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Bible Commentaries
Acts 1

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.

In this chapter,

(1,) Luke connects this history with his gospel by a more particular account of the ascension of Christ than he had there given, Acts 1:1-11 .

(2,) Speaks of the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, of their being assembled together, and employed in social prayer, Acts 1:12-14 .

(3,) Represents Peter as relating the history of Judas’s wickedness and ruin, in consequence of which Matthias is chosen by lot to be an apostle in his stead, Acts 1:15-26 .

Verses 1-3

Acts 1:1-3. The former treatise have I made, &c. The treatise here referred to is undoubtedly the gospel, which was written by Luke, and dedicated by him to Theophilus. See note on Luke 1:1-2. That treatise ends, and this begins, in that important season, which reached from the resurrection of Christ to his ascension; this describing the acts of the Holy Ghost, (by the apostles,) as that does the acts of Jesus Christ; of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach That is, of all things, in a summary manner, or of the most considerable things which Jesus did and taught from the beginning of his ministry. The reader will readily allow, that all, in this verse, cannot mean every single one of the miracles and sermons which Jesus wrought and preached. For to suppose Luke asserted that, would be to make him contradict the testimony of John. See his gospel, John 20:30-31; John 21:25. By all, here, we must understand, only all that was necessary or expedient to be related, in order to establish the divine mission of Christ, to convince mankind thereof, and to awaken their minds to a deep sense of the importance of it, in order to their salvation, that it might be duly improved, and so answer its intended end upon them. Until the day in which he was taken up This implies, that Luke considered himself as having given, in his former treatise, an account of the manner in which Christ had opened the gospel, and confirmed it, from his first appearance on earth, to the last period of his abode upon it; including also an account both of his life and doctrine; after that he through the Holy Ghost With which, as man, he was endowed without measure, to qualify him for the important offices he had to sustain, and the work he had to perform, in order to the redemption and salvation of mankind; had given commandments to Greek, εντειλαμενος , had solemnly charged; the apostles whom he had chosen To be the prime ministers of his kingdom, and the chief instruments of extending it in the world. To whom also In order to fit them more completely for the discharge of their important office, and to enable them to bear witness to his resurrection from their own certain knowledge of its being a fact; he showed himself alive, after his passion, by many infallible proofs Proofs that amounted to a demonstration, and could not possibly deceive them; for, “by speaking to, by walking, and by eating with them, he gave them a certain indication that he lived; his being seen and handled by them was a sure evidence that he had a true and natural body; and his permitting Thomas to view the scars of his feet and hands, and put his hand into his side, was a certain token that the body, which was raised, was the same that was crucified and pierced by the soldier’s lance.” Being seen of them forty days That is, many times during that space. He continued on earth forty days after he rose, and in the several interviews which he had with his disciples during that period, he gave them convincing proofs of his resurrection; and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God Discoursing to them from time to time concerning that divine kingdom, or dispensation of religion, which he was going to erect in the world by their ministry. He discoursed to them, doubtless, “of teaching the doctrine of this kingdom to all nations, and receiving them into it by baptism who believed and professed to own it; of the benefits which were promised to them who cordially believed their doctrine; and the condemnation which belonged to them who would not believe it; of the encouragements and assistances he would afford them in the propagation of it by his continual presence with them, and the assistance of his Spirit; and by the miracles by which their doctrine should be confirmed by them and others who believed it.” Whitby.

