ACTS - CHAPTER 1
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both
to do and teach,”
is the acknowledged author of Acts, and the former treatise to which he refers is of
course the Gospel bearing his name. His
writing to an individual, Theophilus, invests this document with a personal
character, but since Theophilus means friend of God, and every believer is
such, we are being reminded perhaps that this communication is first to individuals,
and then to the Church as a corporate body, and for a very good reason: each local
church is simply the reflection of the individuals comprising it.
A church can be no better and no worse than its members.
The reference to the
Lord’s doings - feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc., - as
distinct from His teachings, reminds us that Christianity is practical: it has to do
with deeds as well as words. James, in
fact, reminds us that mere words of profession, without righteous deeds, are
worthless (Jas 2:14-26). This is not to
teach salvation by works, however, but rather that true faith produces good works.
Teaching is the other side
of this coin. Believers are to be taught
so that they will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pe
3:18). No small part of the elder’s
work, in fact, is to teach (1 Tim 3:2; Ac 20:28).
“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy
Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:”
day when He was taken up (Lk 24:50-51; Ac 1:9-11)
was at the end of the forty days of His post-resurrection ministry, during which He
further instructed His own concerning the kingdom of God (verse 3).
Acts places much emphasis on the fact that believers were to testify to the
Lord’s resurrection, there being little need to testify regarding His death which
was all too well known. The importance
of the resurrection cannot be stressed too much, for while we have need of a Savior
Who has died for us, we have equal need of One Who also lives for us.
The importance of His resurrection is further stressed as an essential element
of the believer’s faith and testimony, as it is written, “That if thou shalt
confess with they mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God
hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” Ro 10:9.
That this is the age of the
Holy Spirit’s ministry is declared here right at the beginning, for regarding the
Lord’s commandments to the apostles, it is stated that those commandments were
given “through the Holy Ghost.” And
the reference to, “the apostles whom he had chosen,” reminds us of the importance
of those twelve men: their doctrine (not the men themselves), together with that of
the apostolic-age prophets, is the foundation upon which the Church is built,
“Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2:20).
“To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible
proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the
kingdom of God:”
This revelation of the
resurrected Christ was to believers only. No
unbeliever saw Him after He had died. In
this is disclosed a principle governing man’s relationship with God. Before man can be pardoned, and receive God’s gift of eternal
life, he must believe, by faith, without proof, in the death and resurrection of
Christ; but after faith is exercised, there are given countless proofs which confirm
the wisdom of believing faith.
For two reasons therefore it
is futile to attempt to offer unbelievers proof of the spiritual things believed by
faith. First, the presentation of proof
removes the essential element of faith, the very essence of which is to believe
without proof. And second, those things
which constitute proof to the believer, are beyond the comprehension of the
unbeliever, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for
they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually
discerned” (1 Co 2:14). And even for
believers, the proof comes not in the books that have been written to validate the
resurrection as a historical fact, but in the revelations given by the Holy Spirit
from Scripture. We will encounter many
of those revelations in the course of our study of this book of Acts.
Regarding the infallibility
of the proofs of His resurrection, it is emphasized that they are infallible only to
faith. Unbelief, unable to comprehend
them, rejects them.
Since forty is the Biblical
number of testing, the forty days during which those revelations or proofs were
given, remind us that they were days of testing.
Acceptance or rejection of those infallible proofs would reveal the reality of
a man’s faith. There was such a
screening process in connection with the Lord’s pre-resurrection ministry, see Jn
6:66-69, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with
him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve,
Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter
answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
Not every believer is
willing to make the commitment demanded by implicit obedience to Christ, but to such
as are willing, the reward is great.
“... and speaking of the
things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” The
gospel preached by the Lord prior to His death was a call to Israel to repent and
believe in Him in order that they might receive the millennial kingdom, and it is a
mistake to conclude that that offer ceased at the moment of His death, for Ac 2:23
declares that Christ was, “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge
of God,” and Ac 3:17-19 assures us that God viewed the crucifixion as an act of
ignorance on Israel’s part, which He was willing to forgive, since the Lord’s
death was essential for the remission of the sins of Israel, and of the whole world,
before there could be enjoyment, first of millennial blessings, and then of eternal
blessings following the dissolution of the present heavens and earth at the end of
the Millennium, and their replacement by a new heavens and a new earth.
It is to be noted also that
during His earthly ministry the Lord preached only to Jews.
The disciples were sent out with the command, “Go not into the way of the
Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6), and in Mt 15:24 we read that He said,
“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Even a cursory reading of the early chapters of Acts reveals that the same
exclusiveness characterized the gospel preached in the early days of the apostolic
era. It is not until chapter 8,
following the martyrdom of Stephen, that we find the gospel going outside of Judaism
to the Samaritans, verse 5, to the Ethiopian eunuch, verse 27, and to Cornelius, in
The rending of the vail at
the moment of the Lord’s death in AD 32, signified, not God’s rejection of
Israel, but the opening of the new and living way by which all men, Jew and Gentile
alike, could come to God through faith in a crucified and risen Christ.
Nor did it, as has been taught, signify the end of the Levitical ritual, for
two things are to be noted relative to that ritual: (1) it continued to be used by
believing and unbelieving Jews alike until AD 70 when the temple was destroyed,
making the use of the Levitical ritual impossible, (2) it will be the mode of worship
in the millennial kingdom, which, as has been noted in the introduction to this
series of studies, was being offered to Israel in the apostolic age.
God did not abolish that mode of worship for Jewish believers until AD 70, for
the simple reason that it was His desire for Israel to enter the Millennium just
seven years after the Lord’s resurrection (the Tribulation judgments occurring in
those seven years), and to continue using that ritual commemoratively as they had
previously used it anticipatively.
A further significance of
those thirty-eight years between AD 32 and AD 70 is also to be noted.
There was a similar period in Israel’s history, marked also by transition (Dt
2:14). It wasn’t until they refused to
enter Canaan (Nu 14), that the desert journeys became invested with the character of
wandering. The preceding time that had
brought them to the border of Canaan, were not years of wandering, nor was there in
those two years any thought of one generation dying out while another matured.
It was the disobedient refusal to enter Canaan that caused the whole forty
years to become invested with the character of wandering and transition, in which one
generation would die out, and another would grow up to inherit the blessings spurned
by the first. Those thirty-eight years
following Israel’s refusal to enter Canaan, are the OT foreshadowing of the
apostolic age. Israel’s refusal to
enter the millennial kingdom after Christ’s death and resurrection, caused them to
be set aside, and the intervening thirty-eight years until A.D.70 saw one generation
(Israel) die out, while a new generation, the Church, came to maturity, to inherit
better blessings than those rejected by disobedient Israel.
“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should
not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he,
ye have heard of me.”
While God foreknew that
Israel would reject His offer of the millennial kingdom, He was nevertheless willing
to wait and plead with her, allowing her to demonstrate her rejection of His grace by
her own free willed choice not to accept the resurrected Lord as her Messiah.
Until they made that choice, as they did by killing Stephen, God would deal
with them as those to whom the kingdom was still available.
Jerusalem therefore was still the center of blessing, hence the command to
remain there until the giving of the promised Holy Spirit, that promise of course
having been made by the Lord Himself, see Jn 14:16,17,26.
“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy
Ghost not many days hence.”
This statement can be understood only as we
understand the significance of the baptism which
was the outward sign of the inward repentance that was necessary to fit one to enter
the millennial kingdom offered first by John, then by the Lord and His disciples, and
then by the apostles after His return to heaven.
First, there was the
imperative of repentance, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt
3:2). There must be a complete change of mind and heart regarding sin,
for that is what repentance is. “Then
went out to him (to John) Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about
Jordan, and were baptized of him... confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he
said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to
come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Mt 3:5-8).
