Acts 1 Commentary

1:1-2:47 BIRTH OF THE CHURCH

The task ahead (1:1-11)

Theophilus, to whom the book is addressed, was apparently a person of influence to whom Luke wished to give a reliable account of the origins and development of Christianity. In his Gospel, Luke had told Theophilus of what Jesus began to do through his life, death and resurrection (1:1-2; cf. Luke 1:1-4). Luke now goes on to tell Theophilus what Jesus continued to do through his followers.

On the occasions when Jesus appeared to his apostles after his resurrection, he taught them the significance of his death and resurrection in relation to the kingdom of God that they were now to proclaim. They would be able to begin this work within a few days, after Jesus returned to his heavenly Father and sent them the gift of his Spirit as he had promised (3-4; cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; Mark 1:8).

The apostles, thinking more about possible political independence for Israel than about their responsibility to preach the gospel, misunderstood Jesus’ words. Jesus told them not to spend time thinking about things that God did not intend them to know, but to go and tell people everywhere that he was alive and triumphant. Jesus would no longer be with them physically, but through the Spirit he would come and live in them to enable them to carry on the work that he had started (5-8; cf. John 14:12,16-18).

 

He would make no more appearances to the apostles for the time being, but some time in the future he would return to be physically with his people again (9-11).

Jesus’ plan for the expansion of the gospel was that it spread out in ever widening circles – from Jerusalem into the surrounding province, then into neighbouring regions, and eventually into every part of the world (v. 8). The book of Acts shows how the work started in Jerusalem (Chapters 1-7), expanded through Judea, Samaria and Syria (Chapters 8-12), and kept on moving out till it reached the heart of the Empire (Chapters 13-28).

A replacement for Judas (1:12-26)

After Jesus’ departure, the apostles returned to Jerusalem, where they met and prayed with various people, among them Jesus’ mother and brothers. During the time of Jesus’ ministry, his brothers had not believed in him as the Son of God, but the resurrection must have turned them to true faith (12-14; cf.

John 7:5; 1 Cor 15:7).

Soon after, the apostles met with just over a hundred other Christians in Jerusalem to choose an apostle to replace Judas. Luke adds a note outlining how Judas had died. When Judas returned the betrayal money to the priests, the priests felt they could not put the money into the temple treasury, so used it to buy a field in Judas’ name. This field was the place where Judas killed himself, and later it became a cemetery for Gentiles (15-20; see Matt 27:3-10).

The replacement apostle had to be an eye witness of the events of Jesus’ public ministry, and particularly of his resurrection. Two were found, equally qualified and apparently equally suitable. The apostles therefore laid the matter before God in complete faith, believing that if they drew lots to decide between the two, the result would indicate God’s choice (21-26).

Apostles and their duties

The word ‘apostle’ meant ‘a sent one’. Jesus gave the name to his chosen twelve because he sent them out, equipped with his messianic powers, to spread the message of the kingdom (Matt 10:1-7; Luke 6:13). They were to spread the message throughout Israel first (Matt 10:5-7), as preparation for the worldwide mission to follow (Matt 28:19-20). The significance of the number twelve was that just as twelve tribes had been the basis of the old people of God, so twelve apostles would be the basis of the new people of God, the Christian church (Matt 16:18; Eph 2:20; Rev 21:12,14).

By choosing a replacement for Judas, the apostles showed that at first they considered it necessary to maintain the unit of twelve. Some years later when James was executed (Acts 12:1-2), they did not feel the same need to find a replacement, probably because by that time the original twelve-member group had largely fulfilled its purpose. It had provided the first-hand witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that Jesus wanted (Luke 24:46-48; John 15:27; Acts 1:21-22), it had established the church on the basis of Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26; Acts 2:42; 6:4) and it had overseen the expansion of Christianity from Jerusalem into the wider world beyond (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; 8:14; 10:44-48). It no longer functioned as a group and the unit of twelve no longer needed to be maintained.

However, the office of apostle continued to be recognized, and as the church grew, an increasing number of people were recognized as apostles (Acts 14:14; Rom 16:7). It even became necessary to warn against false apostles (2 Cor 11:13; Rev 2:2). From this it is clear that the title of apostle applied to a wider group of people than the twelve (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8-11; Gal 1:19).

Apostles in this broader sense continued to preserve, teach and develop the truths of the Christian gospel, and people accepted their teaching as having the authority of God’s Word (1 Cor 1:1; 12:28; 14:37; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Peter 3:15-16; cf. John 16:13-14). This apostolic authority extended

to all aspects of the church’s life (Acts 5:1-11; 2 Cor 12:12; 13:1-3; 2 Thess 3:4,14), though apostles rarely forced their authority upon people. They usually preferred that Christians develop maturity by making their own decisions and using their spiritual gifts (Acts 15:6; 2 Cor 1:24; 13:10; Eph 4:11-13).

It seems that apostles did not pass on their office to the next generation. They had been God’s provision to link the ministry of Christ with the birth of the church, and to ensure that the church was built upon a proper foundation (Eph 2:20). As the Christian teaching became firmly established in written form (2 Thess 2:15) and as the churches became firmly established through local elders (Acts 14:23; 20:28), the necessity for apostles decreased. The apostolic office had fulfilled its purpose and after the first century it died out.

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