Verses 4-5

Acts 1:4-5. Being assembled together with them Namely, at Jerusalem, to which place they had gone to prepare themselves for the feast of pentecost, or rather, in obedience to Christ’s command, who, after he had met them in Galilee, had appointed them to meet him there, that he might spend his last days on earth in that once holy city, doing this last honour to the place where God had chosen to dwell, and where the most solemn ordinances of his worship had been administered. He commanded that they should wait for the promise of the Father That is, for the accomplishment of the promise made by the Father, to send his Holy Spirit upon the disciples of the Messiah. See note on Luke 24:49. Which, saith he, ye have heard of me Often and lately. See John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7. For John baptized with water only, when he was sent to call men to repentance; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost There is a nobler baptism prepared for you, and which you shall receive from me, to furnish you for the great work to which I have commissioned you, of preaching repentance and remission of sins in my name; and which baptism you shall receive not many days hence He does not tell them how many, because he would have them to keep themselves every day in a state of mind fit to receive it, a disposition of humility, desire, and expectation of the blessing. It was a great honour which Christ did John now, in not only quoting his words, but making this great blessing of the Spirit, soon to be given, to be the accomplishment of them. Thus he confirmed the word of his servants, Isaiah 44:26: but Christ can do more than any of his ministers. It is an honour to them to be employed in dispensing the means of grace, but it is his prerogative to give the Spirit of grace. Now this gift of the Holy Ghost, thus promised, thus prophesied of, thus waited for, is that which the apostles received ten days after, namely, at the approaching pentecost, as is recorded in the next chapter. Several other scriptures speak of the gift of the Holy Ghost to ordinary believers; this speaks of that particular power which, by the Holy Ghost, the first preachers of the gospel, and planters of the church, were endowed with, enabling them infallibly to relate to that age, and record to posterity, the doctrine of Christ, and the proofs of it: so that by virtue of this promise, and the performance of it, we receive the New Testament as of divine inspiration, and venture our souls upon it.

Verses 6-8

Acts 1:6-8. When they, therefore, were come together That is, after he had led them out of the town to the mount of Olives, and was come to that part of the mountain which was above Bethany, (see Luke 24:50,) being full of expectation, that he had brought them thither with a view to some remarkable transaction; they asked him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Wilt thou now break the Roman yoke from off our necks, and immediately erect the kingdom of the Messiah? Their minds were still full of a temporal kingdom to be erected by Christ, in which the Jews should have dominion over all nations; and “they seem to have expected, that when the Spirit was in so extraordinary a manner poured out, and the world, according to Christ’s prediction, (John 16:8,) convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, the whole nation of the Jews would own him for their Messiah, and not only shake off its subjection to the Romans, but itself rise to very extensive, and, perhaps, universal dominion. The word αποκαθιστανεις , [here rendered wilt thou restore, ] intimates the shattered and weakened state in which Israel now was. And I cannot but think,” says Dr. Doddridge, “our Lord’s answer may intimate, it should at length be restored, though not immediately, or with all the circumstances they imagined.” And he Waving a direct answer to this curious question, and leaving it to the Spirit of truth and wisdom, which was shortly to be given, to rectify the mistaken notions on which they proceeded in it; said, It is not for you, &c. It will not be of any use to you, in your work; to know the times or the seasons Of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Besides, this is one of the things which the Father hath thought fit to conceal from mortals, in the abyss of his own omniscience. This only is of importance for you to know, that you shall receive power Fortitude, strength, and ability; after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you In his various gifts and graces; and by these aids ye shall be witnesses unto me Both by word and deed, by preaching and suffering, and by various miracles, which you shall be enabled to perform; both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, &c. 1st, You must begin at Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit shall be poured out upon you in his extraordinary gifts, in the presence of multitudes of its inhabitants, and of strangers assembled there to celebrate the feast of pentecost; where you shall be enabled to do many miracles, and where many will receive your testimony, and they that do not will be left without excuse. 2d, Your light shall from thence shine through all Judea; where before you laboured in vain. 3d, Thence you shall proceed to Samaria, though at your first mission you were forbidden to preach in any of the cities of the Samaritans. 4th, Your usefulness shall not be confined to these countries, but shall be extended to the utmost part of the earth, and you shall be blessings to the whole world.