John preached the need for
confession of sin, he warned of wrath to come, he taught the need of baptism, he
emphasized the necessity of deeds compatible with professed repentance, and he
pointed them to Christ. But all of these
are the very same things that constitute the gospel we preach today.
The faith in Christ that is needed to enter heaven, is exactly the same faith
that was needed then to fit one to enter the millennial kingdom, and that will be
needed when that kingdom is offered again in the coming Tribulation age.
Nor is the reason hard to find: those who enter the millennial kingdom will
pass from it into the eternal kingdom, hence the need of the same faith as brings to
believers today the certainty of entering heaven.
It follows therefore that
since the faith needed to enter the Millennium, is the same as the faith needed to
enter heaven, the baptism that is the symbolic declaration of that faith, must also
be the same. And baptism, not by
sprinkling but by immersion, is the only appropriate way to make that declaration,
for in going under the water, the believer is saying, “I am crucified with
Christ,” and in emerging from the water he is proclaiming, “nevertheless I live;
yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live
by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20).
The fact that John baptized “in Jordan” (Mt 3:6), assures us that baptism
portrays death and resurrection, for that river is the biblical symbol of death.
Going into Jordan portrays death; coming out of Jordan, resurrection.
It is to be noted, however,
that in connection with John’s baptism, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit,
except in connection with the Lord’s baptism, “And Jesus, when he was baptized
went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and
he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (Mt 3:16).
This is said of no one else who came to John’s baptism, but since Christ
must die before the Holy Spirit could be given (Jn 16:7), the manifestation didn’t
occur until the Lord had typically died and been resurrected, His death being
portrayed by His descent into Jordan, and His resurrection being represented by His
coming up out of it. But now, unlike
those of the OT age, whose baptism was in anticipation of Christ’s death, those of
the Church age (whose submission to this ordinance is the symbolic declaration of
faith in a Savior Who has now been crucified and raised again), are assured
that they are to receive that same Holy Spirit Who descended upon Him at His baptism.
But a special significance
of this is often missed. The Lord
Himself declared, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away,
the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (Jn
16:7). But now note what is written in
Ac 1:22, “Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken
up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”
The giving of the Holy Spirit was itself one of the clearest testimonies to
the Lord’s resurrection. It was a
living Christ, Who by fulfilling His promise given in Jn 16:7, was assuring His own,
“I am alive.” He was not sending
them out to testify to His resurrection without giving them first the assurance that
the fact to which they were to bear witness, was gloriously true.
But more: the miracles which that same Holy Spirit would enable them to
perform, would confirm their words of witness. Israel,
refusing such evidence, revealed her determination not to believe; and justified God
in rejecting her.
That baptism of the Holy
Spirit, however, is more than the irrefutable evidence of the Lord’s resurrection:
it is the assurance to all believers that we are in Christ, and Christ in us. The same Holy Spirit Who anointed the Lord for His appointed work
when he was here on earth as man, is the same Holy Spirit Who now indwells and
anoints for their appointed work, the members of that body whose Head, the risen
Christ, is now in heaven. If that fact
were more firmly grasped it would transform our lives, for it would enable us to walk
in the confident assurance that we have only to be completely yielded to that
indwelling Holy Spirit, to have available to us all the power of God, for the Holy
Spirit is God. It would deliver
us from the anxiety which accompanies the idea that anything is ever dependent on our
puny strength. It would transform what
is often a mere shibboleth on our lips, into a confidence in our hearts that, “I
can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth me” (Php 4:13).
