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THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN PALESTINE; OR ITS PROGRESS FROM JERUSALEM TO ANTIOCH.—THE ACTS OF PETER
INTRODUCTORY—PREPARATIONS FOR THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH
1. The Two Treatises; or, the connection between the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke (Acts 1:1-2).
2. The Forty Days; or, the Interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ (Acts 1:3-5).
3. The Taking Up of Jesus; or, the Exaltation of the Church’s Head (Acts 1:6-11).
4. The Ten Days before Pentecost; or, Waiting for the Promise (Acts 1:12-14).
5. Completing the Apostleship; or, the Election of Matthias (Acts 1:15-26).
Acts 1:1. The former treatise have I made.—Better, the first (πρῶτος for πρότερος, as in John 1:15-30, unless πρῶτος was intended to point to a τρίτος: Ramsay) treatise (λόγος in ancient written speech meaning the separate book rolls in a connected work—Holtzmann) I made. That the first treatise was the Gospel of Luke the name of its recipient (Luke 1:3) declares.
Acts 1:2. Through the Holy Ghost.—Should be connected with “given commandments”—see John 20:22 (Meyer, Weiss, Overbeck, Spitta, and others), rather than with either “chosen” (De Wette, Wendt, Holtzmann, Zöckler, and others)—though see Acts 20:28—or “taken up,” the Ascension never being in Scripture ascribed to the Spirit, but commonly represented as the work of the Father (Acts 2:33; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 2:9). though sometimes depicted as the free act of Christ Himself (John 20:17; Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 1:3).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 1:1-2
The Two Treatises; or, The Connection between the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke
I. Their names.—
1. Of the former treatise, the Gospel of Luke. Recognised by being addressed like the Acts to Theophilus.
2. Of the latter, the Acts of the Apostles. In some MSS. “Acts of all the Apostles, “Acts of the Holy Apostles,” or some other such variation. Neither title originated with the author of the writing, but was afterwards appended when the writing found a place in the Canon.
II. Their contents.—
1. Of the former, the earthly, or pre-ascension ministry of Christ. Not everything Christ said and did (see John 21:25), but as many of His deeds and words as were needful to furnish an adequate picture of Him as a teacher and worker.
2. Of the latter, the post-ascension or heavenly ministry of Jesus. The word “began” suggests that Christ’s activity did not terminate with His taking up, but continued after. Hence the Acts, which records that activity, is neither a full series of apostolical biographies, the actions and utterances of Peter and Paul only being narrated at any length, while of the other apostles, the sons of Zebedee alone are incidentally mentioned; nor a complete Church history, since it leaves untold much that happened, and carries the story of the Church no further than the time when Paul reaches Rome; but an account of Christ’s doing and teaching since His Ascension through the instrumentality of the two above-named Apostles, their colleagues, and assistants (Stephen, Philip, James the Brother of the Lord, Barnabas, Mark, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, and others), first, in founding and developing the Church at Jerusalem and within the Holy Land, and, secondly, in extending and establishing it among the Gentiles in Asia Minor and in Europe.
III. Their author.—The writer of the “we” passages in the Acts (Acts 16:10-11, Acts 20:5-6).
1. Not Timothy, whom the writer of the Acts distinguishes from himself (Acts 16:10).
2. Still less Silas, an opinion having no better support than the resemblance ingeniously detected between Silvanus (from silva, a wood) and Lucanus (from lucus, a grove).
3. But Luke, a physician by profession (Colossians 4:14), who joined Paul as a companion in travel at Troas (Acts 16:10), and was with him as a fellow-worker at Rome (2 Timothy 4:11; Phil. 24). See Introduction.
IV. Their recipient.—Theophilus. Possibly his baptismal name (Ramsay). Most likely a Gentile Christian, probably a member of the Roman Church; manifestly a patron of learning and an inquirer after truth. That his social rank was high may be inferred from the epithet “most excellent” given him by Luke (Acts 1:3)—a title of honour used by Paul in addressing Felix (Acts 23:26) and Festus (Acts 26:25).
1. The inter-connection of the various books of Scripture.
2. The purely natural way in which the existing Scriptures arose.
3. The value of Scripture independent of a knowledge of the authorship of its several parts.
4. The excellence of grace in persons of high station.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 1:1. The Earthly Ministry of Christ; or, the work and wisdom (the doing and doctrine) of Jesus.
I. The Work of Jesus.—
1. Personal.—He fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).
2. Philanthropical.—He healed all manner of sickness and disease among the people (Matthew 4:23; Acts 10:38).
3. Legal.—He made atonement for the sins of men (John 1:29).
4. Social.—He founded a kingdom of heaven upon earth (Matthew 5:1-20; John 18:36).
II. The Wisdom of Jesus.—
1. He revealed the nature (the Trinity) and character (love) of God (John 3:16).
2. He taught the necessity and nature of the New Birth for man (John 3:3).
3. He promulgated the way of salvation—through faith in His name (John 6:47).
4. He disclosed the certainty of a future life of blessedness for believers (John 14:1-2).
5. He announced the terms of citizenship in the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:1-8).
Conclusion.—Christ’s pre-eminence in both departments. The noblest worker and the loftiest teacher the world has ever seen.
The Heavenly Worker.
I. His name.—Jesus, signifying Saviour, of whom Luke had already written in the Gospel (Acts 2:21).
II. His sphere.—On earth and among men, as distinguished from His pre-existent and post-resurrection theatres of activity.
III. His character.—As a worker.
IV. His continuance.—
1. Until the day of His Ascension.
2. Until now (John 5:18).
The Incomparable Teacher.
I. His person.—Jesus, who spoke of Himself as the Truth (John 14:6), and whom men recognised as a Teacher (John 3:2; John 11:28).
II. His doctrine.—
1. What it concerned.—
(1) God, whom He revealed (John 1:18).
(2) Man, whom He unveiled as to His nature, character, responsibility, destiny (Luke 6:8; John 2:24; John 5:42; John 16:30).
(3) Salvation, as to its essence and conditions (John 3:16).
(4) The future life, as to its rarity, and the means of attaining thereunto (John 14:1-6).
2. Whence it came.—Not of Himself or from men, but from above (John 5:20; John 7:16).
III. His method.—
1. Simple (Mark 12:37).
2. Gracious (Luke 4:22).
3. Authoritative (Matthew 7:29).
4. Original (John 7:46).
The Name of Jesus.
I. A historic name.—Borne by Joshua, the successor of Moses (Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8).
II. A personal name.—As distinguished from that of Christ (Luke 2:21), or Messiah, an official name.
III. A symbolic name.—Signifying Saviour and foreshadowing its possessor’s work (Matthew 1:21).
IV. An exalted name.—Glorified above every other name in heaven or on earth (Philippians 2:9).
V. A powerful name.—
1. The ground of salvation (Acts 4:12).
2. The plea of prayer (John 14:13).
3. The potent instrument of working miracles (Mark 16:17).
A Momentous Beginning—that of the ministry of Jesus. In relation to—
I. Jesus Himself.—In respect of—
1. His ability to finish what He had begun (Luke 14:28). And
2. The consequences it would entail upon Himself if carried out and finished (John 12:27).
II. The Old Testament Dispensation.—Of which the work of Jesus was—
1. The fulfilment (Matthew 5:17), and
2. The setting aside (Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 8:13).
III. The World.—Of this, it was destined to be either—
1. The salvation, or
2. The condemnation, according as it was accepted by the world or rejected.
The Christ of God and Christian History.—The expression, “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” is a peculiar one, and seems to imply two things: first, that the Gospel was to be a record of the doings and sayings of Jesus from the very beginning, which it pre-eminently is, recording the previous prophecy, the angelic annunciation, the conception and birth of Jesus. Of the human side of Jesus, the Christ of God, Luke especially records the beginning. And all, from the very first, is grace and truth. But the expression “began” means, secondly, that this record is the beginning or fountain head of all subsequent Christian history; that out of these doings and teachings have flowed all things connected with the Church of God down to the last. It is a fontal record; a root; a well-spring; the source of a river which is still flowing amongst us, and refreshing the sons of men.
I. We connect all subsequent testimony with Christ’s doings and sayings.—All the testimony delivered by Christian witnesses goes back to Christ’s life; and is, as it were, a prolongation of His own voice, a continuation of His own doings. It is of His life and death that the witnesses speak; and it is that life and death that contain the power which their testimony embodies. The power of our testimony lies in the directness of its communication with the manger and the cross; as well as with all between. It is Jesus Himself that is working His miracles before our very eyes, and speaking to us still.
II. We connect each individual conversion with Christ’s sayings and doings.—The soul, in the moment of its mighty change, is brought into direct communication with these; it is transported back over eighteen centuries, and feels itself in the very presence of Jesus of Nazareth—speaking, working, loving, blessing, saving, pardoning, comforting. Virtue goes out from these sayings and doings of this personal Christ to lay hold on the sinner. And this is the beginning of his eternal history!
III. We connect each planting of a church with what Jesus did and taught.—We see this very clearly in Luke’s story of the planting of Christianity. Trace up the history of a church—at Jerusalem, or Samaria, or Antioch, or Thessalonica—to its true source, and you are landed at once among the scenes of Christ’s life on earth. There is no church where there is no direct link of this kind. Other foundation can no man lay; other soil can no church root itself in; round no other centre can any church revolve. For what is the temple if the shekinah be not there? What is a church or congregation if the Holy Ghost, revealing Christ in His grace and glory, be not the indwelling and inworking energy?
IV. We connect each true revival of religion with what Jesus did and preached.—No quickening can be genuine save that which goes back to this, and takes its rise from this. Excitement, earnestness, impression, there may be; but only that is authentic, and divine, and abiding, which springs directly out of that which Jesus began to do and to teach.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Acts 1:3. Being seen of them, or showing Himself to them, not in a subjective vision, but objectively and really, during (διά with gen. as in Acts 5:19; Acts 16:9) forty days—i.e., not continuously, but at intervals. Compare the forty days of Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18), of Elias’s journey (1 Kings 19:8), and of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). Holtzmann regards the forty days, for which the Valentinians, according to Irenæus, had eighteen months, as a kind of propylæon or “porch” for the following historical narration; while Weizsäcker consigns them to the domain of legend on the ground that they indicate “a desire” on the part of the narrator “to gain time for a more advanced instruction of the apostles in the life of Jesus, and consequently for their preparation to receive the spirit.”
Acts 1:4. Being assembled, or eating together with them (compare Acts 10:41; Luke 24:30; Luke 24:41-43), not assembling them, though the verb, which occurs only here in N.T., has this meaning in Josephus (Wars, III. ix. 4).
Acts 1:5. With water, ὕδατι, the element by which the outward rite of baptism was performed. With, rather in (ἐν) the Holy Ghost, the element in which the spiritual baptism should take place.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 1:2-5
The Forty Days; or, Fellowship with the Risen Christ
I. The termini of this interval.—
1. The terminus a quo. The resurrection. Demonstrated to be a reality by many “proofs” or “infallible signs.”
(1) To the eye, manifestations. “Being seen of,” or appearing unto His disciples, forty days—not continuously, but from time to time, and not always in the same place but in different localities. Of these manifestations of the risen Christ Scripture records eleven or twelve, of which at least three are narrated by Luke (see below).
(2) To the ear, words: “Speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Of this examples are furnished by Luke in the conversations Christ had with the Emmaus travellers, and the eleven in the upper room (Luke 24:0).
(3) To the touch, an invitation to satisfy themselves, by handling, that He was no bodiless apparition, but a veritable human person, clothed with “flesh and bones.” Though not mentioned in the Acts, this is stated in the Gospel (Luke 24:39). Whether the disciples accepted the invitation is not recorded. Most likely, as Thomas afterwards (John 20:28), they felt this to be unnecessary, and prostrated themselves before Him in adoring worship, if they did not audibly exclaim—“My Lord! and my God!” (See “Hints on Acts 1:3.”)
2. The terminus ad quem. The ascension. Spoken of in the passive voice, this was none the less a free act of Christ Himself (John 6:62; John 14:2; John 16:5; John 20:17; Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 4:14). Though referring principally to a change of condition, an exaltation from the form of terrestrial existence in which Christ had accomplished His redeeming work to that of celestial glory which He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), there is no room for doubting that it likewise pointed to a visible departure from the earth and passage through the opened heavens (John 6:62; Hebrews 4:14). (See on Acts 1:9-11).
II. The transactions of this interval.—
1. The occupation of Christ.
(1) Appearing, manifesting Himself to His disciples. This was needful for the confirmation of their faith in His resurrection, and by consequence in His Messiahship and Divinity. The forty days constituted an important link in the chain of evidence which bound together the superstructure of the Christian religion.
(2) Teaching. Enlightening the minds of His disciples. “Speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” These were chiefly “things concerning Himself” as the Founder and Head of the kingdom. About the significance of His earthly career of humiliation, which culminated in the decease accomplished at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31); about the import of His resurrection, as attesting at once the divinity of His Person, and the atoning work of His sufferings; about the meaning of His exaltation for Himself, for them, and for the world (see next “Homily”); and about the terms of His gospel message of which they were henceforth to be the bearers.
(3) Commanding. Laying injunctions on the hearts of His disciples. In particular, enjoining them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father”—a command reasonable on the part of Christ, who was henceforth more than ever to be their Lord and Master, since to Him alone belonged the prerogative of prescribing their duty, while the injunction laid upon them related to the reception of a gift He alone could bestow; suitable to the condition of the disciples, inas much as it was fitted to discipline them in greatly needed virtues, such as patience, caution, expectation, submission, courage; and necessary for the proper execution of their work, which could only be injured by overhasty action and insufficiently qualified zeal.
(4) Promising. Holding out to His disciples a prospect of blessing, “Ye shall be baptised with (or in) the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.” A great promise—the entering into them of the Holy Ghost; practically the implantation in them of the life of the Risen Christ, the exaltation of them to spiritual fellowship with Him, and the endowment of them with a power proceeding from Him. A certain promise—the words first uttered by the Baptist (Luke 3:16; John 1:33), and again by Christ before His death (John 14:16; John 15:26; John 16:7), being a third time repeated after His resurrection, when on the eve of departing to secure their fulfilment. A near promise—“not many days hence,” intimating the decisive moment when this baptism should come upon them to be at hand.
2. The business of the disciples. This corresponded to Christ’s occupation, and consisted of four things:
(1) Beholding. Contemplating, not with the spirit’s eye merely, but with the body’s eye also, Christ’s manifestations of Himself. The former a main part of the duty of believers still (John 14:21-22). The latter will be possible for believers only in the day of Christ’s glorious appearing (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 John 3:2).
(2) Listening. The more attentively because His “comings” were intermittent, and everything connected with them betokened their speedy cessation—last words are always precious—because the theme on which they talked was one in which they were profoundly interested—the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, though as yet their conceptions both of the kingdom and of the manner of its restoration were somewhat carnal. To hear Christ’s words with faith and love, an abiding mark of discipleship (John 18:37).
(3) Obeying. Whatever commandments Christ laid upon them, it may be assumed, they promptly honoured. Obedience is always required of Christ’s followers (John 15:14).
“Theirs not to reason why;
Theirs but to do or die.”—Tennyson.
(4) Waiting. This also formed part of the business of the apostles during the forty days. The context tells us they waited for the promise as directed. Waiting one of the hardest tasks of the Christian life, demanding strong faith, resolute self-control, and eager hope. Thousands can act who cannot wait. Yet is waiting not less needful than acting for the proper development of the individual life, and the successful conduct of Christian work (1 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:5); while it certainly is highly beneficial to all who practise it in patient humility (Isaiah 40:31).
1. The value of God’s intervals in providence and in grace.
2. The main business of a Christian, which is to study, hear, obey, and wait for his Lord.
3. The mistake of undue haste in working for Christ.
4. The certainty that all God’s promises will be fulfilled.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 1:3. “Alive after His passion”; or, Did Jesus Christ actually rise from the dead?
I. This is undoubtedly the teaching of New Testament Scripture.—
1. Of Paul, not only in his preachings in the Acts (Acts 17:31; Acts 26:23), but also in his Epistles (Romans 1:4; Romans 4:24; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:11; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:4; 1 Corinthians 15:20; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:8). It is impossible to doubt that Paul both taught and believed in an actual bodily resurrection of Christ.
2. Of Peter, in his sermons (Acts 2:24; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Acts 10:40) and letters (1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 3:21). Just as clearly was Christ’s resurrection an article in Peter’s creed and teaching.
3. Of the Gospel writers, who report that not only was Christ’s tomb seen to be empty by those who visited it (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:3; Luke 24:6; John 20:2; John 20:6-7), but that He was subsequently beheld by His disciples (Matthew 28:9; Matthew 28:17; Mark 16:9; Mark 16:12; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:15; Luke 24:36; John 20:14; John 20:19; John 20:26; John 21:1). Unless, therefore, these New Testament writings are all unhistorical—a conclusion which criticism has not only not established, but successfully disproved—a presumption in favour of Christ’s resurrection is created by their conjoint testimony.
II. The hypotheses which have been started to account for this unanimous belief in the resurrestion, without admitting its truth, are all unsatisfactory.—These hypotheses may be reduced to five:
1. The theft theory, propagated originally by the Jews (Matthew 28:11-15), and resuscitated by rationalist theologians like Reimarus—a theory “with which,” says Professor Bruce, “men of all schools in modern times would be ashamed to identify themselves” (Apologetics, p. 385).
2. The swoon theory, proposed by Paulus, that Jesus never really died, but simply lost consciousness on the cross, and regained it in the cool cavern in which His seemingly lifeless body was deposited—a theory on which both Strauss and Keim turn their backs as totally inadequate, if not absurd, Strauss (New Life of Jesus, i., 412) saying “it is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry,” and Keim, after mentioning other difficulties, echoing his predecessor’s sentiments: “Then there is the most impossible thing of all, the poor, weak, sick Jesus, with difficulty holding Himself erect, in hiding, disguised, and finally dying—this Jesus an object of faith, of exalted emotion, of the triumph of His adherents, a risen conqueror and Son of God! Here, in fact, the theory begins to grow paltry, absurd, worthy only of rejection, since it makes the apostles either miserable victims of deceit, or with Jesus themselves deceivers” (Jesus von Nazara, vol. vi., p. 330, E. T.).
3. The vision theory, espoused by Celsus, Strauss, Renan, and others, that first Mary Magdalene, and after her others of the disciples, had visions, which were the result of nervous excitement, and in which they fancied they beheld Christ alive after His passion, and resuscitated from the tomb, against which also lie a number of insurmountable objections which have been skilfully urged by various critics—as, e.g.,
(1) That the interval between the resurrection and the commencement of these visions—viz., three days—was too short for their origination by the excited feelings of the disciples;
(2) That so far from being in a state of expectancy with regard to Christ’s resurrection during these days the disciples were in an exceedingly depressed state of mind, and had no hope whatever of His resurection (Luke 24:11; Luke 24:21; Luke 24:37; John 20:25);
(3) That if widespread excitement was at this time characteristic of the disciples, it is not easy to understand why the visions were so few in number—limited at most to ten instances—and why they ceased altogether after forty days, and why the apostles so soon after returned to a grave and sober condition of mind such as they exhibit in the Acts;
(4) that if all the Christophanies were purely subjective visions it is surprising either that they should have differed from each other, as they did—Mary having first thought that the person on whom she looked was not her Lord, but the gardener (John 20:15), and the Emmaus travellers that the companion who joined them was not Christ but a stranger (Luke 24:16)—or, if differences were to be expected, that they (the visions) did not differ from each other more than they did; and
(5) that the facts just adverted to concerning Mary and the Emmaus travellers that they did not at first recognise Jesus but mistook Him for another, afford strong proof that Christ’s appearances were not subjective visions, but objective manifestations (compare Köstlin’s Der Glaube und seine Bedeutung für Erkenntniss, etc., pp. 38, 39).
4. The telegram theory, suggested by Keim, that Jesus signalled to His disciples from heaven that He was still alive, by causing an objective image or likeness of His body as they had known it to appear before their eyes, and that out of this grew their faith in His resurrection. But against this hypothesis it has been forcibly urged that the production of such an image of Christ’s body was no less a miracle than the rising of the actual body would have been, and that on this theory, equally with the proceeding, the faith of the disciples would be made to rest on a halluciation (Bruce, Apologetics, pp. 392, 393).
5. The legendary theory, favoured by Weizsäcker and Martineau, that Christ not only never rose, but that there were no appearances to explain, the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection being only a later legend manufactured for the purpose of expressing the Church’s strong conviction that Jesus still lived—a theory which does not harmonise with the experiences of the first disciples, whose visions of Christ (Paul’s included) were not purely spiritual, as this class of critics so dogmatically assert, and which does not account satisfactorily for the legend of a physical resurrection, saying as it does that “faith in the continued existence of Jesus produced the later tradition of optical visions, not such visions the faith” (Bruce, p. 397).
III. The results that flow from a denial of Christ’s resurrection are absolutely incompatible with an acceptance of the Christian religion.—These results may be thus summarised: If Christ never rose from the dead, then—
1. Christ was a false prophet and a deceiver, since He distinctly claimed that He would rise (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 20:19; Matthew 26:32; Mark 9:9; John 2:19), and a false prophet could neither have been sinless nor divine, neither a Messiah for Israel nor a Saviour for the world.
2. Christ’s disciples and first followers were all victims of hallucination, and hence were far from being trustworthy teachers of religion for after ages. If they were wrong in teaching that Christ rose, what guarantee exists that they are right in teaching He will come again?
3. The whole magnificent structure of Christianity rests upon a lie, which is barely conceivable, even though Mohammedanism and Buddhism originated with founders whose claims to divine inspiration cannot be conceded.
4. Christians must be of all men most miserable, since there can be no atonement and no salvation, no resurrection and no eternal life, if so be that Christ never rose (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). See “Hints” on Acts 25:19.
The Appearances of the Risen Christ.
I. Their time.—
1. After His passion. This clause implies that Christ had really died, and excludes the idea that He had merely swooned.
2. After His resurrection. That His resurrection was not merely spiritual, but physical, is involved in the term “alive,” which points not to a disembodied existence like that of the “spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23), but to a corporeal form of being like that which Christ possessed before He died.
II. Their continuance.—During forty days. This precludes the notion that they were mere subjective illusions, since it is hardly supposable that illusions would repeat themselves always in the same form to different persons and at different times throughout so lengthened a period.
III. Their number.—Ten. To—
1. Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre (John 20:11).
2. The women, returning to Jerusalem (Matthew 25:8).
3. Peter, on the resurrection morning, hour and place unknown (Luke 24:34).
4. The Emmaus travellers, the afternoon of the same day (Luke 24:13-31).
5. The ten, the evening of the same day, in the upper room (Luke 24:33; John 20:19).
6. The eleven in the upper room, eight days later (John 20:26).
7. The seven in Galilee, beside the lake (John 21:1). 8 The five hundred brethren at once, time and place unknown (1 Corinthians 15:6).