Verses 9-11

Acts 1:9-11. And when he had spoken these things Had given them these instructions; while they beheld And had their eyes fixed upon him, with great earnestness and high expectation of some extraordinary event, consequent on this solemn preparation, and while they were receiving his blessing, (Luke 24:51,) he was taken up Was lifted up from the ground, in a miraculous manner, gradually rising higher and higher, till at length a cloud Conducted probably by the ministry of angels; received him out of their sight That is, covered him about, and carried him into heaven; not in a sudden, but leisurely manner, that they might behold him departing, and see the proof of his having come down from heaven. He did not grant his disciples the privilege of seeing him come out of the grave, because they might see him after he was risen, which would be a satisfaction sufficient; but as they could not see him in heaven while they continued on earth, he granted them the favour of seeing him go up toward heaven, and of having their eyes fixed upon him with so much care and intention of mind, that they could not be deceived. Observe, reader, our Lord ascended into heaven from the mount of Olives, at or near the place where he had been apprehended and bound, and from whence he had been led away like a felon to be tried for his life, insulted, scourged, and condemned to crucifixion! He now goes off in triumph from the same mountain, into a place and state worthy of his innocence and dignity. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven That is, continued with their eyes fixed the way that he was gone; as he went up In his triumphant ascent; behold two men Two angels in the form of men; stood by them Unexpectedly. Though they had assumed the form and garb of men, they were, by the majesty and splendour of their appearance, known of the apostles to be angels. And, indeed, as his resurrection had been honoured with the appearance of angels, it was natural to think that his ascension into heaven would be so likewise; in white apparel Emblematical of their holiness and happiness; which also said, Ye men of Galilee So they call them, to put them in mind of the meanness of their original condition: Christ had put a great honour upon them, in making them his ambassadors; but they must remember they are men of Galilee, illiterate and despised by the wise and learned of the world. Why stand ye here, gazing up into heaven With so much surprise and amazement? it seems, they looked up steadfastly after he was gone out of sight, expecting, perhaps, to see him come down again immediately. This same Jesus, which is taken up into heaven Who is gone to that world from whence he came, and in which he is to make his final abode; shall so come as you have seen him go into heaven He shall come in like manner, that is, visible, in a cloud, in his own person, with the same body, and with such majesty and glory as you have now seen him ascend with. “The angels spake of his coming to judge the world at the last day, a description of which Jesus had given in his lifetime, saying, (Matthew 16:27,) The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, &c. We may therefore infer that the cloud whereon he now ascended, being like that in which he is to come again, was more bright and pure than the clearest lambent flame; for it was the glory of the Father, that is, the shechinah, or visible symbol of the divine presence, which appeared to the patriarchs in ancient times; which filled the temple at its dedication, (2 Chronicles 7:3,) and which, in its greatest splendour, cannot be beheld with mortal eyes, and so, for that reason, is called the light inaccessible, in which God dwells, 1 Timothy 6:16. It was on this occasion, probably, that our Lord’s body was changed, acquiring the glories of immortality, perhaps, in the view of his disciples; for flesh and blood, such as he rose with, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Accordingly, the body which he now has is called a glorious body, and declared to be of the same nature with that which the saints shall have after their resurrection, Philippians 3:21. Wherefore, though the Scripture is silent as to the time when this change passed upon Christ’s body, we must suppose that it happened either immediately before his ascension, or in the time of it, or soon after it. As he ascended up into the skies, the flaming cloud which surrounded him, leaving a tract of light behind it, marked his passage through the air, but gradually lost its magnitude in the eyes of them who stood below, till, soaring high, he and it vanished out of their sight.

