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Acts 1:1-26 | Werner Bible Commentary

Acts 1:1-26

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From the earliest centuries, the “first account” (literally, “first word”) has been understood as the evangel that is attributed to Luke. At the end of one of the oldest extant manuscripts of this evangel (P75, thought to date from either the late second century or the early third century CE) are the words, “evangel according to Luke” (euangelion kata loukan). Both the “Evangel According to Luke” and “Acts of the Apostles” are addressed to Theophilus. Since he referred to Theophilus as the recipient of the “first account,” the writer identified himself as the person who composed Acts. In the evangel, Theophilus is acknowledged as being krátistos, meaning “highly honored” or “most excellent.” This could indicate that Theophilus held a high position or was highly esteemed as a person with a noble status. The “first account” dealt with “all” that “Jesus began to do and teach.” In this case, “all” does not refer to the inclusion of every detail about Jesus’ activity and teaching but signifies that the written narration related to what Jesus did and taught. (1:1)

The first account concluded with Jesus’ being “taken up” or his ascending to heaven, ending the kind of interaction he had had with his disciples after his resurrection from the dead. Before his being “taken up,” Jesus “gave command to the apostles” (“sent forth ones”) whom he had chosen to testify concerning him. The command was for them to proclaim that, on the basis of his “name” or faith in him, forgiveness of sins would be possible for all who repented of their sins and became his disciples. The proclamation was to have its start in Jerusalem, where the apostles were to wait until they were empowered by holy spirit. (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-49) As one upon whom the holy spirit operated in its fullness, Jesus gave command “through holy spirit.” (1:2)

During a period of 40 days, Jesus, “after he had suffered” an agonizing death and been resurrected, presented himself “alive” to the apostles, providing them with “many proofs” that he was indeed the risen one. (1:3)

The apostles found it hard to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Late on the first day after his resurrection, he suddenly appeared in their midst while they were assembled behind locked doors. Despite his reassuring words, they became fearful, thinking that they were seeing a spirit or an apparition. He asked them to touch him, telling them that a spirit does not have flesh and bone. Even though they were filled with joy, they still seem to have found it hard to accept that Jesus had been resurrected and continued in a state of amazement. He then asked them if they had anything to eat. Upon being given a piece of fish, he ate it, thus providing them with additional proof that he was alive. (Luke 24:29, 33-43) At another time, Jesus made it possible for Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, and two other disciples to have an extraordinarily large catch of fish. (John 21:1-7) Another one of the many proofs by which Jesus revealed himself to be alive included the way he took bread, said a blessing, and then broke the bread. (Luke 24:30, 31)

Besides presenting himself alive by means of many proofs, Jesus also spoke to them about the “kingdom of God” in the course of 40 days. He may have made known to them his role as king by his Father’s appointment and how they and others could remain approved persons in the realm where his Father is recognized as Sovereign, finally to gain entrance into this realm in the complete sense upon his return in glory. (1:3)

Jesus, when meeting with the apostles, instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for “the promise of the Father,” concerning which promise they had heard him speak to them before his death. This “promise” referred to the future outpouring of the holy spirit, which promise the Father had made known through his prophets centuries earlier. (Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; Joel 2:28, 29 [3:1, 2]) Moreover, Jesus had told the apostles that, after his departure, they would receive the holy spirit. As their remembrancer and teacher, the spirit would empower them to carry out their responsibilities as Jesus’ devoted disciples, bearing witness to others concerning him. (1:4; John 14:15-18, 25, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7-11; see the Notes section.)

Jesus reminded the apostles that John had “baptized with water.” They, however, in not many “days” from then, would be “baptized with [en, literally, “in”] holy spirit.” At the time John baptized persons who had repented of their sins, he proclaimed that the one who would come after him (the promised Messiah) would baptize with holy spirit. (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8) The Greek preposition en here does not mean that the baptism of the apostles would occur in the element of spirit but that they would be recipients of, or baptized with, the spirit. (1:5; see the Notes section.)

When the apostles had come together with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” They framed their question according to their expectations regarding Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ, the son of David. They thought in terms of an independent monarchy with its capital in Jerusalem and Jesus as king, free from subservience to any other earthly sovereignty. The apostles did not then understand the true nature of the kingdom as being heavenly and not of this world. As the realm where God is recognized as Sovereign and rules by means of his Son, the kingdom would be revealed in the completeness of its authority upon Jesus’ return in glory. The Son of God would then accept those who are his own to be with him and express judgment against all who choose to oppose him. (1:6)

Jesus’ reply to the apostles focused on his return as the highly exalted Lord, the King by his Father’s appointment. He told them that it was not for them to know the “times and seasons which the Father has set by his own authority.” It is God’s exclusive domain to determine just “when” the kingdom would be revealed in all its fullness as the realm where he is the recognized Sovereign and rules through his Son. This knowledge was not imparted to the apostles nor has it been revealed to any humans in all the intervening centuries since their time. (1:7; see the Notes section.)

The apostles had a work to do in relation to the kingdom, identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah, Christ, or King, and making known how through faith in him individuals everywhere could become part of the royal realm and gain the ultimate entrance into this realm as sinless persons at the time of his return in glory. To empower them to carry out their commission, Jesus revealed that the holy spirit would come upon them and they would be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In Jerusalem (located in Judea), they would start to present their testimony concerning Jesus Christ as the resurrected and exalted Lord in heaven. From there they would make known the message about him throughout all of Judea, the Roman district that lay to the north of Judea (Samaria), and then far beyond the boundaries of their land. (1:8; see the Notes section.)

After Jesus had said this and while the apostles were “looking on” (their attention being directed to him), he was “lifted up” from where he was standing and began to ascend. A “cloud caught him away from their eyes.” This suggests that he passed through the cloud and out of their sight. (1:9)

The apostles kept looking in the direction where Jesus had ascended. As they gazed at the sky, two men dressed in white garments appeared to them. The two men were angels, as indicated by their white garments. Whenever the attire of angels is specified in the Scriptures, it is referred to as having been white. (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Revelation 19:14) Moreover, what the two men said indicated that they were heavenly messengers, for they revealed future developments regarding Jesus. (1:10)

Addressing the apostles as “men of Galilee,” the angels asked them, “Why do you stand [here] looking to heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will thus come in the way you saw him going into heaven.” The question indicated that it was not then the time for them to look for Jesus to appear again, continuing to interact with them as he had after his resurrection. This question may also have implied that they had a work to do until he would be returning in glory as their highly exalted Lord. That he would return, however, was certain. The apostles had seen Jesus ascend and vanish from their sight, and his disappearance from view came about by means of a cloud. Therefore, it appears reasonable to conclude that they would have thought of his coming again as involving actual sight and clouds. Other references to Christ’s return do mention that he would be seen coming on or with the clouds. (1:11; Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Revelation 1:7; see the Notes section.)

The apostles were on the Mount of Olives when Jesus ascended and vanished from their sight. After the angels spoke to them, they returned to Jerusalem, situated just a “sabbath’s day journey” away. According to ancient Jewish sources, a “sabbath’s day journey” was limited to 2,000 cubits (approximately 3,000 feet or over 900 meters). This was the farthest point to which Jews were authorized to walk on the Sabbath, and 2,000 cubits corresponds roughly to what Josephus (in Antiquities, XX, viii, 6 [five stadia]; War, V, ii, 3 [six stadia]) gave as the distance of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. (1:12; see http://bibleplaces.com/mtolives.htm for pictures of and comments about the Mount of Olives.)

Arriving in the city, the apostles headed for the upper chamber of the house where they were staying. Possibly this was the home of Mary, the mother of Mark, and the upper chamber may have been where they had observed the Passover with Jesus just before his being seized in the garden of Gethsemane. (1:13)

The eleven apostles are then named, and Peter (as in all other lists) is mentioned first. As the son of John (Jonah), he was known as Simon, and Jesus gave him the name Peter, meaning “rock.” (John 1:42) The name Peter reflected Jesus’ confidence in him as a disciple who would remain firm or steadfast like a rock and a strengthening aid to fellow believers. John and James were brothers whom Jesus called “Boanerges” (“sons of thunder”), possibly on account of their fiery disposition. (Mark 3:17) If Salome was Mary’s sister (as may be concluded from a comparison of Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40 and of John 19:25 with Matthew 27:55 and Mark 15:40, 41), James and John would have been Jesus’ cousins. Andrew was Peter’s brother and the one who had initially introduced Peter to Jesus as the promised Messiah. (John 1:40, 41) In John’s account (1:44-47), Philip is mentioned as introducing Nathanael to Jesus. The fact that Philip and Bartholomew are linked in the lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke suggests that Nathanael is another name for Bartholomew. Jesus invited Matthew or Levi who was seated at his tax collector’s booth, probably on the outskirts of Capernaum, to be his follower. Matthew, who may often have heard Jesus speak and doubtless knew about his miracles, did not hesitate to respond to the invitation. (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13, 14; Luke 5:27, 28) As to Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot (zelotés), and Judas the son of James (Thaddaeus), the biblical record does not include any specifics as to when they became close followers of Jesus before he called them to be apostles (ones sent forth to bear witness concerning him). (1:13; Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:12-16)

In Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18, Simon is called the Cananaean. The designation Cananaean appears to be a transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “zealot” or “enthusiast.” As many have concluded, the corresponding Greek term zelotés may well indicate that Simon had formerly been associated with the political faction known as the Zealots. Another possibility is that the appellative describes Simon as a person of exemplary zeal. (1:13)

Both Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13 refer to Judas the son of James, and John 14:22 also calls this apostle Judas but adds, “not Iscariot.” In Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18, he is called Thaddaeus.

