For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

1:1. “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,”

Luke 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).

1:2. “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:”  

The 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).

1:3.  “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 chapter 10. 

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. 

1:4.  “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. 

1:5.  “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).

1:6.  “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 kingdom. 

Israel’s unbelief, 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 Tribulation.

1:7.  “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 rejected.

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).

1:8.  “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 latter.

“... 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 record.

1:9.  “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.

1:10.  “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 men.

1:11.  “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 are necessary.

See the notes on verse 9 for the significance of His coming, “in like manner as ye have seen him go....”

1:12.  “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.

1:13.  “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 James.”

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.

1:14.  “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 received.

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 perpetual virgin.

1:15.  “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,)”

1:16.  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 numbers).

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.

1:17.  “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.

1:18.  “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.

1:19.  “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.

1:20.  “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.

Bishoprick means 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).

1:21.  “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,”

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.”

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.

1:23.  “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.

1:24.  “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.

1:25.  “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!

1:26.  “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.”

[Acts 2]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough