate his pain; it will deepen his woe. He will have the eternal consciousness that that, and that only, is his place - the abode for which he is suited. The prison is no less dreadful because a man is conscious that he deserves it. The gallows is not the less terrible because the man knows that he deserves to die. And the consciousness of the sinner that he is unfit for heaven; that there is not a solitary soul there with whom he could have sympathy or friendship; that he is fit for hell, and hell only, will be an ingredient of eternal bitterness in the cup of woe that awaits him. Let not the sinner then hope to escape; for God will assuredly appoint his residence in that world to which his character here is adapted.

The character and end of Judas is one of the most important and instructive things in history. It teaches us:

1. That Christ may employ wicked men for important purposes in his kingdom. See the notes on Acts 1:17. He does no violence to their freedom; he permits them to act as they please, but brings important ends out of their conduct. One of the most conclusive arguments for the pure character of Jesus Christ is drawn from the silent testimony of Judas.

2. The character of Judas was eminently base and wicked. He was influenced by one of the worst human passions; and yet he concealed it from all the apostles. It was remarkable that any man should have thought of making money in such a band of men; but avarice will show itself everywhere.

3. We see the effects of covetousness in the church. It led to the betraying of Jesus Christ, and to his death; and it has often betrayed the cause of pure religion since. There is no single human passion that has done so much evil in the church of God as this. It may be consistent with external decency and order, and in accordance with the principles on which the world acts, and which it approves, and it may therefore be indulged without disgrace, while open and acknowledged vices would expose their possessors to shame and ruin. And yet it paralyses and betrays religion probably more than any single propensity of man.

4. The character of an avaricious man in the church will be developed. Opportunities will occur when it will be seen and known by what principle he is influenced. So it was with Achan Joshua 7:21; so it was with Judas; and so it will be with all. Occasions will occur which will test the character, and show what manner of spirit a man is of. Every appeal to a man’s benevolence, every call upon his charity, shows what spirit influences him - whether he is actuated by the love of gold, or by the love of Christ and his cause.

Verse 26

And they gave forth their lots - Some have supposed that this means they voted. But to this interpretation there are insuperable objections:

  1. The word “lots,” κλήρους klērous, is not used to express votes, or suffrage.
  2. The expression “the lot fell upon” is not consistent with the notion of voting. It is commonly expressive of casting lots.
  3. Casting lots was common among the Jews on important and difficult occasions, and it was natural that the apostles should resort to it in this.

Thus, David divided the priests by lot, 1 Chronicles 24:5. The land of Canaan was divided by lot, Numbers 26:55; Joshua 15:0; Joshua 16:1-10; Joshua 17:0; etc. Jonathan, son of Saul, was detected as having violated his father’s command. and as bringing calamity on the Israelites by lot, 1 Samuel 14:41-42. Achan was detected by lot, Joshua 7:16-18. In these instances the use of the lot was regarded as a solemn appeal to God for his direct interference in cases which they could not themselves decide. Proverbs 16:33, “the lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” The choice of an apostle was an event of the same kind, and was regarded as a solemn appeal to God for his direction and guidance in a case which the apostles could not determine. The manner in which this was done is not certainly known. The common mode of casting lots was to write the names of the persons on pieces of stone, wood, etc., and put them in one urn, and the name of the office, portion, etc., on others.

These were then placed in an urn with other pieces of stone, etc., which were blank. The names were then drawn at random, and also the other pieces, and this settled the case. The casting of a lot is determined by laws of nature as regularly as anything else. There is properly no chance in it. We do not know how a die may turn up; but this does not imply that it will turn up without any regard to rule, or at haphazard. We cannot trace the influences which may determine either this or that side to come up; but it is done by regular and proper laws, and according to the circumstances of position, force, etc., in which it is cast. Still, although it does not imply any special or miraculous interposition of Providence; though it may not be absolutely wrong, in cases which cannot otherwise be determined, to use the lot, yet it does not follow that it is proper often to make this appeal.

Almost all cases of doubt can be determined more satisfactorily in some other way than by the lot. The habit of appealing to it engenders the love of hazards and of games; leads to heart-burnings, to jealousies, to envy, to strife, and to dishonesty. Still less does the example of the apostles authorize games of hazard, or lotteries, which are positively evil, and attended with ruinous consequences, apart from any inquiry about the lawfulness of the lot. They either originate in, or promote covetousness, neglect of regular industry, envy, jealousy, disappointment, dissipation, bankruptcy, falsehood, and despair. What is gained by one is lost by another, and both the gain and the loss promote some of the worst passions of man boasting, triumph, self-confidence, indolence, dissipation, on the one hand; and envy, disappointment, sullenness, desire of revenge, remorse, and ruin on the other. God intended that man should live by sober toil. All departures from this great law of our social existence lead to ruin.

Their lots - The lots which were to decide their case. They are called theirs, because they were to determine which of them should be called to the apostolic office.

The lot fell - This is an expression applicable to casting lots, not to voting.

He was numbered - By the casting of the lot, συγκατεψηφίζη sugkatepsēphisthē. This word is from ψῆφος psēphos - a calculus, or pebble, by which votes were given or lots were cast. It means, that by the result of the lot he was reckoned as an apostle. Nothing further is related of Matthias in the New Testament. Where he labored, and when and where he died, is unknown; nor is there any tradition on which reliance is to be placed. The election of Matthias, however, throws some light on the organization of the church.

1. He was chosen to fill the place vacated by Judas, and for a specific purpose, to be a witness of the resurrection of Christ. There is no mention of any other design. It was not to ordain men exclusively, or to rule over the churches, but to be a witness to an important fact.

2. There is no intimation that it was designed that there should be successors to the apostles in the special duties of the apostolic office. The election was for a definite object, and was therefore temporary. It was to fill up the number originally appointed by Christ. When the purpose for which he was appointed was accomplished, the special part of the apostolic work ceased of course.

3. There could be no succession in future ages to the special apostolic office. They were to be witnesses of the work of Christ, and when the desired effect resulting from such a witnessing was accomplished, the office itself would cease. Hence, there is no record that after this the church even pretended to appoint successors to the apostles, and hence, no ministers of the gospel can now pretend to be their successors in the unique and original design of the appointment of the apostles.

4. The only other apostle mentioned in the New Testament is the apostle Paul, not appointed as the successor of the others, not with any special design except to be an apostle to the Gentiles, as the others were to the Jews, and appointed for the same end, to testify that Jesus Christ was alive, and that he had seen him after he rose, 1Co 15:8; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Corinthians 9:15; Acts 22:8-9, Acts 22:14-15; Acts 26:17-18. The ministers of religion, therefore, are successors of the apostles, not in their special office as witnesses, but as preachers of the Word, and as appointed to establish, to organize, to edify, and to rule the churches. The unique work of the apostleship ceased with their death. The ordinary work of the ministry, which they held in common with all others who preach the gospel, will continue to the end of time.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-1.html. 1870.
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