“In this illustrious manner did the Saviour depart, after having finished the grand work which he came down upon earth to execute; a work which God himself, in the remotest eternity, contemplated with pleasure; which angels anciently with joy described as to happen; and which, through all eternity to come, shall, at periods the most immensely distant from the time of its execution, be looked back upon with inexpressible delight by every inhabitant of heaven. For though the little affairs of time may vanish altogether and be lost, when they are removed far back by the endless progression of duration, this object is such, that no distance, however great, can lessen it. The kingdom of God is erected upon the incarnation and sufferings of the Son of God, the kingdom and city of God comprehending all the virtuous beings that are in the universe, made happy by goodness and love; and therefore none of them can ever forget the foundation on which their happiness stands firmly established. In particular, the human species, recovered by this labour of the Son of God, will view their deliverer, and look back on his stupendous undertaking with high ravishment, while they are feasting without interruption on its sweet fruits, ever growing more delicious. The rest of the members likewise of the city of God will contemplate it with perpetual pleasure, as the happy means of recovering their kindred that were lost; and, it may be, as the grand confirmation of the whole rational system, in their subjection to him who liveth and reigneth for ever, and whose favour is better than life.” Macknight.

Verse 12

Acts 1:12. Then returned they unto Jerusalem According to their Master’s appointment, having first worshipped him, Luke 24:52. Here they were in the midst of enemies; but it seems, though immediately after Christ’s resurrection they were watched, and were in fear of the Jews, yet after it was known that they were gone into Galilee, no notice was taken of their return to the city, nor any further search made for them. In Jerusalem they employed themselves in a daily course of public and private devotion, rejoicing in what they had seen and heard, and firmly believing some extraordinary event was at hand, whereby they should be more fully qualified for the great work assigned them; which, whatever the hazard of it might be, they were firmly determined to undertake and prosecute.

Verses 13-14

Acts 1:13-14. When they were come, they went up into an upper room Where they usually held their meetings. The upper rooms, so frequently mentioned in Scripture, were chambers in the highest part of the houses, set apart by the Jews for private prayer. These, on account of their being so retired and convenient, the apostles now used for all the offices of religion. Here all the eleven were assembled, who all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication And that with great intenseness and ardour of soul; with the women Who were formerly mentioned as attending the cross of their Lord, and being early at the sepulchre on the day in which he arose; and Mary the mother of Jesus Mentioned here the last time in the Scriptures; and with his brethren His near kinsmen, who for some time did not believe; probably not till near, or even after, the time of his death.

Verse 15

Acts 1:15. In those days While they were waiting for the promise of the Spirit; Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples Probably being under a peculiar divine influence on this occasion. The number of the names, or persons, together That is, who were together in the upper room; were a hundred and twenty It seems the greater part of the five hundred to whom Christ had appeared (see 1Co 15:6 ) continued in Galilee during this interval between the feast of the passover and that of pentecost. Dr. Lightfoot reckons that the eleven apostles, the seventy disciples, and about thirty-nine more, all of Christ’s own kindred, country, and company, made up this one hundred and twenty; and that these were a sort of synod, or congregation of ministers, a standing presbytery, (Acts 4:23,) to whom none of the rest durst join themselves, Acts 5:13; and that they continued together till the persecution at Stephen’s death dispersed them all but the apostles, Acts 8:1. But he thinks that, besides these, there were many hundreds, if not thousands, in Jerusalem at this time who believed; and indeed we read of many who believed on him there, but durst not confess him. Here was the beginning of the Christian Church; this one hundred and twenty was the grain of mustard-seed that was to grow into a tree, the leaven that was to leaven the whole lump.