“When they therefore were come together, they asked him, saying, Lord, wilt
thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
This was the most natural
question in the world. As has been noted
already, the gospel preached by John the Baptist, and by the Lord Himself, was a call
to repentance and to faith in Him, as the necessary qualification of those who would
enter the millennial kingdom, that same qualification also fitting the person to
enter heaven when the Millennium ends. We
repeat: Israel could have had the millennial kingdom in the apostolic age, the only
condition needing to be met being that she trust in this Jesus Whom she had
crucified. The Lord was offering the
millennial kingdom, not to some future generation, but to those in whose midst He
stood two thousand years ago. Had they
met the condition of faith, the seven years of the Tribulation would have followed
immediately. The Roman emperor would
have made the seven-year treaty with Israel, the date of its signing being the first
day of the Tribulation. His violation of that treaty three and a half years later would
have begun the Great Tribulation, and at the end of those three and a half years
Christ would have returned in power and glory to deliver Israel and establish the
however, has resulted in the postponement of the offer, but when it is renewed (as it
will be following the rapture of the Church), the conditions will be exactly the same
as they were two thousand years ago. An
unbelieving Israel will be in the land, under the dominion of the revived Roman
empire headed by the beast, who will sign the seven-year treaty that will begin the
“And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons,
which the Father hath put in his own power.”
The Lord did not declare
their expectation invalid. He simply
told them that it wasn’t for them to know. By
His foreknowledge He knew that Israel’s unbelief would make necessary the
postponement of the offer; but here, as in many instances in Scripture, confusion has
resulted from failure to distinguish between divine foreknowledge and divine
predestination; and from failure to recognize that there are two spheres of the
divine will: one permissive, the other, directive.
Within the realm of God’s
permissive will there is opportunity for the unhindered exercise of man’s free
will, so that even though God has foreknowledge of the results of those choices, He
does not compel man to make them, either good or bad.
For example, it is not His will that any should perish, yet He does not compel
men either to accept or to reject salvation. He
leaves them to make a choice, even though the wrong choice saddens Him, “As I live,
saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the
wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will
ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11).
And so in regard to the
offer of the millennial kingdom two thousand years ago: Israel must be permitted to
make the choice. But so that there would
be nothing to diminish the earnestness of their appeal to men to enter that kingdom
right then, God would not reveal to the Apostles what He foreknew: the offer would be
It is the same in regard to
the preaching of the gospel today. We
don’t know who will accept, and who reject that gospel.
Did we know, we would not present it to those we knew would reject it, and so
would deny them the opportunity to make a choice.
(Also withheld from us is the knowledge of why, in His sovereignty, God
Himself chooses to deny a choice to some who, He foreknows, would reject it were they
given the choice, while by the same sovereignty He permits others to hear the gospel
even though He knows that they will reject it).
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and
ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and
unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Reception of power is
inseparable from reception of the Holy Spirit. It
was the Lord Himself Who had told them that His departure was essential to the coming
of that same Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7), and from such passages as Jn 14, 15 and 16, among
others, we learn something of what is available to those in whom the Spirit dwells
unquenched and ungrieved: prayer will be answered (Jn 14:13-14); comfort given
(v.16); enlightenment provided (v.26); peace enjoyed (v.27); witnessing power
provided (Jn 15:26-27; truth taught, and Christ revealed (Jn 16:13-14).
Far more, however, is
involved in the Holy Spirit’s coming upon men during this present age, than was the
case in preceding ages. Since the day of
Pentecost, He does more than “come upon” believers: He indwells them, making
their bodies His earthly dwelling place (1 Co 5:19).
In the OT ages He “came upon” individuals to empower them for particular
tasks, but there is nothing to indicate that He remained permanently; rather, in
fact, much evidence to the contrary. In
this age between Pentecost and the Rapture, believers may grieve and quench Him by
disobedience, but His presence in us is permanent. His power and His presence are not to be confused, however.
Disobedience cuts us off from the former, nothing can sever us from the
“... and ye shall be
witnesses unto me....” This is the
primary purpose of the Spirit’s coming, as it is also of our being left here on
earth after conversion. We are to be
witnesses for Christ, a work impossible apart from the Spirit’s power.
It is sadly apparent, however, that for the most part Christendom has
forgotten this. We live as though the
great commission had never been given, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the
gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Those
first believers were witnesses for Him. That’s
why the Church flourished in that early age - and without all the cumbersome
machinery deemed essential to that work today. There
were no committees, boards, Bible schools, organizations, directors, etc. Believers simply walked obediently, and preached “Jesus Christ,
and Him crucified” (1 Co 2:1-5). God
responded by saving souls. The Church
will experience that same blessing only when the schemes of men are abandoned, and
there is a return to an obedient walk, an essential part of which is a fearless
preaching of the gospel, not to fill the empty seats in our meeting places, but
because we care about men’s souls above all else.
“... both in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
In this we see an ever widening sphere of witness which is the divine pattern
for all witness. First the gospel was to
be preached to their fellow Jews (those first converts were all Jews) in Jerusalem,
the home, as it were, of Judaism; then out to all Judea; next to the half-Jewish,
half-Gentile Samaria; and finally to the whole world.
We find this same pattern in
connection with the healed demoniac (Lk 8). The
man wanted to remain with the Lord, but was commanded, “Return to thine own house,
and shew how great things God hath done unto thee.
And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things
Jesus had done unto him” (v.39). Mark,
however, adds an interesting and instructive detail omitted by Luke: the man,
“began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men
did marvel” (Mk 5:20). He witnessed
first to his “own house,” then to his own city, and eventually to ten cities, for
Decapolis is not the name of a city, but of a ten-city region.
Our witness must begin “in
Jerusalem,” in our “own house,” i.e., to our own families; then to “all
Judea,” “the whole city,” i.e., our own neighborhoods; then “in Samaria,”
i.e., farther afield; and eventually “unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
In this we see the display
of divine wisdom. Ability to witness,
like every other skill, improves with practice.
As we search the Word for answers to the questions and arguments of our own
families, we equip ourselves to deal with the questions and arguments of others,
enabling us to go out as workmen, “that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing
the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15), “... ready always to give an answer to every man
that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you....” (1 Pe 3:15).
We may not bypass the divine
order. He who fails to witness to his
own family rarely has much of a testimony to others.
There is in this order,
however, also the prophetic intimation of a much sadder truth.
Others have noted that in this movement from Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the
whole world, we have revealed what was yet to be. Israel’s unbelief would compel God, with much reluctance, to
depart from them, and bestow upon the Gentiles the blessings refused by the Jews.
There had been a similar reluctant departure in the past, for in Eze 9:3 we
read of the departure of the divine glory, first “to the threshold of the house,”
then to the east gate (Ez 10:18-19), and finally to the mountain (v.23), to be seen
no more until that day still future when it will return as foretold in Ez 43:1-5.
There is little doubt that this departure recorded by the prophet, is the
foreshadowing of that reluctant departure of which the book of Acts is the sad
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up;
and a cloud received him out of their sight.”
This mention of a cloud
directs our thoughts to another scriptural reference to a cloud in Ge 9:13, “I do
set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the
earth.” That covenant guaranteed that
there would never again be a destruction of the earth by water. Spiritual minds will have no difficulty seeing in that bow a
figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that covenant a miniature of the better
pledge sealed with His blood, assuring every believer, “There is therefore now no
condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1).
The believer is beyond reach of all judgment.
The rapture of Elijah (2 Ki
2:9-11) is clearly a foreshadowing of the Lord’s ascent to heaven, for as
Elisha’s assurance of a double portion of his master’s spirit was associated with
Elijah’s ascent to heaven, so here in Acts the disciples who witnessed the Lord’s
ascent were soon to be baptized with that same Holy Spirit Who had empowered their
Master, Who had Himself assured them, “... the works that I do shall he (the
believer) do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my
Father” (Jn 14:12).
Further assurance is
associated with clouds, for in 1 Th 4:17 we read concerning the Rapture, “Then we
which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to
meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
And finally, clouds are associated with His return to judge the nations and
establish His millennial kingdom, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye
shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall
wail because of him” (Re 1:7).