9. James, the Lord’s brother, time and place also unknown (1 Corinthians 15:7).
10. The eleven at Bethany (1 Corinthians 15:7; Luke 24:50).
IV. Their certainty.—Proved by many infallible signs; such as—
1. Their number and continuance, as above explained.
2. Christ’s eating and drinking in presence of His apostles (Acts 1:4; Acts 10:41). This is fatal to the hypothesis that Christ’s manifestations were purely spiritual and subjective.
3. His request that the disciples should handle Him and see (Luke 24:39; John 20:27). Christ would never have subjected Himself to such a test had He not been corporeally present with His disciples.
V. Their object.—Probably threefold.
1. To attest the reality of His resurrection, which, as the central fact in Christianity, was to form the theme of apostolic preaching.
2. To confirm the faith of His disciples at once in His Messiahship and His divinity.
3. To instruct them concerning the kingdom He was setting up, and whose heralds the apostles were soon to be.
The Words of the Forty Days.
I. Words spoken to the whole body, or to the majority of the apostles.—
1. A benediction. “Peace be unto you” (Luke 24:36; John 20:19; John 20:21).
2. A commission. “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (John 20:21).
3. An instruction. “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Matthew 27:19-20; Mark 16:15).
4. A dotation. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 1:33).
5. An exposition. “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Luke 24:46).
6. A prediction. “Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
7. A caution. “It is not for you to know the times and seasons” (Acts 1:7). N.B.—These seven words express the indispensable conditions of all apostleship or ministerial service in the Christian Church.
II. Words spoken to individual disciples.—
1. To Mary at the sepulchre. “Woman! why weepest thou?” A question for Christian mourners.
2. To the women on the way. “All hail!” (Matthew 28:9.) A salutation to anxious seekers.
3. To Thomas in the upper room. “Reach hither thy finger!” (John 20:27.) An invitation to doubters. Also “Because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed,” etc. (John 20:29.) A commendation of faith without sight.
4. To Peter at the lake side.
(1) “Lovest thou Me?” (John 21:16.) A question for self-examination.
(2) “Feed My lambs.” “Tend My sheep” (John 21:15; John 21:17). A promotion for the penitent.
(3) “Verily, verily, I say unto thee,” etc. (John 21:18.) A trial for faith.
(4) “If I will that he tarry till I come,” etc. (John 21:23.) An admonition for the forward.
III. Words spoken to apostles and disciples combined.
1. To the seven on the sea. “Children, have ye any meat?” (John 21:5.) An inquiry of love and solicitude.
2. “Cast ye on the right side of the ship,” etc. (John 21:6.) A direction for desponding workers, always to obey Christ’s orders.
3. “Bring of the fish ye have now taken” (John 21:10). An encouragement for all faithful servants.
Things concerning the Kingdom.
I. Concerning the founding of the kingdom, which accomplished itself in His (Christ’s) person after He, through His death and resurrection, had completed His work.
II. Concerning the collection of the kingdom, which was to be effected through the instrumentality of the apostles, and by the ministry of the word.
III. Concerning the perfecting of the kingdom, which should be carried forward by the power of the Holy Ghost whom He was to send from the Father, and who should sanctify all who believed on His (Christ’s) name.
IV. Concerning the revelation of the kingdom which should take place at the end of time when He came again from heaven in the glory of His Father.—Besser.
The Kingdom of God.
I. The underlying conception.—“The kingdom of God is that perfect arrangement of all things, in which God Himself is the Ruler and His will alone is active and decisive. The conception includes three elements or ingredients:
1. A people.
2. A constitution.
3. A land, a sure dwelling-place and possession. Only where these three things are united can we speak of a kingdom” (Bornemann’s Unterricht im Christenthum, p. 30).
II. The threefold realisation.—
1. The Israelitish, or the past.
(1) The people were the children of Abraham after the flesh.
(2) The constitution was the law, moral and ceremonial, promulgated by Motes at Sinai.
(3) The land was Canaan, into which the people were conducted by Joshua 2:0. The Christian, or the present.
(1) The people are professed believers on the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) The constitution may be said to consist of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
(3) The land is the earth which has been given over to the Church for subjugation and occupation.
3. The heavenly, or, the future.
(1) The people will be those who are truly born again and united to Christ by the spirit.
(2) The constitution will be the possession of perfect holiness, or absolute submission to Christ.
(3) The land will be the heavenly Canaan, or an eternal life of uninterrupted and intimate fellowship with Christ.
Acts 1:4. The Command of the Ascending Lord.
I. Depart not from Jerusalem.—
1. Neither in fear for your safety. It would not have been surprising had the apostles, in alarm for their persons, withdrawn from the holy city when Christ ceased appearing to them. Human nature is not naturally courageous, but essentially weak; and though the apostles were by this time renewed in the spirit of their minds, being Christians, yet were they not entirely delivered from the power of their constitutional infirmities, while the unusual circumstances in which they would be placed by Christ’s ascension would tend to excite these into more than ordinary activity. Still they were not to retire from the metropolis till they got the signal from their Lord. Premature flight would
(1) reveal a lack of fortitude on their part, showing them to be afraid of what man might do unto them, in which case they would not prove efficient preachers of the gospel;
(2) display a feebleness of faith, as if they could not trust an unseen equally with a seen master to protect them, which would likewise prove fatal to their success; and
(3) indicate a dulness of understanding which failed to perceive that in retiring from Jerusalem they would be practically acknowledging defeat, and surrendering the cause of their Master.
2. Nor from exuberance of zeal. The world might appear to them to be perishing for lack of knowledge, and they might be eager to spread abroad the tidings of salvation, they might even be desirous of proving on the instant their devotion to their Master, and their willingness to champion His cause, yea, the time before their Master’s return might seem too short to admit of being wasted in delay. Yet nothing would be gained by precipitate haste. It was not for them to give the signal to advance. Their duty was to follow, not to lead, not to order, but to obey.
II. Wait for the promise of the Father.—
1. Without this only failure would attend their efforts. In spiritual matters nothing can be successfully accomplished without divine help (Zechariah 4:6; John 15:5). In the kingdom of heaven upon earth the prime actor is the Holy Spirit. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are subordinate instruments.
2. With this success would be certain. The Holy Ghost would clothe them with power—power to understand and expound the truth (John 16:13), power to convince gainsayers (Luke 11:15; Acts 6:10), power to touch the conscience (2 Corinthians 4:2)—which nothing and no one would be able to resist,
3. Waiting for this would be an admirable test of their faith.—Only in the strength supplied by a living faith could they hope to successfully discharge their commission.
4. Waiting for this would evoke the best and strongest qualities in their characters. The Lord is always good to them that wait for Him, and only great men can wait. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,” and “they also serve that only stand and wait.”
1. “There are seasons in our lives when God appears to call us simply to wait”; and
2. True progress is often better secured by waiting than by working.
Acts 1:5. The Two Baptisms.
I. John’s baptism.—
1. Material. A water baptism.
2. External. Affecting the body.
3. Symbolic. Representing moral cleansing.
4. Preparatory.—In anticipation of Christ’s coming.
5. Temporary. Intended only for a season.
II. The baptism of Jesus.—
1. Spiritual. A baptism in the Holy Ghost.
2. Internal. Descending on the heart.
3. Essential. Imparting spiritual renovation.
4. Complementary. Realising what had been symbolised by John’s rite.
5. Permanent. Designed to abide for ever.
Acts 1:6. When they were come together.—(The Sinaitic codex omits together.) This was not the meeting referred to in Acts 1:4, but the last interview recorded in Luke 24:36-53, which began in Jerusalem and ended near Bethany. Wilt, rather dost Thou? εἰ introducing a direct question, “which is contrary to classical usage, though not uncommon in the N.T. and the LXX.” (Hackett). The kingdom to Israel shows that as yet the expectations of the apostles had not passed beyond the bounds of their own nation.
Acts 1:7. Put, set, fixed, or appointed in His own power—i.e., in the sovereign exercise of it. Compare Matthew 24:36, and 1 Thessalonians 5:1.
Acts 1:8. After that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.—Literally, the Holy Ghost having come upon you. This should be the source of their power. “Before the Ascension the disciples were led through the Spirit as a transcendent power standing over them; first with the Pentecostal event does He become an immanent principle” (Holtzmann). Witnesses unto Me should be My witnesses, the reading μου being preferable to μοι. Compare Luke 24:48. In Jerusalem, etc., gives a hint about the plan of the book.
Acts 1:9. When He had spoken, rather saying these things, and while they beheld, or they behold, He was taken, or was raised up into the air, but not yet into heaven, ἐπήρθη being different from ἀνελήφθη (Acts 1:2) and ὑπέλαβεν, received up from under.
Acts 1:10. The two men who stood or were standing by them in white apparel or garments were angels, as in Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:12.
Acts 1:11. In like manner signified that Christ’s return would be in the air and visible. Compare Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Revelation 1:7.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 1:6-11
The Ascension; or, the Exaltation of the Church’s Head
I. The attendant circumstances.—
1. The place. Olivet. This agrees with the statement of Luke (Luke 24:50), that the scene of the “taking up” was near Bethany, and contradicts not the account of Mark (Acts 16:14-19), which seems to, but really does not, indicate as the point of departure the upper room in Jerusalem, in which Christ had appeared to His disciples as they sat at meat. The words “so that” (Mark 16:19) refer not necessarily to the immediately preceding conversation, but to the “speaking” in general of the Lord with His disciples during the forty days. (Compare Weiss, The Life of Christ, iii. 408, E. T.)
2. The time. The last of the forty days, the day of the Bethany manifestation, which, however, was not the interview enjoyed by the ten (John 20:19; compare Luke 24:36-49), but that granted to all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:7), which most likely happened in Jerusalem on the evening of the fortieth day. In this case the journey to Bethany would be performed during night, and the ascension accomplished in the early morning, at the dawning of the day.
3. The spectators. The eleven. That others besides them should have witnessed the departure was not necessary, since to them alone, as His ambassadors, was about to be committed the task of witnessing both concerning and for Him. But that others along with them were in the upper room when Christ came to lead them forth is the natural deduction—others from whom they were withdrawn, who were left behind (compareGenesis 22:5; Genesis 22:5; 2 Kings 2:6), and to whom they returned (see Acts 1:13) when the sublime spectacle was over.
II. The supernatural phenomenon.—
1. The antecedent conversation.
(1) The curious question, “Lord! dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Surprising that the apostles, after three years’ training in the school of Christ, after the tragic event of the crucifixion, after the transcendent experience of the resurrection, and after listening to the risen Christ’s exposition of the things concerning the kingdom, should have still clung to the idea of a temporal monarchy. Yet neither unnatural nor difficult to understand when one remembers how full the air then was of materialistic and carnal conceptions of the coming Messianic kingdoms, how the apostles from their youthful days had drunk in these ideas and practically lived upon them, and how invincible, even in good men, early prejudice is.
(2) The discouraging reply. Leaving their mistaken notions to be corrected by the Holy Ghost (John 16:13), the risen Christ assured them their wisdom lay in not endeavouring beforehand to know times and seasons in connection with the kingdom—a hint to students of prophecy; that times and seasons were solely within the ken of the Father who had appointed these in the sovereign exercise of His own authority (Deuteronomy 29:29); and that their special task would be that of witnessing for Christ, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47), but progressing “to the uttermost parts of the earth”—light upon the mission of the gospel.
(3) The comforting assurance. Great and arduous as the work of witness-bearing would unquestionably prove, they would not be left for its execution to their own unaided strength, but, by the Holy Ghost about to come upon them, would be endowed with power sufficient to meet every emergency that might arise in their sacred calling—a word of consolation to Christians in every sphere, but especially to preachers and missionaries
2. The immediate exaltation.
(1) He was taken up, raised into the air, immediately after He had ceased speaking, and while the apostles were looking at Him in wondering adoration. Luke (Luke 24:50-51) describes Him at the moment as lifting up His hands and blessing them, and as in the act of stepping back and being parted from them.