Verses 16-17

Acts 1:16-17. Men and brethren Though our Lord never addressed the people thus, (perhaps because it would have implied an equality not suitable to the dignity of his character,) yet the apostles frequently did, when they spoke to Jews or Christians, but never when speaking to the Gentiles. This implies, that they recognised a two-fold relation to their own countrymen, “as men of the same nature, descended from Adam; and as brethren of the same favoured family, as descended from Abraham.” Scott. This scripture must needs have been fulfilled Two prophecies are afterward quoted for this purpose, Acts 1:20, from Psalms 69:25; Psalms 109:8; (on which passages see the notes;) and it has been matter of much debate, whether they do, in their original sense, refer to Judas or to the enemies of David. It is certain the sixty-ninth Psalm is not to be confined to Judas; for Paul ( Rom 11:9-10 ) has quoted the 22d and 23d verses of it as applicable to the unbelieving Jews in general: and “there are so many passages in both these psalms more applicable to David than to Christ, that I was very inclinable,” says Dr. Doddridge, “to render the words before us thus: The scripture which the Holy Ghost spake before, by the mouth of David, must necessarily have been fulfilled concerning Judas, &c.; and to have explained them as if the apostle had said, ‘That vengeance which David foretold, as to be executed on his enemies, must much more fall on Judas, whose perfidious and cruel attack on Christ himself rendered him so much more criminal.’ But it is certain, the order of the Greek words will not naturally admit this interpretation. I therefore conclude that, while David prophesied of the calamities which should befall his persecutors, it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, that the enemies and murderers of the Messiah should inherit those curses in all their terror, and be yet more miserable than the persons on whom they were more immediately to fall. This fact I take to be asserted in these words, as what was revealed by the same Spirit to the Apostle Peter:” an interpretation “which may serve as a key to many other passages of the New Testament.”

Verses 18-20

Acts 1:18-20. This man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity That is, a field was purchased therewith: for that reward, being restored by him to the chief priests, had been paid by them for the purchase of a field, which, in some sense, he might be said to have purchased, having supplied the money that paid for it. See note on Matthew 27:3-10, where the next clause also, namely, his falling headlong, and bursting asunder, (in consequence, probably, of the rope breaking wherewith he hanged himself,) so that his bowels gushed out, is explained at large. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge, that an action is sometimes said in Scripture to be done by a person who was the occasion of doing it. See Genesis 42:38; Exodus 23:8; Romans 14:15; 1Co 7:16 ; 1 Timothy 4:16. And it was known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem The fact was public and notorious, and, the circumstance being extraordinary, it was so much noticed as to become the subject of general conversation; insomuch as that field Which was so purchased; is called in their proper tongue, (Chaldaio-Syriac,) Aceldama, the field of blood As being bought with money which was, in more senses than one, the price of blood; having been the cursed hire for which Judas sold the blood of his Master, and, in effect, his own. We must either suppose that Luke added the expression, that is, the field of blood, to the words of Peter, for the use of Theophilus and other readers who did not understand the language of Palestine, or that the whole verse is to be considered as Luke’s words, and to be read in a parenthesis. It may not be improper to observe here, that Aringhius (in his Romans Subterran., p. 436) mentions a funeral inscription dug up in the Via Nomentana, in Italy, by which it appears that the fate of Judas became a proverbial form of cursing. For it is written in the book of Psalms See note on Acts 1:16.

Verses 21-23

Acts 1:21-23. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us Who have associated and conversed intimately with us, and attended all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out, &c. That is, exercised his ministry among us, and presided over us, and so can testify of all he did and said; beginning from the baptism of John When he first entered on his ministry; unto that same day that he was taken up Into heaven; must one be ordained to be a witness To make up the number twelve, the number first chosen by Christ, answering to the twelve tribes of Israel. They might reasonably suppose that that number of the apostles, appointed by Christ, should be kept up; to be a witness with us of his resurrection That great and fundamental fact upon which the proof of his being the Messiah evidently rests, and of the circumstances which preceded and followed it. And they appointed two It is impossible, as well as quite unnecessary, that we should, at this distance of time, be able to assign a reason why the two that are afterward mentioned, and no more, were proposed as candidates. Perhaps a longer and more intimate acquaintance with our Lord than the other disciples present had enjoyed, might entitle them to a preference on this occasion. Joseph called Barsabas Some manuscripts read, Barnabas, but Dr. Benson seems to have assigned solid reasons for concluding this was not Barnabas the Cyprian, (Acts 4:36,) of whom we read so often in this history, whose name was also Joses, or Joseph, (which are both the same,) but rather the Joseph mentioned Matthew 27:56; and Mark 6:3; the son of Cleophas, or Alpheus, and brother to, at least, two of the apostles, James the Less, and Jude.