As the Holy Spirit brings
before us these and other Scriptural references to clouds and rapture, the Lord’s
being caught up in a cloud becomes invested with far deeper significance than simply
the literal description of His ascent to heaven.
Void of any special significance at the time of its occurrence, it is very
probable that it later brought to the disciples, as it does now to us, the assurances
we have just been considering.
“And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two
men stood by them in white apparel.”
Two is the biblical number
of witness or testimony, so that these two angels (it is clear that they were angels
in human form) were there as God’s witnesses to disclose truth relative to the
return of that same Lord Whom the disciples had seen go up to heaven. Since white is the color of purity, the white apparel reminds us
that those who would be God’s messengers must themselves be clean, not only as to
their state before God (they must be believers), but also as to their walk before
“Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?
this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner
as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
The aptness of the term
“ye men of Galilee” is apparent when we
remember that Galilee is always associated with the faithful remnant.
The interval of waiting for the Lord’s return, however, was not to be spent
in mere idle contemplation of the sky. There
was work to be done, a gospel to be preached, for it was the Lord Himself Who had
given the command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature” (Mk 16:15).
Too often we “contemplate
the sky,” i.e., devote to study and meditation time that God would have us use to
reach the lost. It is not that study and
meditation aren’t important - they are very important - but they are not to be
pursued to the neglect of the Gospel. The
spiritual pendulum unfortunately is rarely where it should be - in the middle.
We tend to be either all study and no gospel, or all gospel and no study; all
love and no doctrine, or vice versa. Both
See the notes on verse 9 for
the significance of His coming, “in like manner as ye have seen him go....”
“Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is
from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.”
They returned to Jerusalem
literally, but can there be any doubt that they returned also spiritually, for
Jerusalem, meaning dual peace shall be taught: lay
(set) ye double peace, speaks of peace?
Nor should we miss the spiritual lesson of their returning from Olivet olive
yard. Olive oil is a familiar symbol
of the Holy Spirit, so that in having Olivet as one terminal of their short journey,
and Jerusalem as the other, we remember, as undoubtedly they would also, that the
Lord had “commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem” (v.4) until
they had received the promised Holy Spirit. And the journey’s being but the short distance permitted to be
traveled on the sabbath, may be an oblique indication of the shortness of the time
that would elapse before that promised Spirit would be given.
“And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode
both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and
Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of
All Scripture names have
meanings which usually convey an easily discerned spiritual truth, and since the
meanings of the names of the tribes of Israel point to specific characteristics, not
only of Israel, but of believers in general, it might have been expected that the
names of the eleven apostles would have served a similar function, but I regret being
unable to see in those meanings anything of spiritual significance. I give those meanings therefore in the hope that readers may be
able to see in them what for the present at least eludes me.
They are as follows: Peter a stone; James is the same as Jacob, and
means he will take by the heel; John Jehovah is gracious giver; Andrew manly;
Philip lover of horses or lover of the race; Thomas a twin;
Bartholomew son of Talmai (Talmai means my furrows); Matthew gift of
Jehovah; Alphaeus produce: gain (in Hebrew it means my exchanges);
Simon hearkening; Zelotes a zealot (especially of Jewish independence);
Judas he shall be praised.
We may, however, learn
something from their going “into an upper room.”
Such a room was away from the distracting activities in the lower rooms
associated with the ordinary maintenance of the household.
In that room they prayed. Prayer
requires separation from the legitimate affairs of life, and he who would pray
effectively should make every effort to have “an upper room” to which he can
withdraw. I heard of an African believer
who once invited a missionary to accompany him some distance from the village.
Eventually they came to a little hut in the bush.
The African explained that he had built it as a place of quietness to which he
could come to pray.
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the
women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”
In a day when the quest for
novelty has led to the introduction of many unscriptural practices, it is instructive
to note that here, as throughout the NT, there was no separation of men from women
while they prayed. The dividing into
special groups for prayer (or study) is not authorized in Scripture, and its being a
departure from Scriptural order marks it simply as a subtle ploy of Satan to divide.