(2) A cloud received Him out of their sight, folding round Him like a fleecy garment. “He maketh the clouds His chariot” (Psalms 104:3). Imagination may picture the upward path of the ascending king. Scripture leaves that unpainted, and confines itself to state the unadorned fact that He was taken up,” that “He passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:10; 1 Peter 3:22), that He “took His seat at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 11:12).
3. The subsequent vision. Two men in white apparel stood beside the apostles as they looked steadfastly into heaven. Not Moses and Elias (Ewald), who had talked with Christ on the Transfiguration Mount, else Luke would have named them as he does in the Gospel, but two angels, probably the two who had figured at the resurrection (Luke 24:4; John 20:12).
(1) Reproving the heaven-gazers, thereby reminding them their duty henceforth would be not so much contemplation as action, these celestial monitors
(2) comforted them with the assurance that Christ would in like manner return as they had seen Him depart, thereby confirming Christ’s promise that He would come again (Matthew 16:27; Luke 9:26; John 14:3), and
(3) directed them to look for His future appearing (Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 9:28).
III. The doctrinal interpretation.—
1. What the Ascension signified to Christ.—
(1) The termination of His earthly humiliation and the commencement of His heavenly glory.
(2) The conclusion of His redeeming work and its formal acceptance as well as reward by His Father.
(3) The cessation of His direct visible activity on the earth, and the inauguration of His indirect and invisible working from heaven and through the Spirit.
2. What the Ascension signified to the apostles.
(1) The certainty of Christ’s resurrection. If Christ visibly withdrew from the earth He must have really risen from the dead.
(2) The confirmation of their faith in Christ’s Messiahship and Divinity. This followed as a consequence from their faith in His resurrection.
(3) The verification of Christ’s authority as a Teacher, Christ having before the Crucifixion announced that the Son of man should ascend up to where He had been before (John 6:62). When the apostles beheld this prediction fulfilled, they must have reasoned that in like manner all His other promises would be Yea and Amen! And in particular that His word about the Holy Ghost would not fail.
(4) The necessity of henceforth knowing Christ no more after the flesh. This probably was the import of His word to Mary—“Touch Me not! for I am not yet ascended” (John 20:17).
(5) The certainty that they would ultimately follow whither He had gone. This had been promised at the supper table (John 14:3). When, therefore, they saw Christ exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high, they would no longer fear, if they ever feared, that He might not be able to implement His loving word concerning and gracious purpose toward them.
3. What the Ascension signified in the world.
(1) The trustworthy character of Christ’s redeeming work. His exaltation supplied proof that He was able to save unto the uttermost all that came unto God through Him (Hebrews 7:25).
(2) Christ’s supremacy over all things and persons on earth. This was an unavoidable deduction from Christ’s investiture with all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18; John 13:3). If Christ had “gone into heaven, angels, authorities, and powers being made subject unto Him” (1 Peter 3:22), one might rest assured that all things on earth had likewise been placed beneath His feet (Ephesians 1:22), so that henceforth He should be Lord of both the living and the dead (Romans 14:9).
(3) The certainty that Christ would eventually conquer His foes. “He must reign till He hath put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25; compare Hebrews 10:12-13).
1. The title Christ has to be worshipped (Philippians 2:10-11).
2. The duty of seeking those things which are above (Colossians 3:1).
3. The propriety of looking for Christ’s return (Titus 2:13).
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 1:6. A Questionable Question.—“Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom?”
I. Authorised.—When dictated by:
1. Shows faith, which expects the kingdom.
2. Tender love, which wishes the salvation of the world.
3. Holy grief, which feels for the miseries of the times.
II. Unauthorised.—When prompted by:
1. Carnal impatience, which wishes to see the kingdom of God coming with external show.
2. Spiritual curiosity, which will pry into what the Father hath reserved for Himself.
3. Pious indolence, which with folded hands looks at the clouds instead of working for the kingdom of God in the calling entrusted to it.—Gerok.
Acts 1:7. Not for Man to know Times and Seasons.
I. A reasonable restriction.—Considering:
1. That the Father hath arranged these in the exercise of His own sovereign authority;
2. That in other realms besides that of religion man’s capacity to forecast the future is limited; and
3. That a knowledge of the times and seasons might act injuriously on man.
II. A beneficial arrangement.—As tending:
1. To inspire humility, teaching man that some subjects are beyond his ken.
2. To repress curiosity, which is always prone to overstep the bounds of what is legitimate.
3. To cultivate submission, directing man to leave secret affairs in the hands of the Father.
4. To discipline faith, training it to believe that He doeth all things well.
Acts 1:8. Christ’s Witnesses.—Christians in their several spheres and capacities should be testifiers:
I. Of the facts of Christ’s history.—Of His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, to those who are ignorant of these.
II. Of the doctrines of His Gospel.—Of His vicarious sacrifice for sin, His free offer of forgiveness, and His gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, to such as are in need of these.
III. Of the character and destiny of His Church.—Of its spiritual nature, holy calling, and ultimate victory over the world, to those who are outside its pale.
The Christian’s vocation.
I. Its glory.—Witnesses of the Exalted King, His witnesses.
II. Its lowliness.—Only His witnesses, nothing more.
III. Its sufferings.—Witnesses of the Lord in a hostile world.
IV. Its promise.—Strength from above.—Gerok.
Power for Service.
I. In what it consists.—The indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Whence the power is
1. Supernatural in its character;
2. Natural in its operations, employing man’s ordinary faculties; and
3. Adequate in its measure, meeting all the necessities of those who serve.
II. From whom it comes.—From the Father as its source, and from Christ as its dispenser. Hence to be sought from these alone by:
1. Obedient waiting (Acts 1:4);
2. Earnest praying (Acts 1:14, Acts 2:1); and
3. Humble self-emptying.
III. To whom it is given.—
1. To those who are chosen, as the Apostles were by Christ.
2. To those who surrender themselves unreservedly for Christ’s service.
3. To those who believingly wait for the heavenly gift.
IV. For what it is granted.—To enable its recipients to witness for Christ. This the Holy Ghost does by witnessing for Christ in them. Without the Spirit’s help no words of apostle, prophet, evangelist, or preacher could efficiently testify for Christ—i.e., testify in such a way as to savingly reach the hearts and consciences of hearers.
Pentecostal Power.—Let us look at this pentecostal power and see some of its characteristics and conditions. What is it?
1. First, it is the power of religious earnestness. Half-hearted religion is no religion at all. God wants the whole heart or none. Earnestness is working at religion, not playing at it. Earnestness makes religion one’s chief business. It goes at it as men dig for gold in the mountains, determined to have it if it is there. That was the way with these first disciples. They knew the power existed and was meant for them. So they were going to have it. They would meet God’s conditions.
2. Pentecostal power is the power of union. In union there is strength. In division or separation there is weakness. Again and again are we told that those one hundred and twenty disciples were all in that upper room—not one hundred and nineteen, but one hundred and twenty. All there, and all with one accord. The heat generated fused all hearts into one. Did you ever see the hard, cold pieces of iron melt and flow together in the furnace? Then the moulder can make what he pleases out of the molten mass. The lack of union destroys the power of the human body or of the Christian Church. Think how a few church members who never unite in prayer and work with the rest shear the Church of strength.
3. Pentecostal power is the power to witness for Christ. Christianity is a religion that advances by means of testimony; and only so. Where no one speaks for it, it dies. Imagine Peter spending a week or a month without mentioning the name of Jesus. Imagine groups of the disciples meeting and talking about the weather, the crops, politics, or finances, and not saying a solitary word about their ascended Lord. True, holy living is good testimony for Christ. Without it talk is mere hypocrisy. But true, also, that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, but when the heart is as full of Jesus as were the hearts of the first disciples, the tongue reveals the fact. How many Christians are tongue-tied!
4. Again, Pentecostal power is the power of the Word of God. Have you noticed at Pentecost what a reasoner, what an expositor, what an orator Peter became? Have you observed how his eloquence burned its way into the hearts of his auditors? What gave him that power to move men? Read over his address, and you will find nothing there you can explain by the ordinary rules of rhetoric or canons of secular eloquence. It is the plainest kind of a speech. Did you ever know an earnest student of God’s Word that did not grow in piety? Did you ever know a Church that fed on God’s Word that did not have something like Pentecostal power? Did you ever know that power to come where the Divine Word was not honoured?
5. Pentecostal power was the power of prayer.
6. There are many other characteristics of this Pentecostal power. It is the power of a complete consecration, the power of an indomitable courage, the power of spiritual concentration, the power to win souls to Jesus Christ. But they are all summed up in this, it is the power of the Holy Ghost—the power of human hearts when taken possession of by the Divine Spirit. Will there be any mistaking this power? Will there be any doubt what has happened to us when we are filled with the Holy Ghost? Did any one ever try to make you believe that a kerosene lamp or a gas-jet or even an electric light was the spring or summer sun? Could electric lights enough be manufactured to make the earth put forth her buds, and flowers, and fruits? Oh, how easily the sun awakens the sleeping forces of nature, and clothes the earth with verdure! What transformations when the sun goes to work! And what transformations when the Holy Ghost descends! Are the resources of the Holy Spirit limited? Is He not infinite? Are not all things possible with God? We have waited six thousand years for steam and electricity; but these forces existed even in Eden, and might have been used if we had only known how. We have waited two thousand years since Christ for the promised conversion of the world. The power to bring it about exists. It is possessed by the Holy Ghost. It is Pentecostal power. Shall we have it? Have it now? Or wait another two thousand years, while the world rolls on in iniquity and generation after generation passes on into hell?—F. P. Berry.
Acts 1:9. The Ascension of Christ and its Lessons.
I. The doctrine of the Ascension of our Lord holds a foremost place in apostolic teaching.—“The doctrine of the Resurrection, apart from the doctrine of the Ascension, would have been a mutilated fragment, for the natural question would arise, not for one, but for every age: If Jesus of Nazareth has risen from the dead, where is He?”
II. The Ascension of our Lord meant His withdrawal from this earthly scene.—“The Book of the Acts does not describe our Saviour as ascending through infinite space. It simply describes Him as removed from off this earthly ball, and then a cloud shutting Him out from view, Christ passed into the inner and unseen universe wherein He now dwells.”
III. The Ascension of our Lord was a fitting and natural termination of Christ’s ministry.—“The departure of the eternal King was like His first approach, a part of a scheme which forms one united and harmonious whole. The Incarnation and Ascension were necessarily related the one to the other.”
IV. The Ascension of our Lord was a necessary completion and finish to His earthly work.—“For some reasons secret from us, but hidden in the awful depths of that Being who is the beginning and the end, the source and condition of all created existence, the return of Christ to the bosom of the Father was absolutely necessary before the outpouring of the Divine Spirit of Life and Love could take place.
V. The Ascension of our Lord rendered Christ an ideal object of worship for the whole human race.—The Ascension of Jesus Christ was absolutely necessary to equip the Church for its universal mission, by withdrawing the bodily presence of Christ into that unseen region which bears no special relation to any terrestrial locality, but is the common destiny, the true fatherland of all the sons of God.
VI. The Ascension of our Lord glorified humanity as humanity, and ennobled man simply as man.—“The Ascension thus transformed life by adding a new dignity to life and to life’s duties. From the beginning Christianity declared to all the dignity and glory of human nature in itself. Much of modern speculation tends to debase and belittle the human body.… The doctrine of evolution, to say the least, has not an elevating influence upon the masses.… The doctrine of the Ascension teaches men a higher and nobler view.”—G. T. Stokes, D.D.
