Was Paul an apostle? He says so in I Corinthians 4:9 and 15:9, II Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11, and Galatians 1:17. (Time to be Berean… get out your Bible and see if it is so!) If he was, why wasn’t he the replacement for Judas Iscariot? Why did Judas Iscariot need to be replaced at all? Wouldn’t eleven apostles be enough? In this post’s study passage we discover that it was God’s intent to replace Judas, round out the number of apostles to twelve again, and to do it with someone other than Paul. Let’s dig in.
Acts 1:12-13 (Please read it for yourself in your study Bible.) We present here a list of the Apostles that gathered in the upper room:
- James, the son of Alphaeus (to distinguish him later from James the half-brother of Christ)
- Simon the Zealot
- Judas, the son of James (to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot who was now dead)
Eleven men who had been with Jesus. Notice that while these verses may be divided from the previous verses by a section heading in your Bible, Luke did not put in the section headings! Your Bible commentator did. These verses are just the continuation of the story. If you check the verses we’ve already covered, you’ll find that these men have not been identified previously as “the eleven”, but only referred to as “they” or “them.” The implication (reading backwards) is that “they” were the same men who had just returned to the upper room, had just seen Jesus ascend into heaven, had just asked Him if He was going to restore the kingdom at this time, had been reminded to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them, had received teaching for forty days after his resurrection, and had witnessed many convincing proofs that He was indeed alive.
It’s important to realize that these specific men, now absent Judas Iscariot, were the inner circle of men specifically chosen and trained by Jesus (His “disciples”), and whose training, as we have learned, was to prepare them for the coming restoration of David’s kingdom. One particular aspect of their position and service in this “kingdom at hand” was explained to them — and only to them — in Luke 22:30 and Matthew 19:28. Luke describes a dispute among these same disciples over which of them was the greatest, right on the heels of the event we call the “Last Supper.” Jesus used it as an object lesson in humility, teaching them that those who were the most humble-hearted servants would be the greatest in the kingdom. He closes the object lesson with a glimpse into their future: “… that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.“ Matthew records this statement on a different, earlier occasion prior to Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover Week.
Regardless of whether Jesus told them the same thing on two different occasions or not, the important points here are that
- there are twelve (not eleven) tribes of Israel (even though two of them descended from sons of Joseph)
- no mention is made of one of the disciples sitting on two thrones
- they will be rulers over complete tribes, and form a ruling council of twelve over all of Israel
- this is part of the coming prophesied Kingdom, Israel’s hope and expectation, in which all the earth will be blessed
Clearly this Kingdom will be short one man if there are only eleven apostles, and that a new twelfth Jewish apostle with a Jewish expectation must be appointed if the restored Davidic Kingdom, a promise to Israel, is to proceed.
Acts 1:14 We pause here only long enough for two noteworthy observations. (1) The “women”, including Jesus’ mother Mary, and Jesus half-brothers apparently were already at this location when the eleven returned from the Mount of Olives. This was a tightly-knit small group. (2) They were “all with one mind” and were “continually devoting themselves to prayer.” This is perfectly in keeping with their experiences (the undeniable resurrection and teaching of the risen Christ) and with Christ’s instructions to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Does that mean we should be doing the same thing today, and if we do, our sincerity and devotion will somehow “bring” the Holy Spirit into our lives as He came at Pentecost? Many in the Pentecostal Movement would say so, and we shall have an answer soon enough. (Obviously, I personally don’t think so. There are indications here that a different economy was in effect, as none of those gathered appear to be engaged in gainful employment. We’ll find this to be a characteristic of the Jerusalem community of believers for several chapters to come, and it is very different from the way the world operates today — but a window on the economy of the Millennial Kingdom.) Does it mean we should not be devoted to our Lord in obedience and prayer? Absolutely not! But it is another example of rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Remember, the Bible is all for our instruction, but it is not all addressed directly to us.
Acts 1:15 “And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty names was there together), and said…” The NASB translation states “And at that time”, but the literal translation of the Greek is “in these days”. There’s a subtle difference in meaning here. “At that time” is usually understood to refer to a specific date and clock time (it is a punctiliar reference), and in the context would seem to indicate the same occasion when the apostles returned from Olivet and entered this upper room. But the Greek phrase is not punctiliar, and is better translated “in these days”. As such, it refers to an occasion later in the time of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, perhaps several days later. The other facts observed in this verse bear this out, for the group has grown from eleven apostles plus Mary plus the women who were closest to Jesus plus Jesus half-brothers (probably less than twenty people) to 120 people. Not just any people, mind you, but 120 “names” — people who were all known to each other by name (another small mis-translation in the NASB).
Acts 1:16-20 Please read the passage for yourself in your study Bible and note the following points in Peter’s message to the group:
- He calls them “brethren.” From his perspective at this point in the narrative, that meant “fellow Israelites.” (We will confirm this assertion in Chapters 2-4 soon.)
- He reminds them that David specifically prophesied concerning Judas Iscariot, including the manner of his death in a specific geographic location.
- He quotes from Psalm 109:8 as the ultimate application of David’s prophecy to their situation.
Peter clearly saw himself and the people with him as operating in a period of time when they themselves were fulfilling prophecy, and it had everything to do with their hope and expectation — the restoration of David’s kingdom. Their expectation was clear and their perception was correct because God had openly promised these things to Israel, putting them down in writing (the “Law and the Prophets”) for all to read. Does the church of today have the same expectation and promises, or does she have something still hidden in God at this point in the narrative? Since God did not begin to reveal the hidden mystery until later through the Apostle Paul, it was unknown to Peter and his exclusively Jewish audience.
Peter’s conclusion? As the fulfillers of prophecy, on the basis of Psalm 109:8, it is clear that a replacement for Judas must be chosen. (Isn’t it interesting that these quotes — and leadership – come from the lips of an unlearned fisherman? This in itself is a fulfillment of Jesus promises to give them the right words to say at the right time – as the promised Kingdom approached.)
Acts 1:21-26 Peter then describes the qualifications of Judas Iscariot’s replacement. He had to be a man who had accompanied the eleven continually, beginning from the time of Jesus baptism through the time of His ascension. Note that this does not mean that he had to be present at these events with the eleven, but certainly would have been with the eleven on some occasions when the resurrected Christ appeared to them and to many others. Such a man would be a qualified witness to the resurrection, as Peter suggests in the end of v22. Two such men were identified from the group — Barsabbas (also called Justus and Joseph) and Matthias. But which one? They prayed for God’s active participation in the selection process because only He knew what was inside the hearts of both men, and thus which one would be fit to replace Judas in the work of apostleship. Then in traditional Hebrew fashion, reminiscent of the casting of Urim and Thummim in the Old Testament, they cast lots. God chose Matthias.
It’s important to recognize that they asked God to make the choice, seeing what they could not, and that God did choose. Some have tried to dismiss this passage as Peter trying to move the program forward in his own strength without God’s approval, so that they can dismiss Matthias as the twelfth apostle to sit on the vacated twelfth throne over Israel, and make Paul the twelfth apostle. It’s clear that Matthias was God’s choice, not Peter’s, and that Matthias will sit on the twelfth throne in the Kingdom when it comes. It’s equally clear that Paul must be another apostle, not associated with the Twelve, and not ruling over one of the twelve tribes of Israel — an apostle sent to another people for another time, a mystery still hidden in God at this point in the narrative. The church of this age, the Age of Grace, is still nowhere in sight!
Prepare yourself well for the next post. It will require all of your powers of observation, and all of your ability and commitment to cast off previous notions of human interpretations. We are on the brink of a pivotal point in the Book of Acts – Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and their companions!