The woman’s silent prayer is no less effective than is that of the man’s
vocalized petition or thanksgiving; and in addition, when there is no dividing into
groups, young believers learn how to pray as they listen to godly mature men
lead the assembly in the exercise of this high spiritual privilege.
As in Php 4:6, a distinction
is made between prayer and supplication. Here
prayer emphasizes the thought of worship, while supplication speaks of the
presentation of requests. Prayer should
never be simply the importuning of God for blessings.
A thankful heart will be mindful of blessings already bestowed (the greatest
being that of the gift of eternal life), and will first offer thanks for what God has
already given. It is instructive to find
how our list of requests shrinks as we become occupied with blessings already
The presence of His mother
tells us that she also had need to pray, and refutes the false teaching of Rome that
she is the one to be entreated. The
presence of His brethren tells us that they were now believers; and the reference to
such brethren (really half brothers, for Joseph was their father, but Jesus was
begotten by the power of the Holy Spirit) refutes the lie of Rome that Mary was a
“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said,
(the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)”
Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the
Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to
them that took Jesus.”
This was still a Jewish
company, for the gospel had not yet gone out to the Gentiles, so it was appropriate
that Peter, the apostle to the Jews (Ga 2:7) should act as spokesman.
As noted in other studies,
Biblical numbers have spiritual significance, the lesson being conveyed not only in
individual numbers up to seven, but also in the factors of each number.
The prime factors of 120 are 2, number of witness or testimony; 3, number of
resurrection; and 5, number of responsibility, combining to remind us that as men and
women standing spiritually on resurrection ground, they were responsible to be the
Lord’s witnesses to an unsaved world. The
very obvious general factors are 10, number of God as Governor, e.g., He gave the ten
commandments; and 12, the number of those who are under that government, e.g., the
twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church, built upon the foundation (of the doctrine)
of the twelve apostles. They were
responsible to demonstrate that God governed their lives.
The same responsibilities devolve upon us. (Grant’s Numerical Bible published by Loizeaux Bros., is
recommended to those wishing to study in detail the significance of biblical
Verse 20 indicates that the
specific Scripture referring to Judas was Ps 69:12, though it seems that Peter may
also have referred to others in a general way. The
Lord’s death was no accident in which the will of man circumvented that of God.
It was foreordained in eternity past, an omnipotent God simply making the
wrath of man to praise Him (Ps 76:10), by using it to accomplish His Own purposes.
Nor should it be concluded that Judas was predestinated to be the Lord’s
betrayer. He wasn’t.
What he did was his own free-willed choice.
Nowhere does Scripture teach that any man is predestined either for
destruction or blessing. It is
predestined that unbelievers will be in the lake of fire, and believers in heaven,
eternally, but the choice of the destination is
left to each man.
“For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.”
Not only was Judas not
predestined to destruction, he was on the contrary given every advantage: he was
chosen for a place of special privilege, and had had conferred upon him the honor of
sharing in a unique ministry. It is by
his own choice that his name occupies a place of infamy in the divine record, rather
than one of honor. Few men have ever
been granted such privilege. For over
three years he was permitted to walk with the Lord Himself.
“Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling
headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”
The terrible tragedy of this
man’s life lies in what he chose, as compared with what he might have chosen. By faithful service, he could have secured for himself a reward to
be enjoyed for ever in heaven, but he foolishly elected instead to purchase “a
field with the reward of iniquity.” It
is significant that it was the Lord Himself Who designated “the field” as a
symbol of the world, Mt 13:38. Less
dramatically, but none the less tragically, multitudes also chose to “purchase a
field with the reward of iniquity,” for every man who refuses to accept Christ as
his Savior, is choosing his portion with a condemned doomed world.
The imagined contradiction
between this account, and that given in Mt 27:3-10 is easily explained.