The Ascension of Christ.—What it meant.
I. A continuation of the redemptive work of Christ.—Without it the kingdom of God would have been but a divine dream. So long as the apostles were under Christ’s visible guidance they could not dissociate His kingdom from the empire of physical conquest which had so long been the vision of Jewish passions and prejudices. “Not until they could no longer speak to Christ face to face did a purer faith draw them within the sweep of God’s redemptive purpose, and open their eyes to the invisible kingdom of truth and justice, of love and moral beauty.”
II. A revelation of the unity of life.—“Instead of being a parting it was a drawing near of the Lord in a higher and mightier fellowship with man, in a more fruitful and comprehensive relationship.” “He was taken from the sight of His disciples that He might come into touch with all the springs of human thought and action.”
III. An enlargement of Christ’s personal influence.—“Death does not change but intensifies human relationships. Death is the gate through which the soul of the disciple ascends with Christ to larger life and more blessed influences.” “Moses and Paul are greater forces in human society now than they ever dreamed of being while in the flesh. The influence of Calvin increases not only in power but in purity with each succeeding generation.” So with Christ, whose ascension was “an uplifting and glorifying of all human life.”—George D. Herron, D.D.
The Ascension of Jesus.
I. The conclusion of the appearances of the Risen One in the past.
II. The counterpart of His future return.
III. The point of entrance for His present sovereignty.—Bornemann.
Taken up; or, Views of the Ascension. Christ ascended into heaven.
I. As a servant, to receive His reward. Having finished His Father’s work He ascended to receive His stipulated recompense (Hebrews 12:2).
II. As a Son into His Father’s bosom. Out of this having come, into this He delighted to return (John 17:5).
III. As a High Priest, to intercede for His people. Having offered Himself once for all as a sacrifice, He passed into the heavens, there to appear in the presence of God for them for whom He shed His blood (Hebrews 9:24).
IV. As a King, to sit upon His throne. As appointed mediator He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).
The Ascension of Christ a Necessity.
I. Because the polluted earth was not suited as an abode for the glorified Body of the Redeemer.—Heaven was its appropriate sphere of existence. Before it could tabernacle again in this world, the new heavens and the new earth must be introduced.
II. Because an essential part of His priestly office was to be exercised in Heaven.”—“What the high priest did in the earthly temple it was necessary for the High Priest of our profession to do in the temple made without hands in the heavens.”
III. Because it was necessary that redemption should not only be acquired but applied.—“Men if left to themselves would have remained in their sins, and Christ would have died in vain.” To avert this the Holy Ghost required to be given, and heaven was the place whence the Holy Spirit could be outpoured.
IV. Because Heaven itself required to be prepared for His people.—Hence Christ said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” etc. (John 14:2-3).—Charles Hodge, D.D.
The Visible Ascension.
I. The most befitting, and naturally to be expected attestation of Christ’s heavenly origin (John 3:13; John 6:62; John 16:28).
II. The final and most evident—for the first witnesses indispensable—exhibition of the truth that the kingdom of Jesus should be established by the Spirit from heaven.
III. The most assuring guarantee of Christ’s heavenly power.
IV. The strongest pledge of His future visible return.—Stier.
Clouds that conceal Christ.
I. Clouds of vapour conceal His glorious form from the eyes of sense.
II. Clouds of ignorance conceal His image from the eyes of the understanding.
III. Clouds of unbelief conceal His grace from the eyes of the heart.
IV. Clouds of sin conceal His presence from the eyes even of faith.
Acts 1:11. Why stand we gazing into heaven? Because we see—
I. Jesus crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2:9).
II. Humanity glorified in Him (Hebrews 4:15).
III. Redemption fully completed by Him (Philippians 2:9).
IV. The whole creation in future recovered by Him (Revelation 11:15).—Oosterzee.
The Second Coming of Christ.
I. Personal.—The same Lord Jesus.
II. Visible.—In like manner as ye beheld Him going.
III. Glorious.—On the clouds of heaven.
IV. Certain.—He shall come.
Acts 1:9-11. Was Christ’s Ascension a visible phenomenon?
I. Against this the following considerations are commonly urged:
1. Scientific. The idea of a “local” heaven beyond the atmospheric firmament and out in the depths of space has been rendered inconceivable by modern astronomy. But without admitting that heaven cannot possibly be a place, all that the Ascension as narrated in Scripture involves is merely a visible withdrawal beyond the limits of this sensible sphere.
2. Theological. “The proper Christian faith conception of the present exaltation of Jesus Christ is not dependent on that external ascension which is reported in the Acts, the last not being for the Christian faith essential, and fundamental, while the first is (Bornemann). A statement such as this, however, is incorrect, since without a visible bodily ascension, not only would the doctrine of Christ’s bodily resurrection be insecure, but the doctrine of Christ’s mediatorship would be imperilled (see Hebrews 4:14-16).
(1) The account of Luke (Acts 24:20), which seems to place the Ascension at or near Bethany, fifteen furlongs from Jerusalem, whereas Acts represents it as having occurred only five or six furlongs from the city. See this difficulty met in Critical Remarks and Homiletical Analysis. Of course, if the reading which omits “and was carried up into heaven” be adopted, the difficulty vanishes.
(2) The representation in Mark (Acts 16:19-20), which places (or appears to place) the Ascension immediately after the interview with the eleven as they sat at meat. But not to insist upon the incongruity of representing Christ as vanishing through heavens from a dining-room and at night, there is no more necessity for supposing that Christ immediately went from the chamber and ascended than there is for thinking that the apostles rose from their seats at the banquet and went forth to preach.
(3) The silence of Matthew
(28), which at least suggests that he did not know of any such occurrence as Luke and Mark report. But Matthew may have simply regarded the Ascension as lying beyond the scope of his Gospel history, or may have regarded it as directly implied in the Saviour’s promise, “Lo! I am with you always,” etc., “since it could not have been unknown to any Christian at that time, that Christ was no longer with His people ‘in the flesh,’ but had ascended to heaven” (Ebrard, Gospel History, § 102).
II. For this the undermentioned arguments should be weighed.
1. Scientific. There can be nothing scientifically impossible in the idea of Christ ascending into heaven, since Christ’s body had already undergone a transformation of which science can take no cognisance.
2. Theological. If Christ actually rose from the grave in a bodily form, a visible departure from earth would seem to be necessary to avert the suspicion that He may again have died.
3. Critical. The concurrent testimony of the Gospel and Epistle writers is too strong to be set aside. Compare Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 4:10; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 3:22. (See Whitelaw’s How is the Divinity of Jesus depicted? Part iii., Chap. I.)
Acts 1:12. A Sabbath day’s journey—according to Josephus six (Ant., XX. viii. 6) or five (Wars, V. ii. 3) furlongs—marked the distance of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem, not of Bethany, which was fifteen furlongs from the city (John 11:18). Luke (Luke 24:50) does not say the Ascension took place at, but over against (πρός) Bethany. Nor does Acts affirm that it occurred at the sixth furlong from the city, but merely that Olivet, the scene of the Ascension, was distant a Sabbath day’s journey from Jerusalem. The two Statements do not collide. From the latter statement it has been inferred that the Ascension happened on a Sabbath; but Acts 1:3 rather points to a Thursday, the exact date being 28th April, A.D. 29, shortly before midday (Holtzmann).
Acts 1:13. Come in.—“To the city probably, not the house” (Hackett); though Holtzmann considers it was the temple they entered (compare Acts 2:46; Luke 24:53). Not an but the upper chamber should be read, meaning “of the private house” where they were abiding—most likely that mentioned in Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12.
Acts 1:14. With one accord, or with one mind. Omit “supplication” and “the” before women. Last mention in Scripture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose reappearance after the crucifixion (John 19:27) is noteworthy. His brethren were most probably Mary’s children, though the idea that they were only His kinsmen or relatives is not excluded by the term.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 1:12-14
The Church in Jerusalem; or, the Ten Days before Pentecost
I. The Church’s meeting place.—An upper room in Jerusalem.
1. Humble. Not a splendid cathedral or ornate ecclesiastical edifice; but an apartment in a private house, in the topmost story beneath the flat roof. Compare the meeting-place of the Christians at Troas (Acts 20:8) and Rome (Acts 28:13; Romans 16:5).
2. Obscure. Not a chamber connected with the temple, as some suppose, but most likely a room belonging to a follower of the Risen Christ, perhaps in the house of the goodman mentioned in Luke 22:11, or in that of John Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12).
3. Small. Large for a private house, but in comparison with the buildings afterwards possessed by Christians, contracted and meagre. Yet
4. Sufficient. Capable of holding the entire company of Christ’s disciples in Jerusalem before Pentecost. And
5. Consecrated. If the goodman’s upper room, by the Last Supper there held; if Mary’s, by the last interview of Christ with the Twelve before His Ascension (Acts 1:4; Acts 1:13).
II. The Church’s Membership.—
1. Its number. “About a hundred and twenty.”
(1) Representing the fruits of Christ’s ministry in Jerusalem, not throughout the country (see 1 Corinthians 15:6), the five hundred Galilean brethren having not yet come up to the metropolis. Christ’s ministry, externally judged, had not been eminently successful.
(2) Not a large or powerful band of spiritual soldiers. Indeed, in comparison with Christ’s army of to-day, extremely diminutive and feeble. Yet
(3) Christ was about to employ them in the magnificent task of reducing the world into subjection to Himself, the weakness of the weapon being more than counterbalanced by the Almightiness of the Arm that was to wield it (1 Corinthians 1:27).
2. Its composition.
(1) Men and women. A distinct advance upon the Church of the Old Testament, in which woman had no place as an individual, but only in and through and as represented by the male head of the family to which she belonged. The exceptional case of Zelophehad’s daughters (Numbers 26:6-7) proved the rule. But now in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28). In the Church of the New Testament woman finds a place in her individual capacity, and enjoys rights and privileges equal with those of her male companion. Nothing more characteristic of Christianity or more demonstrative of her heavenly origin than the change she has effected on the position of woman both in Church and State.
(2) Persons of distinction and people of no name. Individuals of repute, ability, and influence like the Apostles who had been selected by Christ, and had companied with Him from the beginning (Acts 1:21); like the Galilean women who had followed Him with devotion and ministered to Him of their substance (Luke 8:3); like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and like the brethren of our Lord, of whom one (James) was soon to take his place (if already he had not secured it) as president of the congregation. Happily, however, also men and women of no name or fame, influence or ability, rank or wealth. Christian Churches should never be of one class; but “rich” and “poor,” “wise” and “unwise,” “patrician” and “plebeian,” should meet together in profession of a common faith, in acts of common worship and in service of a common Lord.
3. Its leaders. Leadership not incompatible with equality. Never had the Church such a company of able and trusted guides as when it started on its glorious career.
(1) Males, the Apostles. The first three: Peter, the man of rock (Matthew 16:18; John 1:42) and Apostle of action (Matthew 14:28; John 18:10); John, the beloved disciple (John 21:20) and Apostle of love (1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:7); and James, his elder brother, who afterwards suffered martyrdom (Acts 12:2), perhaps distinguished by courageous zeal (Luke 9:54). The next five: Andrew, one of the first to follow Christ, a man of decision (John 1:40); Philip, whom Christ found in the wilderness (John 1:43), representing spiritual aspiration (John 14:8); Thomas, called Didymus, doubtful and anxious (John 20:25), touched with melancholy (John 11:16), yet of ardent devotion (John 20:28); Bartholomew or Nathanael (John 1:45), the soul of guileless simplicity; Matthew, who left all and followed Christ (Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:28), the man of whole-hearted consecration. The last three: James, the son of Alphæus, sometimes called “James the Less” (Mark 15:40), though “James the Little” would be better, of whose character nothing is reported; Simon Zelotes, otherwise named The Canaanite (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18), or the Zealot, perhaps noted for fervour; and Judas, the brother or son of James, styled Lebbæus (Matthew 10:2) and Thaddæus (Mark 3:18), presumably from the warmth of his disposition, hence the man of heart. Along with these James, the brother of our Lord, enjoyed the reputation and held the position of a leader (Acts 15:13; Galatians 1:19).
