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A Look Back
“The first account” that Luke “composed” is his Gospel, which, like this book of Acts, he wrote to a certain “Theophilus”. The contents of his Gospel concern everything the Lord Jesus both did and taught when He was bodily on earth. Luke speaks in this context about what the Lord “began” to do and teach. This means that He still continues to do so, even though He is no longer bodily visible and tangibly present. The work is not yet finished. We see that in this book, which describes how He works in a powerful way from heaven through His Spirit on earth. He still does that, today also through us.
Luke has described in his Gospel what the Lord began “to do and teach”. Doing and teaching belong together. With Him ‘doing’ comes first. He was the vivid embodiment of what He taught. He Himself did what He taught others. His actions were no different than His words. We often say more than we show in practice. Our words often go beyond our actions. A holy life gives tremendous power to what we preach.
Luke has described in his Gospel the life of the Lord on earth until the day of His ascension. In this first chapter of Acts he describes that ascension again because it is the starting point for this book. The ascension of the Lord is decisive for everything else that happens on earth through and for Him. The importance of His ascension is also shown by the fact that the word ‘taken up’ appears four times in this chapter (Acts 1:2; 9; 11; 22).
Luke also points out that after His resurrection, just as during His life until His death, the Lord Jesus did everything “by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38; Heb 9:14). It reminds us that we too will possess the Holy Spirit after our resurrection as before (Jn 14:16). By the Holy Spirit, He gave His commands to the apostles chosen by Him when He began to travel through Israel (Lk 6:13). To encourage them in that mission, He manifested Himself to them alive after He had suffered.
His disciples needed that encouragement because they were depressed by what had happened to Him. They had believed that He was the Messiah Who would establish His promised kingdom. But instead of reigning, He suffered and died. They thought it was all over, but He presented Himself alive to them and to many others as well.
He also gave “many convincing proofs” that it was really Him. He appeared on all sorts of occasions, also showing in words and deeds that He was the same Lord Who had been dead, but was now alive. We can read in the Gospels how He made Himself known to the two disciples going to Emmaus, how He appeared to His disciples several times, how He restored Peter in his service for Him, how He comforted Mary Magdalene.
It is also our calling to present ourselves ‘alive’. This means for us to manifest Christ in our lives. It means that we live for God, that we are visible to people and that we do not resemble the dead (Eph 5:14).
The period in which the Lord presented Himself to His disciples was “forty days”. The number forty is the number of trial. For example, Israel was in the wilderness for forty years and the Lord Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. During those forty days, the Lord spoke with them about “the things concerning the kingdom of God”. The kingdom of God is the kingdom over which God rules through His Son. That kingdom was promised in the Old Testament, but when the kingdom came in the Person of His King, He was rejected.
Thus, the kingdom has been postponed as far as its public appearance on earth is concerned. Until it will be established on earth, it takes on a hidden form. The kingdom of God has been established since the ascension of Christ in the hearts of people who acknowledge Him as their Lord. His reign over their lives becomes visible when they allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. In such lives, “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” becomes visible (Rom 14:17b).
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
The Lord commands His disciples to remain in Jerusalem. He gives that command while He is gathered with them. He knows His disciples. If it would take a little too long, they would become impatient again and go back to their daily work (cf. Jn 21:3). But they must wait patiently for the promise of the Father. He reminds them that He has already spoken to them about this on a previous occasion (Jn 14:16-17; 26; Jn 15:26).
John the baptist also spoke about baptism with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11). On that occasion he also pointed out the difference between his baptism with water and the baptism with the Holy Spirit with which the Lord Jesus baptizes. The Lord makes that comparison here as well. The coming of the Holy Spirit is also a baptism, but it is of a completely different nature than that of John. John baptized with water. That was tangible water, on earth and of the earth, in which someone was immersed.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit does take place on earth, but it comes from heaven and connects to heaven. It is not a tangible event, although there are visible accompanying signs. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is above all an inner happening: the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believers. At the same time it is also an external event: the Holy Spirit is poured out, so to speak, immersing the whole company in the Holy Spirit. Nowhere is there any mention of an individual being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
The Lord does not mention here the baptism with fire of which John the baptist does speak (Mt 3:11). Baptism with fire is not connected with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but represents judgment and is only for the unbelievers. This judgment will come when the Lord returns to earth.
The Kingdom and Witnesses
A meeting with the Lord is a great opportunity to ask questions. The disciples make use of it. They do not ask questions about the Holy Spirit, but about the kingdom. They would like to know if He is going to do now what they have always looked forward to.