The purchase of the field by others, was with the money which Judas had
treacherously earned, so that it was as though he himself had acted.
As for its being recorded
that he fell headlong and burst open so that his intestines poured out, there is no
contradiction, but rather the addition of detail. The rope may have broken, or his
body may have fallen when being cut down, the fall causing it to burst.
“And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field
is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.”
The field had a double claim
to the name. It was purchased with the
blood of the Savior, and befouled with the blood of His betrayer. The world, which the field represents, has also been purchased
with the blood of Christ, the coming Millennium being the period when the earth will
display the results of its having been redeemed by that same precious blood.
“For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate,
and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.”
The quotation combines what
is written in two Psalms, 69:25, and 109:8, and reminds us again that all that
transpired in connection with the death of Christ was ordained by God.
overseership, the same word used to describe the office of an elder.
The apostles were also elders, see e.g., 1 Pe 5:1.
But for his treachery, Judas would have been privileged to share the oversight
of the churches with the other apostles. (It
is to be noted that the oversight of the apostles in addition to that of the elders,
was unique to the apostolic age when the foundation of the Church was being laid.
Since then, the only scriptural leadership of the churches is that of the
elders, their oversight being confined to the local church over which the Holy Spirit
has set them. The elders of one local
church have no authority beyond that assembly).
“Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the
Lord Jesus went in and out among us,”
“Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up
from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Here we have the
qualifications of an apostle. He had to
be one who had been with the Lord from His baptism till His ascension, and his work
was to be that of witnessing to His resurrection.
This refutes the idea of apostolic succession, as it does also the belief that
there are apostles today. No one except
those living between the Lord’s baptism and His ascension could meet the
requirements. (While the word apostle is
lit., one sent forth, and in that general sense is applied in the NT to
others, its unique application is to the twelve, and to Paul).
It is to be noted also that there were many who met these qualifications, but
the twelve, and Paul, were selected by the sovereign choice of the Holy Spirit.
Out of many potential candidates, “must one be ordained....”
Acts emphasizes that the
witness of the apostles, and of all the believers, was to be, not to the Lord’s
death, but to His resurrection. His
death needed no witnesses. It was
established beyond doubt. Belief in His
resurrection is an essential element of salvation, see e.g., Ro 10:9.
“And they appointed two, Joseph let him add called Barsabas son of
the host, who was surnamed Justus just, and Matthias gift of God.”
We are not told how these
two were selected out of many possible candidates, though it is possible that their
own godly lives had commended them. This
same principle still governs the recognition of the evangelists, elders, and teachers
given as gifts to the Church by her risen Head (Eph 4:11). Their lives reveal what they are.
“And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men,
shew whether of these two thou has chosen.”
Having reached a point
beyond which human judgment could not go, the choice between these two must be left
with God, for He looks where man can’t - on the heart.
A lesson we may learn from this is that God won’t do for us what we can do
for ourselves, but when we come to the end of our limited resources, He takes over.
“That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by
transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”
It was by his own
free-willed transgression, not by divine predestination, that Judas forfeited his
high privilege, and lost his soul. Nor
does his going to “his own place” imply predestination.
God has appointed two eternal destinations for men, but He leaves the choice
with each individual. It was by his own
choice that for now hell has become “his own place,” as the lake of fire will be
his place for eternity. Who can begin to
imagine this man’s bitter remorse as he ponders for ever what might have been but
for his love of money? How many others
will also experience the same remorse in the eternal torment of the lake of fire!
“And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was
numbered with the eleven apostles.”
The casting of lots was one approved OT method
of ascertaining the divine will (Pr 16:33), and it is to be remembered that that age
did not end until the autonomy of Israel ended in AD 70.
Since then, however, the method of discerning God’s will is from the
Scriptures, not by the drawing of lots or any other OT method.
That the twelve apostles
constituted a unique group is confirmed by the statement that, “he was numbered
with the eleven apostles.”