(2) Females, the women already referred to, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James and Joses, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, Salome, the mother of John and James, and Susanna (Luke 8:1; John 19:25), and Mary the Mother of Jesus, here mentioned for the last time in Scripture and not assigned that precedence given her by the Church of Rome.
III. The Church’s disposition.—Unanimous. Her members were all of one mind. The spirit of discord had not yet revealed itself among them. Their ranks were unbroken through either jealousy or rivalry.
2. Steadfast They persevered in maintaining this becoming and excellent temper. Doubtless it had not then been tried by either prosperity or adversity. Yet was it praiseworthy that they did not themselves grow weary of the monotony of concord.
IV. The Church’s occupation.—Waiting for the promise.
1. Praying. Always becoming on the part of Christians (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17), it was specially suited to the circumstances of the Church during the ten days before Pentecost. That the chief theme of their supplications was the heavenly baptism for which they were looking need not be doubted. That, though sure of it, they still prayed for its coming, accorded with a law of the kingdom (Ezekiel 36:37; Matthew 21:22; James 1:5). That they prayed in a social as distinguished from a private capacity, was grounded on Christ’s well-known assurance (Matthew 18:19).
2. Working. The duty lying to their hand they did. They proceeded to fill the vacancy in the apostolic college. A hint to Christians to leave no known duty unperformed while waiting for other tasks to be enjoined.
“Strong in His faithfulness, praise Him and sing,
Then as He beckons thee,—‘Doe the next thing.’ ”
1. Not to suppose a splendid, or indeed any, building necessary to constitute a church. 2. Not to despise the day of small things.
3. Not to foster the class spirit in connection with Christian Churches.
4. Not to resent the leadership of those who by superior ability or influence are manifestly called to that office.
5. Not to mar by discord or division the unity of fellowship among believers.
6. Not to think praying can ever be out of place.
7. Not to mistake idleness for waiting.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 1:13. The Upper Room.—The upper chamber still forms the distinctive feature of a Syrian house. It is the guest chamber, where the guest is quartered outside the part of the house used by the host and his family in private life. The poor were generally content to leave their terraces uncovered, but the first luxury they indulged in was an upper chamber. The rich Shunamite made one for Elisha (2 Kings 4:3). This was the most convenient part of the house, because it was large compared to the rooms inside, and was entirely independent of the rest of the building. It served for numberless uses. There the corpse was laid before burial (Acts 9:37). It was in an upper chamber Jesus met with His apostles to bid them farewell, to eat the Passover with them for the last time, and to institute the Lord’s Supper. The ordinary meals He no doubt took, as they are still taken, in the court of the house and in public.—Stapfer, Palestine in the Time of Christ, p. 178.
The Four Lists of the Apostles.
James (of Alpheus)
James (of Alpheus)
James (of Alpheus)
James (of Alpheus)
Simon the Zealot
Simon the Zealot
Simon the Cananean
Simon the Cananean
Judas son of James
Judas son of James
From a comparison of these lists the following conclusions may be drawn:
1. That Peter was universally recognised as the leader of the apostolic band.
2. That, following him, Andrew, James, and John enjoyed a precedence over the remaining eight.
3. That, after these, the next in rank was Philip, who in all the lists occupies the fifth place.
4. That Bartholomew was another name for Nathanael.
5. That Thomas and Matthew, like Peter and John, Philip and Bartholomew, were probably companions.
6. That Thaddeus and Judas were the same individual.
7. That Judas Iscariot deserved the lowest place in the apostolic brotherhood.
Acts 1:14. The Brethren of Our Lord.
I. Their names.—James, Joses, Simon, and Judah (Matthew 13:55). With the exception of the first, all ordinary men, who would probably never have been heard of but for their connection with Christ. The vast majority of this world’s population are names, and nothing more; and even of those who emerge from obscurity it is not always true that they shine in their own lustre. Reflected radiance, or renown at secondhand, is more common than most suppose.
II. Their relation to Jesus.—
1. According to some His cousins—i.e., the children of Alpheus and Mary. An opinion in support of which it is usual to advert to:
(1) the customary practice among the Jews of employing the term “brother” in a loose sense, as equivalent to “near kinsman”;
(2) the circumstance that Christ, when dying, commended His mother to John (Acts 19:26), which, it is thought, He would hardly have done had she possessed other children besides Himself;
(3) the Scripture statement that Alpheus or Cleopas and Mary had two sons named James and Joses (Mark 15:40), if not a third called Judas (Acts 1:13); and
(4) the appearance of individuals bearing the names of James, Simon, and Judas in the circle of the apostles, who are not the brethren of our Lord, but the sons of Alpheus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:8). Against this opinion, however, it is urged, and with force,
(1) that they are never styled Christ’s cousins, but always his brethren—a fact remarkable, but not decisive;
(2) that they always appear associated with the mother of Jesus, and not with the wife of Cleopas;
(3) that one cannot be certain whether Mary, the mother of James and Joses, was the sister of our Lord’s mother (see John 19:25); and
(4) that our Lord’s brethren were not even among His disciples till towards the close of His ministry (John 7:5), whereas the two sons of Alpheus and Mary were among the apostles from the first.
2. According to others, His half brothers—i.e., the sons of Joseph by a former marriage. But this opinion, though not improbable, rests solely on the authority of the Gospel of James
3. According to a third class of interpreters, His whole brothers—i.e., children of Mary by her husband Joseph. In favour of this the arguments run—
(1) that it is the simplest and most natural hypothesis;
(2) that Our Lord’s brethren are always spoken of as brothers, not as cousins;
(3) that they are never said to be sons of Joseph, but always represented as brethren of Jesus; and
(4) that they always appear to be under Mary’s care. (See Whitelaw on The Gospel of St. John, 2:12.)
III. Their changed attitude towards Jesus.
1. The nature of the change. They had become believers, which they were not prior to His crucifixion. Then they refused to accept His Messianic pretensions, though they found it impossible to deny His miracles (John 7:3). Now their doubt was dispelled and their unbelief changed into faith.
2. The cause of the change. This was unquestionably the fact of Our Lord’s Resurrection, and perhaps in particular His manifestation of Himself to James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
Acts 1:1-14. The Ascending Lord and His Witnesses.—The ascension of the Lord Jesus is the one fact which properly belongs both to the story of the Gospels and to the history of the Acts of the Apostles.
I. The preparation of the witnesses.—For witnesses must be qualified. You cannot lay hands on any man at random, and ask him to bear testimony even to undisputed facts. He must have seen the things of which he claims to be the witness. And then he must be a man of truthful spirit. These two qualifications for a faithful witness Jesus supplies in the things which He does and says in this last interview with His disciples. By what He did that day before their eyes He gave them knowledge of the final fact which was to complete the circle of their testimony. They had wept by the cross and mourned beside the sepulchre. They had seen Him, heard Him, touched Him risen from the dead, and had been glad when they saw the Lord again. And now they are assembled that the last needed link in the evidence they are to give may be added to make the chain complete. But what He said was needful, too, that they might discharge their office rightly. Not merely must their eyes behold the dying and the rising of the Son of man, but it was quite as essential that their spiritual vision should be illumined. It was for this that the Holy Spirit was needed. His coming is to complete what their outward vision had begun. He will teach all things, and bring all Jesus’s sayings to remembrance. He will show things to come. They are to have power; but it shall be power, not to be warriors, but to be witnesses. This is the work of His disciples in every age. For this cause the Master came into the world—to bear witness to the truth. As the Father sent Him into the world, so He sends us. As He equipped the Twelve, so He furnishes us for the work. Instead of the vision of His face we have the fourfold Gospel.
II. The limitation of the witnesses.—For, even “while they beheld, a cloud received Him out of their sight.” There was clear vision for a way, and then an utter mystery. Between Him and the eyes which gazed their love into the heavens came the intercepting cloud. So all our knowledge ends in mystery. Even where a veil is not hung to hide the divine realities from us, the shortness of our vision is as effective to conceal them. The strength and power of the witnessing of the early disciples was in this very thing: that they testified with all boldness up to the limits of their knowledge, and then relapsed into utter silence. It will be well for the later witnesses for Christ to follow more nearly the example of these earlier martyrs. We may with all boldness declare the well-attested facts. But do not let us try to witness to the things which are beyond the cloud, whether it may have been spread by divine wisdom or by human ignorance. Many an earnest witness has lost his power in the world because there was no clear line between the things which he has seen and known and the things which he has only felt and fancied. Nor is it necessary, because a cloud hides that which we long to see, that it should cast a shadow upon us, or darken our horizon. The cloud which underlies the mysteries of heavenly truth is not black with thunderbolts, not scarred with seams of lightning, but edged at least with the silver glory which it hides, and only laden for us with showers of peace and plenty. For it is not the darkness which hides God from us, but the light in which He dwells, which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see. This was the cloud of the transfiguration—the cloud of brightness. Paul, telling the story of his conversion, says, “I could not see for the glory of that light.” Jesus is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the Light of the World, but it is a light softened and screened for human eyes by the veil of His flesh; so that we now can look and see, and look and live. The cloud is the condescension of divine love to our weak sight. It testifies God’s grace equally with the sunshine.
III. The attitude of the witnesses.—They stand gazing after Him up into heaven—how long we do not know; long enough, it is evident, to lead to the rebuke and reassurance which came to them from the lips of the two angels. However full of love or faith their motive may have been, their posture was not approved. It is when they cease their gazing and begin their going that they assume their true relation to the risen Christ. For the return to Jerusalem was their first act of obedience to Him. There He had told them to go, and there to wait, and there to witness first. To testify of Him first where it is hardest and most perilous to do it; back where the people of all tongues will gather soon—they are to speak where their word will reach the greatest number; back where He bids them—that is, more than all beside, that they obey His last command. It is not by peering into the mysteries of God’s unrevealed truth that any disciple gains grace to be a faithful witness. It is far rather by unquestioning obedience to His plain command that we shall come to such further light as He may have to give us. They who are actively engaged in doing His will and work shall be led on with surest step into the mysteries of godliness. They shall have more to witness who witness faithfully to what they know, rather than they who wait and watch for more to tell. Nor did they separate when the Master, who had at first drawn them together, had left them. He had appointed them a common mission. There was to come on them a common gift of power. And so they stayed together during the interval till it should come. And as it is in the way of obedience that we learn the truth, it is in the way of fellowship that we most often receive the richest spiritual gifts. If we would share the gifts which Jesus bestows upon His own, we shall be wise to keep with the other disciples. And then, of course, they prayed; not of necessity only for that which He had promised, and which was to come to them so soon, but quite as much, perhaps, for patience to wait for it, and then for grace to use it for His praise. Obedience, fellowship, and prayer, shall make you strong to be witnesses, martyrs if needs be, unto Him.—Monday Club Sermons.
Acts 1:15. Those days lay between the Ascension and Pentecost. For disciples, μαθητῶν, the R.V. reads brethren, ἀδελφῶν, as in Matthew 25:40; Acts 9:30; Acts 11:29; 1 Corinthians 5:11. Names = persons, as in Revelation 3:4; Revelation 11:13. Unclassical. Together, ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ, has always a local signification. (See Acts 3:1; Luke 17:35.)