Their question shows that they still think of an earthly kingdom, perhaps precisely because He has risen. With His resurrection their old expectations have also risen again. Perhaps they have thought of Joel 2 where the coming of the Spirit is connected with the coming of the kingdom (Joel 2:28). The Christian form of the kingdom, the hidden form, is not discussed here.
Their question gives the Lord the opportunity to tell them what is going to happen and how much the situation has changed compared to the time before His suffering. The kingdom in its public form has been postponed until a time that the Father has established. The Lord Jesus has for them a task that suits the situation that has arisen. They should not worry about the time of the restoration of the kingdom. Nor should we speculate about the length of the new time period that started with the ascension of the Lord Jesus.
We also find the expression “the times and the epochs” in 1 Thessalonians 5 (1Thes 5:1; cf. Dan 2:21; Ecc 3:1). There it is about the question what will happen to the earth according to God’s plan. Here it is about the question when the kingdom will be established. Both ‘times’ and ‘epochs’ refer to certain periods of time. They are synonyms which complement each other. But there is a remarkable difference.
‘Times’ are about duration, about something that happens after a certain period of time. In Greek, the word chronos is used. We recognize that word in our word ‘chronometer’, a device that measures how long something has lasted. For example, we read in Galatians 4 that God sent His Son in “the fullness of time (chronos)” (Gal 4:4). This means that the Lord Jesus came to earth after a certain time had passed and God considered the time had come for sending His Son.
On ‘epochs’ it is not about duration, but about what characterizes a certain time, about the character of that time. In Greek, the word kairos is used here. Thus, there is a time when man lived without a law (Rom 5:13). After some time God gave His people the law through Moses and they lived under it (Jn 7:19). In “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24) He let the nations go their own way. These different time periods, which sometimes lie one after the other and sometimes coincide, all have their own characteristics. Each time has made clear who man is and that he fails completely in serving God. All these different times end in the “fullness of time” (plural form of kairos) (Eph 1:10), that is the time of the millennial realm of peace. That time will be characterized by peace, because then the Prince of Peace will reign. Then will come “that times (plural form of kairos) of refreshing” (Acts 3:19).
After the Lord has said what they should not concern themselves with, He indicates what they should concern themselves with, namely being His witnesses. Before He gives them that command, He first promises them that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He has already promised them the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:4-5, but here (Acts 1:8) He says that the Holy Spirit will enable them to fulfill their commission. The power of the Holy Spirit is needed to give a truly Christian testimony.
‘Witness’ is a key word in this book of the Bible. It occurs around thirty times. We do not all have the gift of an evangelist, but we can all be witnesses. The result is that we save people (Pro 14:25a).
The Lord says that they should start with witnessing in Jerusalem, the city where He was crucified. Then the circle widens and also Judea and Samaria come under the reach of God’s Word. Finally, He lets the light of His gospel shine even to the remotest part of the earth (Isa 49:6).
Practically for us, it means that we must first give our testimony in the house and street where we live and in the place where we work (cf. Lk 8:39). Then the Lord can put us into a wider circle as His witnesses. The light that shines brightest at home shines the farthest. By mentioning the ever-growing circle where the testimony concerning Him is given, the Lord also gives a subdivision of the book of Acts:
1. The testimony in Jerusalem we have in Acts 1-7.
2. The testimony in Judea and Samaria runs from Acts 8:1 till Acts 9:31.
3. The testimony to the end of the earth can be found in the rest of the book, in Acts 9:32 till Acts 28:31.
With the command to His disciples to be His witnesses, the Lord’s task on earth is complete. He is taken up before the eyes of the disciples. It is a spectacular event that is described in a simple and calm way. It is not a sudden taking away as with Enoch (Heb 11:5) or being picked up by a fiery chariot and fiery horses as with Elijah (2Kgs 2:1; 11). The cloud that takes Him away from their eyes will be the cloud that some disciples also saw when they were on the mountain of transfiguration (Lk 9:34). The cloud is the symbol of the glory of God.
When they see the Lord Jesus ascending to heaven like this, it must have been an extraordinary sight. They gaze after Him until He enters the cloud. Did they look sad, adoring, surprised? It must have been a mixture of these feelings.
As they stood gazing into the sky, looking at the Lord Who is going away from them, two men joined them. They are two angels. We read nothing of the disciples’ amazement at the appearance and words of the angels. The angels call them back to order.
The question “why do you stand looking into the sky?” can perhaps be taken as an admonition that also applies to us. It is not the intention that we, now that the Lord is in heaven, should wait for His return with our arms crossed. There is work to be done. Certainly, it is important to keep expecting Him, but a living expectation of Him will encourage us to be active.