Unitedly, the apostles persisted in prayer. Assembled with them were “Mary the mother of Jesus,” Jesus’ brothers, and other women. Among the women may have been Salome (the mother of James and John), Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus), Joanna, and Mark’s mother Mary. (Matthew 27:56; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 11:1; 19:25; Acts 12:12) According to Mark 6:3, the brothers were James, Joseph (Joses), Judas, and Simon. Initially, they did not put faith in Jesus. (John 7:3-5) After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to James, one of these brothers. (1 Corinthians 15:7) It may well be that the post-resurrection appearance eliminated all the former doubts of James and moved him to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah and God’s beloved Son. His testimony may then have been instrumental in aiding his brothers likewise to put faith in Jesus. (1:14; see the Notes section.)

During the course of the days when the apostles and other disciples (a group numbering about 120) were together, Peter stood up in the “midst of the brothers” (or fellow believers) and began to speak to them. (1:15)

He is quoted as addressing them as “men, brothers” and calling to their attention that “the scripture,” which the holy spirit foretold through the mouth of David,” had to be fulfilled. Under the guidance of the holy spirit, David composed the words of Psalm 41:9 (40:10), which according to the quotation in John 13:18, read, “The one eating my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” The “lifting up” of the heel (as when a foot is raised in preparation for kicking) denoted the committing of an act of treachery. Peter personally heard Jesus say that these words of scripture would be fulfilled. Therefore, in view of the way in which everything occurred in connection with Jesus’ betrayal, Peter could say that the action of Judas in becoming a “guide for those who arrested Jesus” fulfilled “the scripture.” Judas led the armed mob to Jesus and, with a kiss, identified him for them. This took place at night, which would have made it difficult for persons not well acquainted with Jesus to recognize him among his disciples. (1:16)

Psalm 55 (54, LXX), another composition attributed to David, also refers to the treachery of a close companion. So it is likely that “scripture” does not mean just one specific text but is a general designation for everything regarding betrayal that David expressed when guided by God’s spirit. (1:16)

Judas had been numbered among the apostles (“us,” as Peter said) and had received a share in the “service” or “ministry” entrusted to them. Along with the other apostles, Jesus had sent him out to proclaim “the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:2) Like all the other apostles, he had been empowered to free afflicted ones from demon possession and to cure their diseases. (Luke 9:1) Through his treachery, Judas had lost everything. (1:17)

With the “wages of unrighteousness,” Judas obtained a field. His act of betrayal was an unjust or evil deed. For it, he received “wages,” 30 pieces of silver as the gain from his unrighteousness. (Matthew 26:14, 15) After coming to learn that his betrayal resulted in the condemnation of Jesus, Judas felt remorse and sought to return the silver pieces to the chief priests. They responded dismissively to him and his acknowledgment that he had sinned when betraying “righteous blood.” Somewhere in the temple precincts, Judas threw down the silver pieces. The chief priests scrupled about what they should do with the money. It being blood money, they felt legally obligated not to put it into the temple treasury. After conferring, they decided to purchase the potter’s field for use as a place to bury foreigners. (Matthew 27:3-7) What Judas had done when betraying Jesus and later tossing the silver pieces down in the temple precincts occasioned the buying of this field. Viewed from this standpoint, the purchase of this field could be attributed to Judas and as having been made with the “wages of unrighteousness.” (1:18)

After leaving the temple area, Judas hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5) According to an Old Latin translation of Acts that is quoted in Augustine’s contra Felicem Manichaeum (i.4), Judas had “bound his neck and, cast on [his] face, burst in [his] midst” (collum sibi alligavit et deiectus in faciem, disruptus est medius). This reading allows for the possibility that, after suspending himself by the neck, Judas fell face down when the rope or tree limb broke. He may have burst in his midst from his fall on jagged rocks below, causing his entrails to spill out. (1:18)

The residents of Jerusalem came to know about the field and its association with the death of Judas Iscariot. In their language, they called it Hakeldamách (Akeldama), meaning “Field of Blood.” (1:19; see the Notes section.)

In view of what had happened in connection with Judas, Peter recognized a need for Judas to be replaced as an apostle. He appealed to the Scriptures for the proposal he was about to make, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his residence become desolate, and let there be no dweller in it’ [69:25 (68:26)], and ‘let another take his overseership [episkopé; 109:8 (108:8)].’” Since the place of Judas had been permanently vacated, the time had come for someone else to take his position. The Greek word episkopé means “overseership,” “guardianship,” or “visitation” and here designates the apostleship and the service or work and responsibility associated therewith. (1:20; see the Notes section.)

Peter indicated that the disciple who would be qualified to replace Judas needed to be a close associate, a disciple who met with the apostles while the Lord Jesus “went in and out” among them. (1:21; see the Notes section.) The period for this association had to be from the time John baptized Jesus until the day Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives (“was taken up from us”). This disciple, along with the eleven apostles, would then be a “witness” to Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection definitively confirmed that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, the Son of God. Therefore, as witnesses to his resurrection, the apostles presented their testimony concerning him. (1:22)

In the group of about 120 disciples, Joseph called Barsabbas, surnamed Justus, and Matthias met the required qualifications. (1:23; see the Notes section.) As only one of the equally qualified men could be chosen, the group could not decide which one of the two they should select. They prayed to the “Lord,” the one who knows the hearts of all (or who is able to discern what all persons are in their inmost selves) to reveal which one he had chosen to “take the place of this service and apostleship, from which Judas departed to go to his own place.” (1:24, 25)

The designation “Lord” can apply either to God or to the Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, God (YHWH) is identified as the one who knows, tests, and searches the hearts. (Deuteronomy 8:2; 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 44:21[22]; Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10) Moreover, in Acts (2:39; 3:22; 5:9) and Luke (1:16, 32, 68; 4:8, 12; 10:27; 19:38; 20:37), numerous references to the “Lord” unmistakably mean the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. So there is good reason for concluding that the prayer was addressed to the Father. (1:24)

When Judas turned aside from following Christ, choosing to betray him to his enemies, he forfeited his apostleship and the service it involved. His “own place” proved to be the place destined for him as the “son of destruction.” Judas made himself the “son of destruction” when he chose a treacherous course that led to his ruin. (1:25; John 17:12)

After praying, the disciples cast lots. They doubtless did so on the basis of Proverbs 16:33, where the outcome from casting the lot is identified as being YHWH’s decision. The lot singled out Matthias. He was then considered as God’s choice for replacing Judas and came to be counted with the eleven apostles. (1:26)

Notes:

In verse 4, the word synalizómenos, found in many Greek manuscripts, is defined as “to assemble” or “to collect.” The reading “staying with them” (NRSV) is based on the view that synalizómenos is a variant spelling of synaulizómenos, meaning “to stay with,” “be with,” or “to spend the night with.”

Fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) contains an expanded reading in verse 4, “heard spoken through my mouth” (instead of “heard from me”).

After “days” (in verse 5), fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds, “until Pentecost.”

What God has established by “his own authority” (verse 7) is outside the domain of any human, and claims by individuals or adherents of movements to know the concealed things of God are the height of presumptuousness and dishonor him. Past history reveals that, when expectations about Christ’s return that were linked to certain dates did not materialize, many who had been taught to anticipate the event experienced spiritual ruin, not infrequently losing all faith in God and Christ. The damage that has been caused undeniably establishes that any calculations or predictions involving “times and seasons” in relation to Christ’s return are of men and not of God.

In verse 8, there is uncertainty about whether the “in” preceding “all of Judea” is original. It is omitted in numerous manuscripts.

In verse 11, one cannot be certain whether the original reading is blépontes (“look at”) or the intensified form of this verb (emblépontes). Fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) and a number of other manuscripts omit “into heaven.”

Numerous manuscripts (in verse 14) add “and supplication” after “in prayer.” Fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) reads “with women and children,” which could be understood to mean “with their wives and children.”

In verse 15, fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) says “disciples” instead of “brothers.” A copyist may have made this change in order to clarify that the reference is, not to the Lord’s brothers specifically, but to the apostles and other disciples, including the brothers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In verse 19, manuscripts vary in their spellings for “Akeldama.”

The extant Septuagint text (68:26) differs somewhat from the quotation in Acts 1:20 of Psalm 69:25(26). Like the extant Hebrew text, the Septuagint does not use the third person singular terms but reads, “Let their residence become desolate, and in their tents let there be no dweller.” For their camp to become a desolation and no dweller to be in their tents would denote complete annihilation. There would be no offspring to take up residence in their former habitation. The scene is that of a completely abandoned nomadic encampment. The words of the psalmist were expressed regarding those who had become his enemies and reproached him as a devoted servant of YHWH. Through his act of betrayal, Judas had sided with those who opposed Jesus Christ, the one who was consumed with zeal for YHWH’s house, and so made himself a part of their camp. (Psalm 69:9[10]; John 2:17)

With the exception of a different form of the verb for “take” or “seize” (lambáno), the Septuagint text of Psalm 108:8 (109:8) reads the same as the quotation in Acts 1:20.

After “Jesus” (in verse 21), a number of manuscripts add “Christ.”

In verse 23, instead of the plural éstesan (literally, “they made to stand”), a number of manuscripts say éstesen (literally, “he made to stand”). Possibly the change to the singular reflects a copyist’s intent to assign primacy to Peter.

In verse 25, many manuscripts read kléron (“lot”) instead of tópon (“place”).