Acts 1:16. Scripture … which the Holy Ghost spake.—A testimony to the Inspiration of the Old Testament. Compare 2 Peter 1:21. By the mouth of David seems to guarantee that David was the author of some parts of the Psalter—in particular of Psalms 69:0, and perhaps also of Psalms 41:0. Who was (or became) guide. Originally a disciple, Judas turned to be a traitor, and acted as a leader to the Roman cohort which apprehended Christ (Matthew 26:47; John 18:3).
Acts 1:17. For, ὅτι, indicates that Judas supplied the conditions that were requisite to enable him to fulfil the Scripture. The figurative expression lot, κλῆρος, used in its literal sense in Acts 1:26, is here employed, as in Acts 8:21, Acts 26:18, to denote anything obtained by lot, and hence generally any portion, share, or office without regard to the mode of its attainment. The term “clergy” is derived from κλῆρος, the order of the ministry being viewed as divinely appointed.
Acts 1:18. Purchased.—Obtained (R.V.), got possession of (Plumptre), or caused to be purchased (Hackett); what was bought with Judas’s money being considered as bought by himself. Qui facit per alium facit per se. Falling headlong.—Having probably first hanged himself, and afterwards, through the breaking of the rope, fallen to the ground, which would cause him to burst asunder in the midst. Matthew’s account (Acts 27:5) suggests this. “The traitor may have struck in his fall upon some pointed rock, which entered the body and caused his bowels to gush out” (Hackett). Papias was acquainted with a version of this story, which reported that Judas died of a loathsome disease.
Acts 1:19. Aceldama, Ἀκελδαμὰ, formed from the Syro-Chaldaic הֲקַל דְּמָא, and signifying “field of blood”—i.e., either purchased by the blood money paid to Judas and returned by him (Matthew), or sprinkled with the traitor’s blood when he fell (Luke). Perhaps both reasons contributed to the fixing of the name subsequently borne by the potter’s field, which became a burial place for strangers. According to tradition Aceldama lay on the south side of Mount Zion.
Acts 1:18-19 are commonly regarded as no part of Peter’s speech, but an interposition by Luke (Calvin and others); yet οὖν (Acts 1:18) renders this doubtful (Holtzmann).
Acts 1:20. In the Book of Psalms.—The two citations (Psalms 69:25; Psalms 109:8), given with slight modifications from the LXX. recite the doom of the enemies of David and his kingdom, and therefore of the enemies of Christ and His kingdom, of which the former were types; consequently also of Judas, “as the first and most notable of these” (Alford).
Acts 1:21. Went in and out among us.—“An exact construction of the Greek would have placed ‘unto us,’ ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς, after ‘went in’ or ‘came in,’ and inserted ‘from us,’ ἀφʼ ἡμῶν, after ‘went out’ ” (Hackett). Compare Acts 9:28; John 10:9.
Acts 1:22. The baptism of John signified not John’s baptism of Christ, but John’s baptism generally as a well-known date.
Acts 1:23. They, i.e., the congregation and the apostles, appointed, or put before God, or before themselves for selection.
Acts 1:24. Thou Lord.—Whether addressed to God or Christ is disputed. For the former opinion (Meyer, Plumptre, Holtzmann) appeal is taken to Acts 15:7-8, in which God is called Καρδιογνώστης, and Peter represents himself as being chosen by God. For the latter (Olshausen, Alford, Hackett, Spence) it is argued
(1) that in the N.T. generally Christ is usually styled Lord;
(2) that Christ is stated in Acts 1:2 to have selected the other apostles;
(3) that the first Christians were in the habit of praying to Him (Acts 7:59, Acts 9:14); and
(4) that Peter in the Gospel (John 21:17) ascribes to Christ the knowledge of all things, which certainly include the hearts of all men.
Acts 1:25. Fell.—Went aside by transgression. His own place.—His own proper destiny, Gehenna, or the place of punishment, from which he (Judas) was kept back so long as he was in the apostleship.
Acts 1:26. Lots.—These were either tablets or slips of parchment with the names of the candidates written upon them, which were cast into a vase or other vessel, which was then shaken, when the first tablet or slip thrown out indicated the candidate elected.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 1:15-26
Completing the Apostleship; or, the Election of Matthias
I. The vacancy in the apostolic college.—
1. The honoured place of Judas.
(1) Numbered with the apostles (see Luke 6:16). Peter explains not the motives (he could not) which led Christ, who knew the traitor from the beginning (John 6:70), to select him for this signal favour, but dwells upon the fact that in being so selected he received a mark of special confidence. Many besides Judas have obtained high privileges, and been called to important trusts by Christ, who, like him, have misapplied the one and abused the other.
(2) Invested with ministerial office. Generally like his colleagues, but particularly also by being made the treasurer of the company (John 13:29). The management of their finances appears to have been “his portion in this ministry,” or the duty assigned to him in connection with the apostolate. If the Twelve required a treasurer, it cannot be sinful for churches and congregations either to have secular affairs or to depute persons to attend to them.
2. The melancholy fall of Judas.
(1) Tenderly referred to, not with vituperation, but in mildness. He was “guide to them that took Jesus.” Even the worst sins of the worst men should be under rather than over stated.
(2) Sufficiently indicated. What Peter says implies the rest of the pathetic story of the betrayal for thirty pieces of silver. Hence he dilates not on the sad theme, but leaves his hearers’ imaginations to call it up to their own thoughts. A lesson for preachers, never to enlarge more than they can help upon the backsliding, of individual believers.
(3) Divinely foreseen. By the Holy Ghost, who inspired David to pen words and thoughts exactly fitting the traitor’s case, and depicting his ejection from office, “Let his habitation be made desolate, and let no man dwell therein” (Psalms 69:26), and “His office let another take” (Psalms 109:8).
3. The appalling end of Judas. Slain—
(1) In his own field, which he, or the priests (Matthew 27:7), purchased with the blood money received for betraying Christ.
(2) By his own hand, it being most likely that he hanged himself on a tree in his field, and that the rope breaking he fell heavily to the ground, with the consequence stated by Peter.
(3) To his own shame, the name given to the field, “Aceldama,” or “The field of blood,” perpetuating the memory at once of his wickedness and of his woe. (For the apparent discrepancy between Matthew’s account and Luke’s, see “Critical Remarks.”)
II. The proposal to fill the vacancy.—
1. Made by Peter. “And in those days Peter stood up,” etc. Peter’s forwardness on this occasion was completely in harmony
(1) with the place assigned him in the lists of the apostles,
(2) with his ardent and impulsive character,
(3) with his practice in pre-crucifixion days to take the lead among his brethren and be their spokesman,
(4) with the charge given him by Christ, when once he had been converted, to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32), and
(5) with the foreshadowings that were beginning to appear of that spiritual pre-eminence to which he was henceforth to attain in the New Testament Church. 2. Defined by Peter.
(1) As to the qualifications demanded of those who should fill the office. They must have companied with the apostles and been eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus from His baptism by John to the day of His taking up. (Compare1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 9:1.)
(2) As to the business to be done by the elected candidate, “To witness,” with his colleagues, “to Christ’s resurrection.” (Compare Acts 4:33.)
(3) As to the urgency for proceeding with the election. “Of these must one become a witness.” Peter has been accused of precipitation in filling up the ranks of the Twelve; but as Peter acted in this under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, such an indictment is inadmissible.
III. The method of carrying out the proposal.—
1. The nomination of candidates. Joseph, called Barsabas, or son of Sabas, surnamed Justus, and Matthias. Both, mentioned only here, probably belonged to the Seventy, and, it may be assumed, possessed the requisite qualifications. Of neither does historical information survive. Eusebius states, on the authority of Papias, that the former drank a cup of poison without being hurt—a legend modelled upon Mark 16:18. The latter, according to one tradition, suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, according to another in Colchis, according to a third in Judæa, by being stoned. Justus was a Roman cognomen, “probably assumed according to prevalent custom” (Alford).
2. The asking of divine direction. The prayer of the congregation, presumably led by Peter, was
(1) directed to the glorified Christ, in the context styled “Lord” (Acts 1:21),
(2) on the ground that He knew the hearts of all men (John 1:50; John 2:25; John 6:64; John 21:17),
(3) requesting Him to show of the two candidates which He had chosen, since Christ’s choice was indispensable to the holding of apostleship (John 6:70; John 13:18; John 15:16).
3. The casting of lots. “These were probably tablets with the names of the persons written on them, and shaken in a vessel or in the lap of a robe (Proverbs 16:33); he whose lot first leaped out being the person designated” (Alford). This method of ascertaining the divine decision, derived from the Old Testament Church, in which “lotcasting “was common (Leviticus 16:8—over the two goats on the great day of atonement; Numbers 34:13; Joshua 14:2; Joshua 18:2—at the dividing of the land; 1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 25:8—in the appointment of temple singers), appears to have never again been followed in the election of office-bearers in the New Testament Church. Instead of lot-casting, vote-giving by show of hands seems to have been substituted (Acts 14:23, which see).
4. The enrolling of the chosen. Matthias the elected was numbered with the eleven apostles. That he was formally “voted” in by the suffrages of the congregation, which thereby, as it were, confirmed the divine selection, may be suggested by the verb (Plumptre), but hardly appears admissible in the circumstances. If the congregation added anything to the decision of lot it was merely an intimation (unanimous doubtless) of its acquiescence in the appointment.
1. The danger of falling.
2. The heinousness of betraying Christ.
3. The appalling doom of apostates.
4. The grand theme of apostolic preaching.
5. The cessation of the apostolate in the New Testament Church.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 1:15. The first Christian Assembly.
I. The ornament of Jerusalem.—Its members more distinguished in Heaven’s eye than Caiaphas, Annas, or any other Jerusalem dignitary.
II. The glory of Christ.—Having been called into existence by Him.
III. The commencement of God’s kingdom.—The hundred and twenty persons have since grown into an innumerable company.—Oosterzee.
Acts 1:16. Old Testament Scripture—Its fourfold relation:
I. To the Holy Ghost.—Indicated by the words “which the Holy Ghost spake.” Though perhaps the express authority of the Holy Ghost should not be claimed—in this place, at least—for more than the two citations from the Book of Psalms which are given in Acts 1:20; yet it cannot be doubted that both Christ and His apostles regarded the Holy Ghost as the Author of the whole book in such a way and to such an extent as to make Him responsible for its contents. (See Matthew 22:31; Matthew 22:43; Luke 1:70; Acts 28:25; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1; 1 Peter 1:11; 2 Peter 1:21.)
II. To David.—As representing its writers. This pointed to by the clause “spake by the mouth of David.” Although this appears to guarantee that David had a hand in producing the Psalter—an honour which modern critics are extremely anxious to deny him—it does not necessarily signify that David (or the other holy prophets and psalmists) were merely passive instruments in the hand of the Spirit, who mechanically reproduced what the Spirit inbreathed. All the facts go to show that, while the writers of Old Testament Scripture maintained their personalities and individualities in what they spoke or penned, they were nevertheless in a mysterious (and probably incomprehensible) manner superintended and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
III. To Jesus.—A glimpse of this looks out from the words, “It was needful that the Scripture should be fulfilled.” Besides being the sacred books of His people, the Old Testament Scripture was for Him, Jesus, the Father’s and the Holy Ghost’s vade mecum, which they had prepared for Him to be used as a light unto His feet and a lamp unto His path—a sort of Messianic programme—when He entered on His public career. What Old Testament Scripture was to Jesus the whole Bible should be to His people—a directory for daily life.