The angels speak of the return of the Lord Jesus as a promise. This promise does not concern His coming for the believers to take them up (1Thes 4:15-18), but concerns His return on earth. He who then returns is “this Jesus”, and no one else. He will also return to the same place from where He went to heaven, the Mount of Olives (Zec 14:4). He will come back visibly; He will come back in the clouds and He will return with power and great glory (Mt 24:30). All this is presented to them as hope in addition to the command of Acts 1:8.
Persevering in Prayer
The disciples do what the Lord has told them to do. They do not go to their own homes again (cf. Jn 20:10), but they leave the Mount of Olives and go to Jerusalem. They do not have to walk far. The distance is given according to the Jewish way of measuring, a sabbatical journey. It is the distance the Jews were allowed to walk on the Sabbath, about eight hundred meters. Everything still breathes the atmosphere of Judaism.
The place where they go is a well-known place. In that room the Lord Jesus showed them that He wants to have fellowship with them and stated the conditions for this (Jn 13:1-20). There He also told them about the house of the Father and the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:1-12). It is “the upper room”, that is to say an exalted place. It is the place where He makes His thoughts known.
In the first place the eleven apostles are gathered there. Luke mentions the name of all eleven. Peter is again mentioned as the first of the whole group and therefore also as the first of the first group of four, Philip as the first of the second group of four and James as the first of the third group which now consists of only three men because Judas Iscariot is missing. For Judas Iscariot another one will be chosen.
The first thing that is mentioned about the apostles is that they persist in prayer. That is a beautiful beginning. The first meeting after the ascension of the Lord Jesus is dedicated to prayer. All the apostles are present. They are praying continuously and also with one mind. The expression “with one mind” appears eleven times in the New Testament, of which ten times in Acts (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:46; Acts 4:24; Acts 5:12; Acts 7:57; Acts 8:6; Acts 12:20; Acts 15:25; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:29). The eleventh time we read it in Romans 15 (Rom 15:6). One-mindedness is the practice of Psalm 133 (Psa 133:1-3). There is no question now as to who is the greatest.
This togetherness so beautifully experienced in persistent prayer together is the prelude to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thus they are together for ten days, to pray, among other things, for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13). This is no different for us if we want to experience His mighty workings. No service goes well without being preceded by prayer.
N.B. In the book of Acts prayer often occurs. It runs like a thread through the book: Acts 1:14; 24; Acts 2:42; Acts 4:24; Acts 6:4; 6; Acts 7:60; Acts 8:15; Acts 9:11; 40; Acts 10:2; 9; Acts 12:5; Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23; Acts 16:13; 25; Acts 20:36; Acts 21:5; Acts 27:35; Acts 28:8.
At this prayer of the apostles there are also some women present, of whom Mary, the mother of the Lord, is mentioned by name. It is the last time she is mentioned in the New Testament. She prays with them. There are no prayers to her, as is very wrongly taught and done in the roman-catholic church. She is called “the mother of Jesus” and not “mother of God”, as the roman-catholic church so wrongly teaches.
Apart from the apostles and the women also the brothers of the Lord are present. At first they were unbelievers (Jn 7:5), but later they accepted Him as the Son of God. It seems that they have been convinced of this by His resurrection.
The End of Judas
During the meeting, at which about one hundred and twenty people are present, Peter stands up. He stands up “in the midst of the brethren”. It is clear from the rest of the report that ‘brethren’ refers above all to the apostles, because it is to them that he speaks. Peter did not take the floor to break the silence. What he has to say is a message from Scripture. He is guided by Scripture. His understanding is open (Lk 24:45) and therefore he understands Scripture, although the Holy Spirit has not yet been poured out. He has received the insight of the new man from the Lord when He breathed on him (Jn 20:22).
He also believes unconditionally in the inspiration of the Old Testament by the Holy Spirit. What David said (Psa 41:9; Jn 13:18), Peter attributes to the Holy Spirit Who used David’s mouth to foretell the betrayal of Judas. This does not mean that David was aware that he was talking about Judas, but the Holy Spirit gives an application which goes beyond the actual situation which David brought to his statement. What David said, he said about someone who at first was his friend, on whom he trusted, but who later became his opponent. Through the insight of the same Holy Spirit, Peter correctly applies what David said and states that Judas was the Lord’s main adversary. He was the leader of the gang that came to arrest Him.
It may have been difficult for Peter to say that Judas was counted “among us”. Judas had gone after the Lord together with them and also had his part in the service the Lord had dedicated to them. As apostles they never had any suspicion against Judas. That he manifested himself in this way must have been shocking for the apostles.
It is not clear whether the Acts 1:18-19, which deal with the dramatic end of Judas, are words of Peter or an explanation of Luke. We read that this false apostle was guided by money, which is called “the price of his wickedness”. It is the same wage as the one Balaam loved (2Pet 2:15). It is the wages a person earns when he leaves the straight path.
By these wages, Judas has acquired a field, without having possessed it in person. It is the field that the chief priests bought from the money that Judas had earned with his betrayal and that he had thrown back into the temple (Mt 27:3-8). However, the money remained his money and the field became his field.
Judas, the false apostle, comes to his end dramatically. He hanged himself, fell headlong, and burst open in the middle so that all his intestines gushed out (Mt 27:3-8). His depraved interior has come out in all its horror in this judgment. The terrible end of Judas has become known throughout Jerusalem.
In their own language they then speak of that field as “Hakeldama”. The meaning of this word is: Field of Blood. Twice there is a history that reminds us of a field of blood, both times (in pictures) in connection with the blood of Christ: in Genesis 4 (Gen 4:8-15) and in Deuteronomy 21 (Deu 21:1-9).
Choosing the Successor of Judas
Peter knows that the words “written in the book of Psalms” (Psa 69:25; Psa 109:8) apply to Judas, although his name is not mentioned there. This also means that what happened to Judas is not a victory of Satan. Judas was only used to fulfill the Word of God. That does not detract from the personal responsibility that Judas had. He opened himself to Satan.
The quotation from Psalm 69 announces his judgment (Psa 69:25), while the quotation from Psalm 109 speaks about the succession of the vacant place among the twelve (Psa 109:8). In their choice of a successor, the apostles are guided by Scripture (Acts 1:16) and they also want to obey it. They believe in the inspiration of Scripture and in its practical application in their situation.
This is also important to us. The power of Scripture to guide us in all kinds of situations in the church today is undiminished. However, the question is whether we still believe this with the same conviction as the disciples did back then. Judging by our knowledge of Scripture and giving our own interpretation of it, it is to be feared that we have deviated far from the faith of the first disciples.
Peter not only has insight in Scripture, he also has insight in the conditions that the successor of Judas has to meet. He knows that there are men, apart from the twelve whom the Lord Jesus has chosen for a special service, who have also joined Him as His disciples. Such disciples have also come to know Him as Someone Who “went in and out” among them, indicating the free way of dealing the Lord had with His disciples.
The period of the public service of the Lord Jesus started at the baptism of John and continued until His ascension. To be counted among the apostles someone had to have stayed with Him all that time. If someone fulfilled that condition, he was also a witness of His resurrection and that is what it is mainly about.
It is not about being able to bear witness to the Lord’s walk, but to His resurrection. Here the importance of the resurrection is underlined. It must be possible to bear witness to it. The resurrection occupies an important place in Acts. Without the resurrection, preaching and teaching have no power or clarity.
There are two men who meet the conditions to take the place of Judas. It is the privileged place from which Judas fell because he loved the money. His choice for the money was a fatal one and made him go to his own horrible place in eternal ruin (Jn 17:12). The two candidates are introduced to the Lord. They may have been part of the seventy sent by Him (Lk 10:1).
After consulting the Scriptures and being guided by them and applying the conditions, they now present the matter to the Lord in prayer. Reading God’s Word and prayer always belong together. Supported by the Scriptures, they ask if He wants to choose one of the two who meet the conditions. The apostles do not determine themselves who should take the place of Judas. They leave the choice to the Lord. Just as He spent the night in prayer before He chose the twelve (Lk 6:12-13), so the disciples here pray for the right choice.
They address the Lord as “the Knower of all hearts” (cf. Acts 15:8). He alone knows the heart of every human being and knows what is in it for Him. This attitude of dependence and surrender to His will is of decisive importance for learning His will. They also say in their prayers why they come to this prayer. They justify themselves as it were by referring to the events. The Lord knows all that, but He wants us to tell Him why we ask Him to make a decision. It is important for us to put into words our motives to ask for something.
After having addressed the Lord in prayer as the One “who knows the hearts of all men’, they cast lots. At that time, it was still a lawful means to get to know God’s will (Pro 16:33). It is also the last time we read about the use of castings lots in the Bible. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is no more mention of casting lots. When the Holy Spirit has come, He makes God’s will clear (Acts 13:2).
The lot falls to Matthias. He is added to the eleven. As a result there can be spoken of ‘the twelve’ again (Acts 6:2). By using the expression ‘the twelve’, the Holy Spirit makes it clear that the choice has been acknowledged by God.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13