Verses 24-25

Acts 1:24-25. And they prayed With great seriousness and solemnity, and in faith, persuaded their prayer would be answered; Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men With all the counsels, the designs, and desires thereof, with every secret sentiment of the soul, and all the future circumstances of every one’s life; show whether of these two thou hast chosen They do not say, which of the seventy, for in the opinion of all present, none could stand in competition with these; but, which of these two, for they were persuaded Christ would appoint one of them, and it was determined to acquiesce entirely in his choice. It is fit God should choose his own servants, and so far as, by the disposals of his providence, the gifts of his Spirit, or in any other way, he shows whom he hath chosen, or what he hath chosen for us, we ought readily to comply with him, and to be perfectly satisfied. It is a comfort to us to be assured, in all our prayers for the welfare of the church and its ministers, that the God we pray to knows the hearts of all men, and hath them not only under his eye, but in his hand, and can turn them which way soever he will; can make them fit for his purpose if he do not find them so, by giving them another spirit. That he may take part of this ministry The ministry of the gospel, the apostleship; may join with us in the work of serving Christ and his church; and glorifying God in saving the souls of men, and may share with us in the honour and happiness thereof; from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place His own, that is, says Grotius, “qui ipsi melius conveniebat quam apostolica functio,” which was more suitable for him than the apostolic office. The expression evidently means a place worthy of him, and which he had deserved by his sin. Hence some manuscripts, instead of ιδιον , his own, read δικαιον , just; that he might go to his just or proper place, a place agreeable to his actions, and therefore assigned him by the righteous judgment of God; namely, a place of punishment in hell. But it is objected, that it belonged not to Peter to pass sentence on Judas, or to affirm any thing of God’s secret counsels, such as Judas’s being consigned to future punishment. “This,” says Dr. Whitby, “is wonderful; that when Christ had pronounced him a devil; (John 6:71;) a son of perdition; (John 17:12;) and declared that it had been better for him that he had never been born; (Matthew 26:24;) it should be thought a diving into God’s secrets, to say he went into a place prepared for, or due to, such miscreants. Moreover, doth not our Saviour say, this fall of the son of perdition was foretold in the Scripture? John 17:12. Does not Peter here apply those Scriptures to him, which foretel the most dreadful things? And does not Luke show the dreadful issue of his iniquity upon his body? And after all this, might he not say, he went to a place proper for him? Whosoever betrays an Israelite into the hands of the Gentiles, say the Jews, hath no part in the world to come; how much less he who betrays the Messiah, the king of Israel, into the hands of the Gentiles, or of his enemies? Matthew 20:19; and Matthew 26:24.”

Verse 26

Acts 1:26. And they gave forth their lots That is, saith Grotius, they put two lots into two urns, the one containing the two names of Joseph and Matthias, the other a blank and the word apostle: and then drawing forth the name of Joseph and the blank, they knew that the lot containing the name of an apostle belonged to Matthias. This being in answer to their prayers, they concluded that Matthias was the man whom the Lord had chosen to the apostleship. The honour God had conferred on inquiries by lot, (Joshua 7:14-15; 1 Samuel 10:20-21,) and the custom of fixing the offices of the priests in the temple, while in waiting there, by lot, (1 Chronicles 24:5; Luke 1:9,) might lead them to take this method of knowing the will of God. Here, therefore, commenced in the Christian Church the proper use of the lot, whereby a matter of importance, which cannot be determined by any ordinary method, is committed to the divine decision. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles The rest of the apostles gave him the right hand of fellowship, so that for the future he made the twelfth of that venerable society of men.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 1". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/acts-1.html. 1857.
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