IV. To Judas.—Referred to in the words “concerning Judas.” That the traitor’s person, character, and transgression were outlined beforehand in Old Testament Scripture neither compelled him to act as He did nor relieved him of responsibility for his deeds, any more than in ordinary matters the divine foreknowledge destroys the individual’s liberty of will.
I. His early fame.—“Numbered among the apostles.”
II. His guilty fall.—“Guide to them that took Jesus.”
III. His woful fate.—Committed suicide, and went to his own place.
Acts 1:19. Aceldama, the field of blood.
I. Purchased by the price of blood.—Whether Judas or the chief priests were the purchasers is immaterial. The money payment was the thirty pieces of silver delivered to the traitor in reward for his iniquity. The field was “the clay-yard of a potter of the town” (Geikie), and to purchase this the blood money was devoted, because to cast it into the treasury would have been unlawful.
II. Defiled by the stain of blood.—Somewhere in this clay-yard the traitor put an end to his life by hanging. “Nor was even this the end, for the cord by which he had suspended himself gave way, and he fell beneath, ruptured and revolting” (Geikie). Matthew agrees with Luke in reporting the suicide; Luke differs from Matthew in describing the rupture.
III. Kept as a memorial of blood.—The name could not fail to preserve a recollection of both of Judas’s crimes—his infamous treachery towards his Master, and his cowardly execution of himself. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance, but the name of the wicked shall rot.”
Acts 1:17-20. The Wages of Sin; or, the Miserable End of Judas.
I. He ought to have been a disciple of Christ, and he betrayed his Lord.
II. He ought to have performed the duties of his bishopric, and he acquired the field of blood.
III. He ought to have proclaimed the Risen One, and he perished as a suicide.
IV. He ought to have received the Holy Ghost, and he went into condemnation.—Florey, in Lange.
Acts 1:23. Justus and Matthias.
I. Justus the equal of Matthias, in being:
1. A disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Esteemed by his fellow-believers.
3. Proposed for the apostleship.
4. Honoured with a place in sacred history.
II. Matthias preferred to Justus.—
1. Elected to the apostleship.
2. Chosen by Christ.
3. Numbered with the Eleven.
Acts 1:24. Prayer addressed to Christ.
I. As a personal divine Being.—“Thou, Lord.”
II. As a possessor of Omniscience.—“Who knowest the hearts of all men.”
III. As the director of His people.—“Show us!”
IV. As the disposer of offices in the Church.—“Show of these two the one whom Thou hast chosen.”
Acts 1:16-25. The Personal History of Jesus.
I. His baptism by John.
II. His companionship with the apostles.
III. His betrayal by Judas.
IV. His arrestment by the Romans.
V. His death upon the cross.
VI. His resurrection.
VII. His ascension.—In all these points Peter agrees with the Gospel writers.
Acts 1:25. Individual Destiny.
I. Every man’s destiny is prepared for him beforehand.—As Daniel had his lot (Daniel 12:13), so had Judas his own place. The Father’s kingdom is prepared for Christ’s people from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). Paul speaks of vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, and vessels of mercy prepared unto glory (Romans 9:22-23).
II. Every man’s destiny will correspond with the character which he possesses.—Like Judas, every man will go to his own place—he who by patient continuance in well doing has sought for glory and honour and incorruption, to eternal life; he that has obeyed not the truth, but obeyed unrighteousness, to tribulation and anguish (Romans 2:7-9). In every case the environment will correspond with the life.
III. Every man’s destiny will be the outcome of his own doings.—Each individual on earth will ultimately be what he makes himself. He may permit himself to become the victim of his surroundings, but the fault will be his own. He may be helped by divine grace, but even divine grace does not enable him to dispense with personal exertion. The solemnity which this gives to life needs no remark.
Natural Selection in the Spiritual World.—The subject of the text of practical moment to us, is one of moral adjustment, and involves fitness for the sphere occupied. Every realm of creation—mind or matter, animate or inanimate—has its order and label because of its nature, its identity, its surroundings peculiar to itself, with relations and dependencies—essential adjuncts of the nature and surroundings of the realm. That this principle may be seen in its tangible actuality turn to the pages of natural history, where we find represented the families, tribes, and species of the different continents, each with its peculiar nature and the environment contributing most to its vigorous development. Also in logic and psychology, in the sense of a peculiar office or sphere, than “place” there is no more pregnant term nor more requisite factor. It is the third foot of a tripod—a sine quâ non. But interesting as it may be for us to consider the import of “place” in the spheres of natural and intellectual science, still greater is its significance amid the species and graduations of the moral and spiritual world; for here the term is used not only in mechanical arrangement and scientific analysis, but it has also all the additional gravity of the moral and eternal world, with its attraction and repulsion, its reward and retribution.
I. The preservation intact of the families, species, and habitat of the spiritual world requires that the members of each great family, the redeemed and the unredeemed, should be assigned to their fittest place or habitat for eternity.
1. This must be true out of respect for the harmony, purity, and order of heaven. There is no one in the city of God of whom it could be said: “He is a disturber of the peace, a shame and grief to his relatives, and a disgrace to the avenue on which he lives.” Such a character or species cannot be permitted there. The order of the celestial community may not be so disturbed. The rôle of eternal praise and the spotaneity of the currents of felicitous thought are inviolable rights which inhere in the citizenship of heaven.
2. Not only for order’s sake, but from moral considerations must he go to his “own place.” All the opportunity which unfathomed depths of compassion and the sweep of mercy’s unbounded forecast could provide have been extended. By all the inducements which life’s opportune and sanguine day of probation could proffer, he has been overturned. The die is cast. Before God and His government he stands unacquitted—a rebel. Through all life’s paths he has afforded the material for the record of a rebel—the habits and the development of a rebel; the wishes, heart, and character of a rebel—against his own soul’s requirements, the provisions for an eternity of peace and the beneficent laws of God. Probation is past; and now to the place of what grade or species of character does he belong?
II. Let us now consider the means of reaching one’s moral grade, destination, or “place” in the spirit world. We need not falter in the belief that God, whose scrutiny none can evade, is able by His word directly to appoint each to his place. But in the apportionment to the abodes of the righteous and wicked—heaven and hell—the respective habitat of each of the two great families under the genus Spirit, there are certain natural forces or laws of moral adjustment which may well claim our attention.
1. There are characteristic functions of privilege or duty in every position of honour; and this is intuitively true of the home of the saints of God.
2. A second function of the life in heaven is fellowship. Now, if permitted, could the unrepentant soul endure such association?
3. Another function of the heavenly life is unveiled mental vision and untrammeled mental freedom. What kind of freedom here could the impenitent soul enjoy—whose habits of life have drilled him in wrong methods and whose sources of pleasure have blinded, deafened, and paralysed his conscience and spiritual functions in company with the redeemed whose pinions never tire? But another mighty agency in moral adjustment and consequent assignment to “place” to which sinners are subject and which is a positive and not a negative factor in the work of adjustment is natural retribution, one of the forces of which is the reason, which now sees the effect of a wrong ideal, a practical idolatry, selfish and gross, by which the soul which might have been assimilated into the likeness of Christ—the model of heaven—has been gradually metamorphosed into a type of moral degradation. The conscience also presents its unmet claims, and sad regret causes memory, as another factor in natural retribution, to point backward to days of opportunity, and a conscientious reflection iterates:
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these; it might have been.”
4. But still another force, which is decisive in effecting God’s own proclamation of a separation between the redeemed and unredeemed, may be mentioned; it is the law of sustentation. Just because the ponderous iron mass or the stone block should see the balloon sustained in mid-air, ascending to the clouds, shall they say, “Oh, we shall fly too”? Never in their present gross form. Never, until by fiercest heat they become sublimated into gaseous matter. Never as iron and stone will they fly. So the fact that the inhabitants of heaven can remain there sustained and enjoy the fulness of bliss is only by the support and protection of the laws of the kingdom of God; and to the sinner in “outer darkness “there is no protection or support from the laws of the kingdom of God, therefore he cannot remain in heaven—nor enter there. To illustrate: The rigor of the frigid zone is so great that only such animals as are provided to endure its exposures can there sustain life. The sloth and ant-eater are animals which are not provided to endure the exposures of the frigid zone; therefore they cannot there sustain life. Let us now briefly notice—
III. The sense in which the hell of the hereafter is the unrepentant sinner’s “own place.” The adjective “own” signifies a “place” peculiar to himself, But it is his own also as a member of a class or grade. Students belong to a class, and yet each holds his “own place” according to his standing. So you, if you choose the way of death, must take your place according to your proficiency in the customs of that dark abode, along with adulterers, the lustful, the hypocrites, unbelievers, drunkards, liars, and all that is profane and abominable. It is peculiarly his “own place,” then—
1. By course of preparation, which course may be termed the conservation of energy in the spiritual realm—i.e., all the forces of the sensibilities, intellect, and will are differentiated into a unit of essential wickedness. In natural science, heat and electricity are proved to be only different phenomena of a single force; so in this course of preparation for his “own place,” the different faculties and functions, conscience, moral accountability, etc., are by the voluntary course in sin transmuted into the distinctive features of a unity and substance of wickedness.
2. It is peculiarly his “own place,” in that it is a greatly curtailed sphere of activity. The fish of Mammoth Cave are blind—not by accident nor special creation, but being so situated that the organs of vision may not be exercised, the energies or life force which would have utilised these avenues of communication with the outer world were applied elsewhere and that apartment abandoned, and the fish left blind in a dark cave as a consequence of the disuse of its eyes. So the moral and spiritual faculties are atrophied and the privilege of their healthful functions lost through disuse. It is the sinners’ own place, then, because it is the contracted and degraded sphere in which he has enclosed himself.
IV. The eternity of this doom.
1. This doom is eternal, because it is the verdict of moral government. The protection of the good demands it. The finale is pronounced, and to no higher court can you appeal.
2. It is a self-imposed destiny, and never, until “the Ethiopian can change his skin and the leopard his spots” and transmute themselves into a different type or species, will there be any commutation of the sentence.
3. This matter is eternal with the lost, who abide in their own “place” not only because they have cut themselves off from agencies and appliances in the kingdom of grace, but because all the conditions are now complied with for growing worse and worse.—C. R. Hunt.
Acts 1:12-26. The Waiting Time.—What were its characteristics? It was:
I. A time of transition.—“It stood midway between Christ’s work on earth now completed and the yet unopened work of the Spirit from heaven. In the history of redemption the first or preparatory chapter closed on the day of the Incarnation.” The second, “though ending tragically, in a sense unknown to human history, brought life and immortality to light through the darkness and death of the cross.” The third and last chapter, the dispensation of the Spirit, was about to open.
II. A time of felt need.—As yet the eleven had no clear conception of the tale they were to tell, while they could not but feel that they had neither the position, culture, nor influence to move the world, and not one ground to hope for success save in their assurance of the truth of their story and the help they might receive from above in the telling of it.
III. A time of expectancy.—How often would they recall, and find it indispensable to recall, such words as these, “Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you”; “Ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
IV. A time of prayer.—“These all continued with one accord steadfastly in prayer.” And who can have any doubt what would be the burden of their prayers?
V. A time of fraternal conference.—It seems only reasonable to assume that the intervals (between the prayers) would be filled up by free interchange of recollections and reflections on the astonishing events and thrilling scenes in the earthly life of their now glorified Lord and the encouragements thence arising.
VI. A time of action.—“On one of these days Peter—now fully restored, and, as originally designed, taking the lead—rose and explained to the assembly why the vacancy amongst the Twelve which the fall of Judas had created required to be filled up; and having pointed out the qualifications required, he left it to themselves to select one of their number whom they might lay before their enthroned Lord for His approval.” This resulted in the choice of Matthias.—David Brown, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17